The naked truth of the media and body image

Keira Knightley’s un-Photoshopped photos have prompted an examination of the value of such acts:

Recently the actress Keira Knightley posed topless for Interview magazine, and not long after Kim Kardashian did a similar thing for Paper magazine, but they had very different approaches. How much do these pictures actually mean, and does it really matter?

These days, more and more skin is being shown, with crop tops and extra-short shorts being the summer fashion; clearly we’ve come a long way from corsets and pantyhose. However, it seems that completely naked images of celebrities are still shocking, particularly those of women. This focus on body shape in the media has a direct and indirect effect on daily life.

In Keira Knightley’s shoot, she posed topless for the front cover of Interview magazine. Later, in an interview with The Times, she said: “That [shoot] was one of the ones where I said: ‘Okay, I’m fine doing the topless shot so long as you don’t make them any bigger or retouch.’ Because it does feel important to say it really doesn’t matter what shape you are.” However, this was not said in the magazine itself in the USA, but in a later interview here in the UK. This makes the image in the magazine a lot less meaningful to those who only see the original published pictures.

Shortly after this, Kim Kardashian posed naked for Paper magazine, with elements quite clearly Photoshopped, and with what is undoubtedly not a fully natural body. Surgeons have commented saying that she has had work done, going entirely against Keira’s au-naturel approach. Keira Knightley said: “I think women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame”, and surely Kim Kardashian’s shoot is exactly the kind of thing she is talking about. Knightley went on to say: “I’ve had my body manipulated so many different times for so many different reasons, whether it’s paparazzi photographers or for film posters.”

It’s a well-known fact that the media uses Photoshop more often than not, and to a certain extent it is accepted amongst society, but often we forget that that is the case. Celebrities’ stomachs are perfected, skin is airbrushed, and sometimes abs are even painted on. It sets an unattainable “perfect” body ideal, and this is what Keira has set out against. However, the problem with this is that her only “flaw” in terms of the perfect body ideal is that she is not big-chested. Other than that, Keira is a slim woman with no skin imperfections and a pretty face, so is it really an effective form of protest?

Today, although skinny is not in the spotlight as much anymore, and there has been a lot of criticism of the trend, there is still a general lack of acceptance of the fact that everyone has different bodies. Although nude pictures of women are made out to be a much bigger deal, this does not relate to women only, but to men as well. The image of people portrayed in the media – in advertising, magazines, on TV – is something that everyone strives to be, but in the working world is incredibly difficult to reach. Celebrities often dedicate a lot of their time and money to exercising and eating correctly to make sure they maintain this standard. Although thin may not be so desirable any more, for women, being “toned” with a skinny waist and a big butt has become more so, something which Kim Kardashian has attained through money and Photoshop. For men a running theme seems to be that of being muscular with no fat anywhere to be seen.

Many parodies of Kim’s photo appeared quickly after its publishing, particularly in reference to her hashtag “#BreakTheInternet”, with numerous men posing in the same way as her but with both the before and after Photoshop photos of themselves posted. Keira’s photo-shoot, on the other hand, was not made into such a big deal. Kim’s figure may be “ideal” but it is not “real”, yet that is not to say that Keira posing topless is a good way to counteract that. In the end it is still simply making physical appearance the most important aspect of our lives, when that should never be the case.

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