When Kim Kardashian posted nude selfie number who-knows-anymore on Instagram, the internet took notice. Ignoring the fact that the 35-year-old reality TV star and mom of two is not actually nude (black tape covers her breasts and vagina), her latest self-portrait has sparked debate amongst everyone from Chloe Moretz to Bette Midler to Piers Morgan.
Is Kardashian a prime example of the fall of our Roman Empire? Is she Kanye’s puppet? Or is she, as so many people have been commenting on every website covering the story, little more than an “attention-seeking media whore?”
In fact, Kim Kardashian is far more important to us than that — she is a performance artist and her nude selfies are just the thing society needs right now to get past its fear of the female body and move forward so we can focus on more pressing issues. Every generation needs a Colette to make them uncomfortable, a Lady Godiva to use whatever arsenal she has (breasts and curves, included) to get us to listen —particularly if she knows we’re dumb enough to only listen when she exposes herself.
If you feel you’ve seen enough of Kardashian’s body to last you a lifetime, go on and thank her via Twitter (where you’ll find yourself in the company of her 41.6 million followers). Your boredom, exasperation, fear — whatever you want to call it — of Kim means she’s helping to elevate society to the point where she is no longer needed.
Merriam-Webster defines performance art as "a nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience of onlookers and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or painting.” Granted, Kardashian is no Karen Kilimnik killing us softly with her haunting oil paintings but, if art is an image that forces us to confront our own biases and the harsh realities present in our society (in Kardashian’s case, men’s uncertainty and insecurity when faced with women who are choosing to objectify themselves before they can be objectified by others), Kardashian’s body and, more importantly, how she chooses to display it to provoke us, is performance art.
She’s a millennial Marina Abramovic.
Need proof? Paper magazine transformed her butt, almost literally, into an object that can balance a champagne glass. Kardashian was no victim of objectification, but a smiling, willing participant in the artistic collaboration. Her Instagram, while littered with many banal photos of famous friends and fur coats, features the occasional gem.
Two that immediately come to mind are the close-up of her breasts while pregnant and a white swimsuit shot taken just months after North West’s birth. Both are protest statements against the Madonna/whore image we continue to have of women. She may be a mother, but Kardashian refuses to let you put her in a box for safe-keeping. Hell, you could argue her waist trainer selfies will go down in history as evidence of absurd modern-day beauty norms. Before you go and get mad at Kardashian, make sure you’re not really mad at the world we live in.
We’re living in an age when a great deal of meaning is ascribed to things that (at the end of the day) don’t add up to much. From high school dress codes and the dispute over whether leggings are preventing 15-year-old boys from concentrating in a science classroom to the patting of ourselves on the back for “transforming society” by allowing a fuller-figured woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Rather than shifting to judging the content of someone’s character, or honing in on pay equality and the problem with the proliferation of pornography and how women are being viewed and viewing themselves because of it, we’re wrapped up in the “everyone is unbelievably beautiful and special” movement.
Kardashian, boasting a body type that would have been considered undesirable just 15 years ago, has a great deal to do with encouraging curvier women to announce to the world that they have a right to be part of our beauty discourse. They’ll never strut down the catwalk at Valentino, but screw that. They can become social media “famous” with a decent selfie and filter, “big” butt and all.
While there’s nothing wrong with self-assurance and body acceptance, the greatest thing about this movement isn’t that young girls will learn to accept themselves (is there any proof that Kardashian’s ample breasts can perform such miracles?) but that it’s producing deafening degrees of beauty noise. Where there’s an overabundance of images (thank you, Sharon Osbourne and Emily Ratajkowksi) and so much noise you can’t hear the melody beneath it all, all of this nudity is bound to become boring. It’s going to have to self-destruct at some point — and it’s going to be the beauty Apocalypse we need.
That’s where Kardashian comes in. Instead of blaming her for perpetuating a beauty myth or teaching young women to be “social media sluts,” thank her for serving as a mirror that reflects back to us our most infantile fears. Thank her for forcing us to deal with breasts and buttocks like adults (and like adults in countries in Europe have been doing for ages) so that we can (with hope) deal with what’s truly important sometime in the near future.