No, Kim Kardashian, you’re not a role model — but these women are
Kim, we need to talk about the picture. You know the one. By splashing your naked body on the interwebs, you’re sending a message that could impact a lot of people, particularly young girls … again.
Kim, we need to talk about the picture. You know the one. I’ll give you credit for using correct grammar in the caption on Instagram, but that’s not the point.
The point is, you’re naked … again. And by splashing your naked body on the interwebs, you’re sending a message that could impact a lot of people, particularly young girls … again.
You claim to feel “liberated” by sharing these increasingly frequent images of your naked body online. But you have to understand the message this sends to young women. Girls are capable of so much more than just “being pretty” or taking their clothes off for the amusement of men. But it’s hard for girls to ignore when a well-known woman with striking features becomes a top news story because she took a naked picture of herself.
Fortunately, there are women out there who took paths decidedly different from yours when it came to their looks. So step away from the bathroom mirror and throw some clothes on, Kim. There are some women I want you to meet.
Hedy Lamarr: A beauty with brains
Decades before you and I were born, a stunningly beautiful actress rose to fame during the Golden Age of the film industry. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, she scandalized cinema for appearing nude in a European film in 1933, but eventually she moved to the United States and began making movies fully clothed for MGM under the name Hedy Lamarr.
Her place in history could have been relegated to her role as a Hollywood starlet. Instead, Lamarr used her passion for science and discovery to pioneer technology that helped the United States keep Germany at bay during World War II. In the early 1940s, she partnered with American composer George Anthiel to develop a “Secret Communications System” that manipulated radio frequencies to prevent the enemy from decoding messages between Allied forces.
May not sound like a big deal, but years later, Lemarr’s accomplishments with manipulating radio frequencies lead to the advent of spread spectrum technology, which made fax machines, free wi-fi at Starbucks, and cell phones possible.
That’s right, Kim — your ability to share naked selfies from your iPhone is due in large part to the cleverness of a lady who didn’t rely on a naked cinematic romp to make her mark.
I get the sense that such a limited claim to fame would not have suited Hedy Lamarr. As the actress/inventor once put it, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
Gloria Steinem: The undercover bunny
Twenty-two years after Lamarr secured her patent, a gutsy young journalist named Gloria Steinem decided to go after an American icon — Playboy.
In New York City, local newspaper ads for the popular Playboy Club promised attractive young ladies a “glamorous” job as a Playboy Bunny, earning $200 to $300 a week (that’s the equivalent of $1,550 to $2,350 a week today) and enjoying a non-stop party atmosphere with celebrities and adoring customers.
Fortunately for us, Steinem wasn’t buying it. She decided to go undercover for Show magazine and see how the actual experience stacked up. Using her good looks and a carefully crafted identity, Steinem was able to secure a coveted job as a Playboy Bunny. For two weeks, her alter ego Marie Catherine Ochs lived the Bunny experience, a reality far removed from the glamour and profit promised in the newspaper ad.
During her stint, Steinem and her fellow Bunnies were swindled at every turn, from shouldering the cost of fake eyelashes and the cleaning of their iconic uniforms to having a substantial portion of their tips garnished. Failing to adhere to strict wardrobe guidelines would result in “demerits,” which translated into docked wages. After two weeks of training and two grueling shifts with few to no breaks, Marie Catherine Ochs’ one and only paycheck came to $35.90 ($280 today).
As for the non-stop party atmosphere and adoring customers, Playboy Bunnies got the short end of the carrot there, too. Playboy Club members frequently groped and harassed their servers (“If you’re my Bunny, can I take you home with me?”). Money allegedly changed hands for sexual favors from time to time as well.
Thanks to her wildly successful article “A Bunny’s Tale” (in two parts), Steinem became a powerful voice that exposed the sexual revolution’s uneven standards in a way the average American couldn’t ignore. Women were entering the workforce in record numbers and working alongside men, but their worth was still evaluated according to their looks and their roles as wives, girlfriends, and lovers. Her looks made her Playboy Bunny material, but my girl Gloria chose to start a conversation with her typewriter, not her body.
Jennifer Lawrence: An agent of change
Jennifer Lawrence was a celebrated Academy Award-winning actress when naked pictures from her personal email account were published online in 2014. Lawrence called the hacking of her personal pictures “a sex crime” and revealed that the experience was an emotional one for her.
“I was just so afraid. I didn’t know how this would affect my career,” she told “Vanity Fair” in November 2014.
Her story speaks to a growing problem that is affecting the lives of women and girls across the country. It’s not known exactly how many women have been victimized by revenge porn (when someone shares a picture or video of you naked or engaged in a sexual situation, which you didn’t consent to being shared), but it has caused enough harm that a quick Google search yields plenty of links to revenge porn support groups and resources for victims.
Kim, there’s nothing liberating about being fired from your job because your ex-boyfriend or an angry co-worker emailed a naked picture of you to your employer. There’s nothing empowering about a man blackmailing you for money after he filmed you undressing in your bedroom through your laptop’s web cam.
It’s also not very reassuring to the victims when the man who violated your privacy gets a slap on the wrist, like Brandon Tyler Berlin, the 19-year-old who shared nude cell phone pictures of his female classmates at North Penn High School. Despite the fact that many of the girls were underage at the time the images were recorded (naked pictures of minors is child pornography, and having or sharing them is a federal crime), and that these pictures could pop up online at any time in the future and ruin the careers and relationships of these young women, Berlin was sentenced to pay a $250 fine, serve 100 hours of community service, and submit to two years of probation.
Despite the limitations of the justice system when it comes to prosecuting revenge porn cases, Lawrence’s story brought the issue to a larger audience. Like Gloria Steinem fifty years earlier, she shed light on a topic that mainstream America couldn’t ignore, and gave hope to scores of women in the process.
So Kim, the next time you strip down after a long day of being married to Kanye, and you whip out your phone for a quick naked selfie, consider the following before you hit “share”:
First, there is more to accomplish in this world than just being naked and pretty. You could invent something that brings people together.
Second, “A Bunny’s Tale” is not a story from a bygone era. Women are still being harassed and degraded by customers and employers who think their value is restricted to their looks and relationships to men.
Third, many women do not get to make a choice. Pictures of their bodies have already been shared with the world in an attempt to humiliate and silence them.
Fourth, young girls are paying attention to you at all times, including your own daughter.
There’s nothing wrong with communicating that having confidence is sexy, Kim. Just be sure you’re communicating that idea the right way.
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