While promoting her Paper Magazine cover that broke the Internet, Kim Kardashian told an Australian radio station that she would support her one-year-old daughter North West if she decides to pose nude once she’s an adult. “I would support anything she wants to do,” Kardashian said. Predictably, it got plenty of press.I was glad to see that most outlets didn’t rush to shame that comment, but still, there was a subtext to the some of the coverage, not to mention the original question: Shouldn’t a good mother want to keep her daughter covered up?Assuming that Kardashian — and North’s father, Kanye West — would oppose their daughter hypothetically posing nude in the future not only doesn’t make sense, but contributes to policing women’s bodies through shame. First, Kardashian herself just posed fully nude for Paper (not to mention that sex tape), so she would be hypocritical to tell her kid not to follow in her footsteps.Second, it assumes that parents of adults should get a say in how they live their lives. I understand that many parents may be uncomfortable discussing their children’s sexuality, especially when they are actually under 18, but it’s wrong to assume they can control their kids’ bodies once they’re of legal age.Third and most importantly, the underlying idea beneath that question is that posing nude is wrong or shameful, that naked pictures are something any parent should have a problem with. The question further assumes that the only reasons a woman would get naked for a camera are for attention, to please others or to make money — all of which are seen as not the “right reasons.” While those motivations certainly hold true for some women, and there’s nothing wrong with them, that way of thinking misses the reality that many women report feeling positively changed by the experience of stripping down to their birthday suits.Take, for example, in MORE magazine, where writer Susanna Sonnenberg wrote about how she posed nude for a photographer friend at age 45. She liked her body beforehand, even though it wasn’t “magazine-beautiful,” but getting naked let her view it through her photographer’s eyes:
“Christina saw it all and found it glorious, glamorous, sensational: ‘You have classic breasts! Amazing skin!’ I warmed. Our mutual awareness of my body heightened, charged by a rampant erotic current.”
Nudie magazines (as well as mainstream ones) get a bad rap for idealizing a certain thin, big-breasted, usually white form of the female body. But in Sonnenberg’s case, an old issue of Playboy was inspiration to mimic some of her poses — not to try to look just like the model, but to give her body ideas for movement. “I felt very awake. I didn’t care about control and definitions and what this might mean. We could have it mean everything,” she writes. wrote. There can be creativity on both sides of the camera, which is different from looking at your naked body in a mirror. Posing nude has the potential to be an intimate and interactive process.Especially for those of us whose bodies are routinely criticized and mocked for being “fat” or “thick,” nudity can be a form of activism and reclamation. Take photographer Substantia Jones’ Adipositivity Project, featuring fat women the likes of which are rarely seen in mainstream media or, as its website states, “Part fat, part feminism, part ‘fuck you.’” Here’s what model Alison Michelle wrote on xoJane about posing for the project:
“…I found an understanding of myself to a degree that I was unaware could be possible. It seems obvious, but once every part of you has been exposed, straight-on and without a spare friend to act as a shield, you start becoming more aware of the way you hide yourself every day.”
For UK Guardian writer Joan Smith, posing nude wasn’t about vamping for others, but proving something to herself when she booked a private photo session. She called it “one of the ultimate feminist acts,” because she got to see her size 12 body in a new way, one that was an alternative to the images she’s bombarded with elsewhere. “It was about being comfortable in my skin as an older woman who continues to see herself as a sexual being, regardless of cultural messages to the contrary,” she wrote.Sometimes we do want and need the validation that our bodies, in their barest form, are OK. Look no further than Reddit’s (NSFW) Normal Nudes subreddit, where people post naked photos for all sorts of reasons: to get feedback, for weight loss motivation, because they’re nudists, etc. The group’s description states “This is for changing how people view themselves, not ‘showing off’ our bodies. It’s spreading the ideology that we are all beautiful in our own ways, and you don’t have to be a supermodel to feel attractive!” Who could argue with that?Women are conditioned to believe that our bodies exist “for” other people, that any act of beautifying, posing, preening or revealing of skin is assumed to start from outside rather than from within. From there, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking posing nude is something we shouldn’t want our daughters (or mothers or grandmothers) to do.To be clear, I’m not claiming that every time a woman takes her clothes off, she’s advancing feminism or having a great time or learning something profound. The issue is certainly not as cut-and-dry. I’ve done it, and the truth is posing nude brought up mixed feelings: I wanted to revel in the rarity of flaunting my body, but was actually so self-conscious I had to push my uncertainty aside to try to look sexy. I consider that a good lesson, though, one that applies far beyond a nude photo shoot.What I am arguing is that we shouldn’t assume there’s something inherently wrong with anyone posing nude — whether she’s famous or not, someone’s daughter or someone’s mother or something elese entirely. We can, of course, examine, critique and explore what these nude images mean. But we owe all women a little more respect for their decision-making abilities than to think we know what the experience means for them.