Following in Her Big Sister’s Footsteps?

I apologize for another Kardashian post, but the family just seems to make themselves available for blog posts…

Well, I was on Twitter when I started seeing tweets about Kendall Jenner’s new Instagram post. I decided to check it out, and this is what I found:

Now of course, the Twitter world was buzzing with harsh comments about this photo. People were calling Kendall names like, “slut,” “whore,” “mini Kim K” (in reference to her sex tape), etc., because of her sheer top and the exposure of her nipples. This post was Kendall promoting a photo shoot she did as an advertisement for the world renowned photographer Russell James. The purpose of the ad has yet to be stated, but what the world can deduce is that it will be sexual in some way.

People have a problem with this photo because they see it as very explicit. Their reactions shows how the American public has a problem with nudity and pornography. Even though sex it everywhere, Americans still have a problem with it being openly displayed. They would rather have sex represented in subtle ways that leave much to the imagination. Sex and nudity is seen as something to be ashamed of and kept hidden. Even though this photo was clearly not taken for pornographic reasons, people still link it with porn, and denounce it as “bad” and “obscene.”

I do not see this post as obscene, I see it as art. Kendall Jenner is a high fashion model, an adult (even though she just turned 18 last week), and has a right to express her artistic ability in any way she sees fit.

Let her live.

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4 thoughts on “Following in Her Big Sister’s Footsteps?

  1. jkamhi

    I think you’re completely right to come to Kendall’s defense in the wake of such inappropriate online attacks. In the Daily Pennsylvanian series, “Surviving Silence,” a woman is quoted who allegedly told the Penn Director of Public Safety in 1971, “I can walk buck naked down this campus and your job is to protect me.” She made the point that nothing a person wears (or doesn’t wear) ever justifies, or asks for, violence. Similarly, although some might deem the photo of Kendall explicit and immoral, those critics have no right to slut-shame, harass and defame Kendall.

    I also think you were right to point out that US public opinion is still largely opposed to nudity and pornography, and that the “morally righteous” want to see women covered up. I say “women,” specifically, because I’m not sure that an identical post of a wet man in a sheer shirt would have prompted the ugly backlash that Kendall received.

    Although I agree with much of the sentiment in this post, I’m not sure that I perceive the photo necessarily as “art.” This can perhaps be attributed to my lack of knowledge about pop culture; I didn’t know who Kendall Jenner was before reading your post. However, I wonder if power dynamics were at play that resulted in Kendall’s pose, outfit and facial expression. For instance, you note that the photographer is “world renowned,” which may have resulted in an unequal distribution of power between the photographer and Kendall; perhaps the photographer had an inordinate amount of “say” about what the final image would look like, relative to Kendall. Additionally, it seems that Kendall “does gender” by looking vulnerable, meek, and stereotypically feminine. Advertisements are made to sell, and patriarchal conceptions of “woman” sell. This image may in fact be art, but perhaps it’s just not my kind of art.

    Marble, Will, and Sarah Smith. “Surviving Silence: The History.” Surviving Silence: The History. The Daily Pennsylvanian, 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. .

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  2. lmassaro

    I also agree that nothing about this photo constitutes the backlash that Kendall faced online in the past week. I don’t think that you are definitely correct in saying that as an adult woman, especially one of such a high socioeconomic status, she has complete control of her body and what she wants to present to the world. In terms of content, this photo is not even that explicit, considering the fact that we see print ads of naked female bodies selling perfume or underwear on a daily basis. Yes, this photo does exhibit a few of the tropes we saw in Killing Us Softly 4 and Dreamworlds 3, because it is a wet female body, but it doesn’t seem oversexualized to me.

    The only thing that does make me a little uncomfortable is the prominent fame of male photographers whose prime aesthetic includes putting youngish looking female bodies on display. In addition to Russell James, we often see these photos from high-profile photographers like Terry Richardson and Tyler Shields. In fact, Tyler Shields just unveiled a photoshoot he did with a topless Abigail Breslin, who is still 17. I wonder how you would feel about this considering that fact that Breslin is not technically a legal adult.

    I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with the work of these photographers, but to me it just harkens back to the paper “Ways of Seeing,” in which John Berger describes men as surveyors and women as the surveyed. As he writes, “men act while women appear,” and I always have that quote in my head when I look at the work of these men that put the nude (or nearly-nude) female body on display for others to gaze at. Here, Kendall may be the subject of the photo, but James is the one bringing it to fruition.

    Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. London: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

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  3. cnurik

    Admittedly, the T.V. show, Keeping up the Kardashians, had previously been one of my guilty pleasures. Looking back, it is likely that my voyeuristic tendencies were stoked by curiosity about a world that was so different from my own. I hypocritically watched the show and knocked the family at the same time for their corrupt values, especially the parents’ willingness to exploit their daughters for the sake of glory and greed. From the start, the two younger members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan were groomed to follow in the footsteps of their older sisters and to carry on the family’s mantle of objectifying women, trivializing relationships, and prioritizing materialism. For these reasons, I reacted with skepticism when I first spotted your blog, and I too heaved a heavy sigh: “…another Kardashian post.” However, after viewing the photo of Kendall Jenner, I was relieved to see that it was not exploitative but tasteful and artistic. I agree with your comment that the picture is “sexy but not obscene.”
    You astutely note that our culture continues to hold provincial attitudes towards nudity and that the American public is quick to equate nudity of any type with pornography. But, where do we draw the line ? What appears to be a beautiful photograph to one person may come across as sexual explicit and disrespectful to others. Would you and I still agree that the picture of Kendall Jenner is tasteful if she was a few years younger, and or even a year younger (and legally a minor), or would we then consider the same photograph to be pornographic ? The boundaries are blurry and colored by our personal values.
    Your comments got me thinking about factors that impact our opinion about whether something is porn or not. In addition to differences in personal experience and socio-cultural backgrounds, I can identify three variables that impact reactions to nudity in marketing and entertainment: consent, context, and intent.
    It is easier for us to accept this photo as a piece of art if we know that the subject (i.e. Kendall Jenner) gave informed consent to the photographer (i.e. Russell James) and that she was not tricked or misled in anyway. In her article, “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process, “ Rachel Kramer Bussel states: “It’s not enough to just assume that if she (or he) doesn’t say no, they want it” (49). Consent for nude photos is analogous to consent for sexual acts since the process of shooting these pictures involves intimacy and exposure. We are disinclined to view this picture as exploitative if it reflects a collaborative process between the subject and the photographer. We assume that at age eighteen, Kendall knew what questions to ask about the photograph ahead of time and that she is capable of grasping the implications of her public nudity. We also assume that Kendall is capable of asserting herself and pushing back against the pressure of outside influences (including a powerful stage mother like Kris Jenner), so that the photograph truly reflects her own desires and self-expression.
    The context of the photograph is also key. When is nudity integral to selling a product (in print advertising) or to telling a story (in film), or when is it simply gratuitous ? In Kendall’s case, we are aware that the photograph will be used as part of an advertisement, but we do not yet know what she is selling. If she is exposing her breasts to sell condoms (i.e., a sexually explicit reference), we probably would be more critical of her decision to take the photo than if she is using her nudity in a more subtle manner (i.e. to create the image of romantic sensuality). Your comment about Americans preferring sex to “be displayed in subtle ways” is well-founded. Standing on its own, Kendall’s photograph appears to celebrate the beauty of the human body. She is not captured in a raunchy pose or engaged in doing something that is sexually explicit. In fact, this tasteful photograph reminds me of a modern day Venus de Milo, the classical sculpture that features Aphrodite baring her breasts. Nobody ever accused Venus de Milo of being a slut !
    The third set of questions that helps to guide the art versus porn debate revolves around intent (which is closely intertwined with context). For the past 100 years, sex has been used in advertising to sell products, and a recent study reveals that sex in magazine ads has increased dramatically in the past 30 years (http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/magazine-trends-study-finds-increase-in-advertisements-using-sex/ ). Since Kendall’s photo was shot for an ad, does this purpose in and of itself make it exploitative ? Does the audience that it is designed to reach make a difference in terms of the way that we regard its message ? When the female body is used in advertising to titillate men, we become concerned about the objectification and devaluation of women. However, we have a higher threshold for female nudity that is intended to project idealized role models and manipulate females into purchasing products. In the absence of more information about the intent of Kendall’s photograph, we are left to judge the image on its own merits. However, once the photo is placed within the context of an ad and it is used to sell something, this will tarnish its artistic value.
    Here’s the verdict: While Kendall exposes her breasts, this does not necessarily make her photo slutty or inappropriate. Although I am not a Kardashian fan, I agree with your conclusion: this photograph is more artistic than pornographic.

    Works Cited
    Bussel, Rachel Kramer. “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process.” Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World without Rape. By Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2008. 43-51. Print.
    Sorrow, April Reese. “Magazine Trends Study Finds Increase in Advertisements Using Sex.” http://news.uga.edu. University of Georgia, 5 June 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.

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  4. amaliad2013

    I also agree with the original post, which states that Kendall is not following in her sister Kim’s footsteps, but simply doing her job as a high fashion model. She is actually pretty covered up (high neckline) and she is not posed suggestively – the only negative part of this picture is that her nipples are showing through her shirt. I actually think this photograph exudes a lot of innocence, especially considering her facial expression. Furthermore, I think this backlash surrounding the exposure of her breasts have to do with the contemporary standards and beliefs of our society. In the past and in many other cultures (i.e. in Europe), covering up breasts is not mandatory. Nude beaches in France, for instance, are a cultural given. As the previous comment stated, if our society had a higher threshold for female nudity, then there would be no backlash against Kendall Jenner. Yes, she just turned 18 and the nudity could be interpreted wrongly, but I think it was solely for her job — I definitely do not think it was a stunt similar to Kim’s sex tape with Ray J. She did not post this photograph to gain anymore fame, sell a product, or send a message — it was just an innocent photoshoot and people should not be so quick to judge Kendall.

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