A Woman’s Artistic License

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English writer G.K. Chesterton once said, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” Often debated is where exactly to draw this line, and in whose territory does it intrude. It’s not hard to find modern day morality driven criticism of depictions and discussions of sexuality in films, art, and music. What is shocking, however, is the continued disapproval of the female nude form outside of media. Artistic expression seems to own the license for the human form, while women in their everyday lives are still shamed for showing theirs.

The act of breastfeeding in public is the most recent example of this. Models can book topless or nude photo shoots in the name of artistic integrity for high fashion brands or lingerie companies and no one bats an eye. But when the same woman decides to nourish her child in public with a blanket over herself—or not—she is condemned. Candice Swanepoel, best known for her work with Victoria’s Secret, has felt both blades of this double-edged sword. For example, over a month ago, Swanepoel posted a close up of her son breastfeeding on her Instagram account.

Many women today are shamed for breastfeeding in public, or even kicked out of public places for feeding their children,” Swanepoel wrote in her caption on Instagram. “I have been made to feel the need to cover up and somewhat shy to feed my baby in public places, but strangely feel nothing for the topless editorials I’ve done in the name of art … Breastfeeding is not sexual, it’s natural.”

Even opening up the picture on Instagram on my laptop while sitting in the Chocolate Bar made me feel uncomfortable. I trepidatiously looked around to see if anyone was looking at my screen. After doing so, I wondered why I cared and that there was nothing wrong with Swanepoel’s picture. This was the exact point she was trying to make. It is that type of self-consciousness and shame that is attributed to graphic, sexual images that has become tied to a natural phenomena.

This controversy can also be seen in the war between “Body Positive” photos and pornography. When Kim Kardashian “broke the internet” with her nude 2014 Paper Magazine cover, those on each side of the sexuality vs. sleaze issue were pitted against one another. Those who lauded her cover photo related the artistic expression to some of singer-songwriter Grace Jones’ album covers—all of which celebrated the beauty of the naked, female form. Others were not as pleased.

According to E! Online, actress Naya Rivera, best known for her role in Glee, slammed Kardashian’s photo in the comments section of Instagram when it was posted. Rivera wrote: “I normally don’t. But … you’re someone’s mother … ” Disregarding other scandalous covers or acts that Kardashian has done, what did this magazine cover have to do with her ability to parent her children?

This kind of uncorrelated backlash resurfaced when Kardashian posted a censored, nude selfie on her Instagram in March 2016 captioned, “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL.” Actresses such as Chloe Grace Moretz and Bette Midler immediately took to Twitter to express their criticism.

Midler tweeted: 

Moretz retweeted said tweet and quipped with: 

It is not wrong to encourage young girls and adult women to have dreams, set goals, and achieve them, but why does expressing love for one’s body discredit women as a whole? Embracing your sexuality and body image and showing your pride in the same vein of artistic integrity is not owned by magazines, websites, or even your partner. The way a woman wishes to celebrate her body in no way sheds light upon her intelligence or capability to lead a successful life.

In saying that, women do in fact have more to offer the world than our bodies. We have strong opinions, innovative ideas, and harrowing stories to be told, but we should not have to sacrifice a love for our bodies or the comfort of carrying out natural duties, such as breastfeeding, in public for the sake of success. If the artistic world is allowed to use the female form however it chooses, then women themselves should not be ashamed for embracing their figures as well as their minds. Women can and will be both beautiful and brilliant.

Photo Courtesy of IMG Models

Veronica Gordo

Veronica Gordo is the associate arts editor for The Heights. She's a Yeezus fan, an avocado toast enthusiast, and a lover of all things Stella McCartney. You can follow her on twitter @vero_lena.

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