“I think women’s bodies are a battleground, and photography is partly to blame. Our society is so photographic now, it becomes more difficult to see all of those different varieties of shape.”
The Women’s Center of Boston College isn’t alone in its efforts this week to promote positive conversations about female body image—turns out, actress Keira Knightley has a lot to say about encouraging women to love their bodies, too.
In a spread for Interview magazine several days ago, the Pride & Prejudice star appeared topless, saying candidly that her decision to go nude was an attempt to strip bare the truth about how Photoshop in the media perpetuates unrealistic perceptions of female beauty.
The photos are unedited and untouched—no blemishes removed, no stray hairs erased, and no curves enhanced. There’s just Knightley, revealing everything she’s confident about and insecure of, in black and white. She’s exposing herself, and simultaneously, a legitimate problem with our media culture.
Knightley—who has become rather infamously known for looking dangerously thin and being small chested—isn’t new to these issues. For the promotion poster of 2004’s King Arthur, her figure was distorted to make her breasts look bigger than they actually are in real life. The incident resulted in serious controversy that the studio was forced to confront, prompting Knightley to take her most recent stand.
“I think women’s bodies are a battleground, and photography is partly to blame,” Knightley said in The Times. “Our society is so photographic now, it becomes more difficult to see all of those different varieties of shape.”
Celebrities like Lorde and Lady Gaga have fought the same fight as Knightley, targeting Photoshop as a big reason that so many women are uncomfortable about their bodies. Knightley is obviously in good company, and it’s hard to deny that the struggle is a noble one—but, believe it or not, the shoot wasn’t met with overwhelming praise.
One writer actually wrote an article titled, “Stop Calling Keira Knightley’s Nude Photos ‘Brave,’” bluntly arguing that Knightley added nothing to the discussion of female body image simply because of her race, age, and weight.
“I’m not sure that I feel comfortable with the Internet collectively giving Knightley a cookie for making the earth-shattering point that a thin, white, beautiful woman like her will still look thin and white and beautiful, with or without Photoshop,” said the writer.
While the writer’s point that an older, heavier, more diverse, or less conventionally “beautiful” woman should join the cause is to some extent a fair one, it’s definitely not fair to exclude or devalue Knightley because of her appearance. Can Knightley be blamed for the color of her skin? For the size of her body? For the things about her that make her, her? Doing that not only seems like an unfounded attack against Knightley, but it also perpetuates the very stereotypes that need to be broken down.
Knightley’s fans and maybe even her critics might have thought that she looked flawless in her Interview pictures, but more likely than not, she wouldn’t agree. Everyone has his or her own hang-ups, things that he or she wishes he or she could change about himself or herself—and Knightley is no different.
Regardless of who Knightley is or what she physically looks like, her photo shoot was a step in the right direction, helping women to understand that body image has more to do with how you see yourself than with how others see you. Knightley has invited women to look past the size of their bra, past the number on their scale, past the clothes on their body to realize that beauty is subjective—there’s no one definition of it. That’s the naked truth.
Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Photo Illustration