Kim Kardashian broke the internet last week with her nude selfie. She previously posted a nude selfie when pregnant with her son with a general explanation that it was to quiet the body shamers who regularly criticized her body. Last week’s nude selfie made her feel “empowered.”
She said …
“I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.” www.kimkardashianwest.com
Shame and power. Most of us are familiar with the tug and pull of these dynamics, particularly around women’s issues. But for Kim, these dynamics play primarily in the space starting right below her neck and ending slightly below her buttocks. At some point in her life—and from my understanding of the rest of her family, it was fairly early in life—Kim learned that particular area of her external body was her currency. It held her power. So when she flaunts her power, she is clear that such power is fueled by her sexuality.
That part of her body also held her shame. She has clearly been shamed over the part of her body between her neck and rear end. She’s too fat, too curvy, too whatever. She’s been criticized publicly on the Internet. But I imagine she has been criticized privately by her family as well. With this nude selfie, she perceives herself as taking back the power that others have had over her by way of shaming that part of her body.
It reminds me of something Zack Eswine said in Sensing Jesus about Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees and the sinful woman who washes His feet with her hair in Luke 7.
… the pastors (with Jesus) only saw the “sort of woman” she was. All they saw was her body and her sexual ability in life. In this, they were no different from the men she had slept with. They too, though they were not pastors, saw only her body and her sexual ability. I should say, rather, that most of her body went unnoticed by either kind of man.
The religious men and the irreligious men had this in common: they looked at the woman, but they did not see her. Edenic eyes gave way again, poked out amid the haze. The religious denounced her. The irreligious desired her. Both were blind.
It isn’t just the men around Kardashian who seem not to see past her sexuality but Kim herself. She’s bought into others’ narrative about her, and she’s playing in their system. Many Christians will turn in disgust from Kardashian over this. “Put some clothes on!” “Have you no shame?” And to that second question, Kim would likely answer, “No, I don’t have any shame. That’s the whole point of this!”
But really she does. Which is why she posted the picture.
Kim operates in a power system run on the currency of big breasts, small waists, and sexy butt. She runs in a power system in which her primary power is her sexuality. She said she feels “empowered by her sexuality.” Though she has money, owns a business, and is famous, those don’t make her feel empowered in whatever power structure she perceives herself. The secondary powers of money or fame are based on the one thing that fuels her power, her sexuality. She does not bank alone in this power system. Many women do similarly though with lesser currency and lesser power. Kardashian and Beyonce are two of the most savvy women in our world at exploiting this currency for their own benefit.
The problem in this system is that women didn’t create this currency. They have, however, learned how to build their bank account and spend their earnings in it. If a dictator takes over your world and changes the form of money from euros to won, eventually the savvy are going to start operating in won if they want power or influence under the dictator. Satan changed the currency between men and women at the fall. Men oppress women, and women still desire men to the point that they sell their soul (or their body on the internet) to trade in their currency.
Hannah Anderson explains it this way:
“Rather than dismantling male power structures, (nude selfies) are an attempt to gain power through them. They ARE a form of female empowerment but only because they buy into the established system. Feminine beauty is valuable because the people who want it the most (men) hold biological and sociological power. In other words, feminine sexuality is a commodity that can be leveraged to gain power because of the demand that already exists.
In a fallen world, men hold power, and sinful men hold onto it for their own benefit; women need to gain power both to protect themselves as well as desiring it out of their own sinfulness. The result? Women use the one thing they have that men want to shift power away from those men. The problem, though, is that it ends up harming other women. It becomes a form of competition for the limited resource of male attention, which is the means of gaining power.”
An obvious disclaimer is needed – not ALL men operate in the currency of sex and not ALL women exploit it for their benefit. But a lot of them do (including the grand example of the likely Republican presidential nominee), and it is helpful to understand the spiritual and sociological dynamics going on when they do. I say it again and again that we can not address a problem until we actually understand the spiritual root issue. I am amazed how often some new pop controversy around Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, or Kim Kardashian clearly reflects back on Genesis 3:16’s prediction of male oppression and exploitation along with a woman’s turning toward the man despite it.
But there is gospel hope in the middle of this. Whether Kardashian will come to a redeemed view of her whole person is up to God, but many of us will have a chance to speak into the lives of women young and old struggling with the same dynamic.
Hannah also says
“… Christian theology doesn’t have a place of clambering or holding onto power. That’s the whole point of Philippians 2 and the ENTIRETY OF THE GOSPEL.”
There is such freedom in Christ around this issue, for both women and men. In Christ, women don’t have to clamor for power in this fallen sexual dynamic between the genders. Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised according to Proverbs 31. And …
I Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adornment be outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
While men around us (and women affected by them) may operate on a sexual currency, God does not, and He instructs His children to plow a counter culture, to operate in a new currency. A gentle (strength under control), quiet (peaceful, settled) spirit of a woman in Christ is beautiful and precious (highly valuable like gold or diamonds) in God’s currency. We have a spiritual inheritance in Christ that allows us to lift our heads as female image-bearers of God. While we steward our bodies, we are not slaves to others’ perceptions of them. They are not our source of power or currency. We have a spiritual inheritance in Christ as daughters of the King of King that fuels our self-identity and interactions with others. May we every day in every way disciple women in this truth.