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How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Kim Kardashian Paradox?

10/03/2016 15:50 GMT | Updated 11/03/2017 10:12 GMT

So, a high profile star, known for their sexy image and status as a sex symbol, (amongst other things) has recently posted a semi-nude picture of themselves, strategically positioned to protect their "modesty".

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Terrible right? Except, I'm not talking about Kim Kardashian's already infamous throwback selfie. I'm referring to Justin Bieber's recent magazine cover of Clash magazine, where he's posed in nothing except a hat, with the image cutting off just before his crotch. Strangely, this isn't a big deal. There is no backlash. No one is yelling "he's a bad role model" and that he needs to "respect himself and his family more". For me, this unfair and illogical double standard between men and women is what is at the heart of this issue.

There is no doubt that we are in contentious territory. Balancing out the right for a woman to choose what empowers her and be able to control her own sexuality vs. being wary of not wanting to present women as one dimensional sex objects, is a tricky one for feminists to tackle. Kim Kardashian is in many respects a walking paradox. There are no straightforward solutions here.

On the one hand, we can't ignore the context under which selfie-gate is happening. Much of the media coverage of women is about what they look like and what they're wearing. If Kate Middleton has the odd day where she doesn't look 100% perfect, the media makes sure we all know it. Older women in the public eye (particularly in Hollywood) are much more of a rarity, when compared with older men. All round idiot Piers Morgan even suggested that Kim Kardashian's selfie was inappropriate because she was getting too old, despite having praised her last attempt to "break the internet":

"Every supermodel, movie and pop sex symbol (with the exception of the increasingly grotesque and embarrassing Madonna) knows there comes a time when you have to hand the baton onto the next generation, however reluctantly."

Calling Madonna embarrassing seems kind of rich, coming from someone who sticks up for xenophobic bigot Donald Trump just because they're "friends". Even if women achieve great things, ultimately how pretty we are still seems to be most important thing, as Cambridge graduate and barrister Charlotte Proudman found out when she was approached by a male professional because of her "stunning profile picture" on the professional networking site LinkedIn. (Just as a quick reminder to the Daily Mail journalist/vomit inducing human being Sarah Vine, who labelled her a "Feminazi" for highlighting such everyday sexism, LinkedIn is a social media space for work, not a personal/dating media platform. To be approached on such a forum because you are pretty is demeaning and undermines your career achievements).

A cultural view that it is ok to sexually objectify women can, when it gets really bad, lead to people thinking sexual that assault is OK and that "no doesn't always mean no". Like these douche bags, trying to suggest to Amber Rose (who has now publicly supported Kim) that unwanted sexual advances are partly her fault because of the way she dresses.

I sympathise with Chloe Moretz's point on twitter, even though, embarrassingly Kim Kardashian then exposed her as a bit of a hypocrite for previously having posed wearing very little herself on the cover of Nylon Magazine (Awks). In the wider context, images like Kim's selfie help to perpetuate a culture of objectification and an obsession with women's appearance, which in turn causes us to cease to view women as human beings.

BUT, taking all this into account, I go back to my initial point: the incessant double standard slut shaming has made the debate almost intolerable for me. You only need to scroll through the comments on the selfie for thirty seconds to see people throwing the word "slut", "slag" or "hoe" around so casually. These people don't care about women's rights, or sexual objectification. They care about slandering women they perceive as less than them, because they are, shockingly, showing their sexuality. There is nothing inherently wrong with a woman baring her sexuality; a woman showing her sexual side is not in of itself a bad thing. Our sexuality is not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed of. If she's in control of it, it could be seen as a good thing, empowering even. Kim stated yesterday in a powerful self-penned essay "I am empowered by my sexuality...and feeling comfortable in my own skin" and that she wants her daughter to be "comfortable in her body". "But you can be sexy without taking your clothes off" a lot of people have said. Which is something I agree with, but people should probably also be open minded enough to realise that there are different ways to be sexy: fully clothed, semi-clothed or completely starkers. Whatever rocks your boat.

In the end, I side with Kim. Too much of the criticism has been about how as a woman, she should not be doing this. And I think that's wrong. I'm also kind of impressed with her essay, ironically this seemingly shallow act of taking a picture of herself, has made her write some of the most intelligent things she's ever publicly said. I think the bigger solution, is that the range of women in the limelight needs to be broadened. We can have our Kim Ks and Khloe Kardashians baring all, but we should also have businesswomen, female CEOs and directors, female scientists, engineers, older women, ordinary looking women, unique looking women. We need a society that can praise all these different women, with their many different ways of empowering themselves. Some may get naked to feel confident and empowered, but others may emphasise their career success, their financial gain or their academic achievements. Or they may do all of the above; after all, women are not one-dimensional beings, just like men.