If you have logged on to any kind of social media website at any point late last year, it’s extremely unlikely that you have neither heard of PAPER magazine’s “Break the Internet” campaign nor seen a picture of Kim Kardashian’s “famous” rear slathered in oil and bared for public consumption for the cover of the New York city based, independent publication’s 2014 issue. However, just in case the controversial photo shoot managed to escape your attention, or you simply aren’t aware of the background to it, here’s a summary of how the campaign came about.
At eight a.m. (ETZ) on the 12th of November, PAPER magazine’s website uploaded a concise teaser article which announced their objective of “breaking the internet” with their winter issue and their subsequent choice of cover star: Kim Kardashian. They also explained that they had “tapped legendary French photographer Jean-Paul Goude to recreate his iconic “Champagne Incident” shot”; a nude photograph of model Carolina Beaumont holding a bottle of champagne from which a stream of the iconic, glamorous, effervescent, golden liquid shot over her spiky up-do, trickling neatly into the traditional coupe glass balanced on her backside. They included two out of three of the cover shots: one in which Kardashian took on the pose and the props “Champagne Incident”, with the slight differentiation to the picture of Beaumont in that she was fully dressed in a black sequinned evening gown, and one in which she poses over-the-shoulder, with the aforementioned dress slipped off and held just below her buttocks.
Eleven and a half hours later, the website launched the full article, accompanied by a third shot, which can be found here and shows Kardashian almost completely stripped with the bottle and coupe lying abandoned at her feet. Interestingly, although the journalist, Amanda Fortini, describes Kardashian as “a feminist-entrepreneur-pop-culture-icon”, the article bears absolutely no relevance to the three images except the sneering comment regarding the reality star’s “occasionally tossing out a memorable visual flare: a sex tape, say, or a nude photo shoot”. If the magazine’s intention was to promote body confidence or to target the physiological standardisation of the models and cover stars who fill the images of glossy magazines, why doesn’t Fortini include one single question in her interview as to how Kardashian deals with having a frame much fuller and more petite than almost every other woman in her industry?
The answer, quite simply, is because PAPER magazine frankly doesn’t care about the answer. The feature makes a promising start by telling us that “behind all the hoopla, there is an actual woman”, before continuing in obliviously ironic objectification, “Who isn’t at least a tad curious about the flesh that caries the myth?” PAPER made their objective quite clear in their 8 a.m. teaser: “For our winter issue, we gave ourselves one assignment: Break The Internet.” The magazine is not in the least devoted to, or even interested in, increasing women’s confidence and giving them a voice; it wants to use Kardashian’s highly-sexualised body to create a powerful, widespread media campaign whose ultimate objective is to send everyone on the internet into a frenzy and draw attention to PAPER. At best, this is sexual objectification; at worst, it is an act which perpetuates rape culture.
This is not an attack on Kardashian’s right to do with her body as she pleases. Whatever you think of her personality, morals, or back ground, she is a grown woman, after all, and what she consensually chooses to do with her body is none of my business – until it affects the way that I am looked at, thought of, and treated.
According to Perez Hilton, Kardashian “modelled for PAPER magazine FOR FREE, and her only intention was to work with the famous photographer Jean-Paul Goude”. Whether this is true or not, I cannot definitely tell you – Perez Hilton’s blog is not exactly reputed for its reliability, but at the time or writing, there are very few sources on the subject of how much Kardashian was or wasn’t paid for the shoot – but it highlights the key issue of the case. Kardashian chose to do this shoot for no apparent benefit but attention and to work with a famous, talented photographer and she is comfortable with being sexualised for public consumption to meet these ends. Many other women – those with less social media presence, fame and money to have some degree of control or influence on the world around us – are not willing to be sexualised, and, when we are, it is not consensual, but a form of misogynistic sexual abuse.
You only need to read a few of the combined 6,602 comments on the two PAPER articles which I have referenced to see that the availability of Kardashian’s sexuality encourages men to believe that they have the same public entitlement to the bodies of other women. One man comments on the teaser article: “That’s not what us men are looking at… And don’t really care that she is classless.” The sense of a general, shared male attitude conveyed in the phrase “us men” is painful to read in its sheer implication that men and women are entirely separate entities who think and act in completely different ways, despite the fact that we do actually all belong to the same species, sharing the same biology, basic instincts and desires. The subtle, underlying message of the comment – that women exist for consumption by and the pleasure of men – is even more sickening to read in this supposedly post-feminist age.
However, perhaps even more upsetting than the chauvinistic comments from men are the slut-shaming, anger-fuelled exchanges between women throughout the strand. Some are aimed at Kardashian when it seems the real (and righteous) anger behind their statements ought to be aimed at the industry which fuels the sexualisation and standardisation of women: “She looks deformed”, one woman writes; “I agree looks fake. Kim put some clothes on.” One women complains that “This girl is a hoe, became famous for being one, and will die rich one.” Surely if the media was forced to change, forced to abandon its unhealthy portrayal of women as sexual objects and frown upon those who did, Kardashian would not have the seemingly sex-fuelled career which enrages so many other people. Is this not where we should be focusing our energies? If these women are concerned for Kardashian’s morality, dignity or “class”, as so many put it, why aren’t they targeting the media industry which demands women sexualise themselves in order to be seen as attractive, instead of a woman who I, quite frankly, see only as one of its victims?
We need to spend less time shaming the women who strip off in front of the cameras, and more time shaming those behind the cameras who tell them that it is alright to do so, that this is their role in the 21st century. Rather than breaking the internet, we ought to break the media which bolsters objectification, rape culture and misogyny, putting confines and restraints on female identity and preventing the world from seeing women for what we are: human beings with diverse bodies and personalities, thoughts, rights and feelings, just like our male counterparts.
Emma is an eighteen year old student, currently studying English Literature, English Language, and Classical Civilisations at Cirencester College. She is also working on an Extended Project Qualification which is focused on analysing and retelling the faerie tale of Beauty and the Beast. This blog post was written after she read Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, which very much changed the way she understands the media’s portrayal of women. She is passionate about writing, and dreams of one day becoming a professional novelist. You can read more on her blog www.ibelieveinfaerietales.