Dear Ms. Kardashian:
Even though you don’t know me, I feel compelled to write this letter to you, a letter in which, believe it or not, there’s both an apology and a thanks to you from me, a stranger.
I’ll start with the apology. Up until a few days ago, I thought I was ignoring you. It’s hard to ignore a celebrity when she appears on one’s Twitter and Facebook feed, whose face is on every cover of every magazine at the supermarket checkout. But I thought I was doing a fine job of it. In fact, I prided myself for not clicking on celebrity gossip, nor commenting on it when I happened to be in the vicinity of someone who was talking or posting about it. Celebrities and celebrity gossip was “beneath me,” I thought.
Nonetheless, despite my lofty ideologies, enough gossip about you had filtered to me, regardless of my efforts to block it, into not only not ignoring you, but, I realize now, into actually judging you. I judged you on your clothing, on your activities, on what I considered your unwarranted fame, and on your choice of consorts.
I can’t even believe I wrote that last sentence—I, who’ve spent the last two decades writing and advocating for women to empower and support other women, I, who’ve been judged so spitefully all throughout my life on some of those very same things on which I was judging you. Yet, without even realizing that I was doing that to you, I did do it. I judged you.
And it hurts to be judged. It hurts when one’s choices are mocked or sneered at. Even so, this is exactly what I did, because you didn’t seem real to me—just a name in my newsfeed, not an actual human being with actual human feelings. And for that I am ashamed of myself. For that, I apologize. I had no right to question any choices you make, especially me— whose own personal choices — (I should introduce you to a few ex-boyfriends of mine) —-have been so often far less than stellar. I was a hypocrite and by this public confession of regret, I hope to make amends not only to you, but to myself. If I didn’t apologize to you on paper, even if you never read this apology, I would feel that I should never write another word about women supporting women again.
But I also owe you a note of thanks—a resounding note of thanks, in fact. For the past week, more gossip about you has made its way through my celebrity tittle-tattle blockade, this time about naked photos. Naturally, being the holier-than-thou me, I hadn’t looked for these photos or clicked on any links that had to do with them, but like all other news about you, it was hard to avoid hearing about them. And what I heard was vicious: memes comparing your backside to a Thanksgiving turkey, celebrity males mocking your pose, and worse, other women making fun of your size. All at once, I had to see what was prompting all the meanness. So I searched for your photos.
Imagine my shock when my immediate reaction to them was of admiration. That’s right—I admired you. I admired you for how beautiful you looked—like a Botticelli painting come to life, and I admired you for having the courage and the self-confidence to be naked and proud of your body, when your body, like mine, is neither the size nor shape that the fashion industry wants us to believe is beautiful. And you know what? That is another thing I thought I was ignoring—the idea that a woman has to be a certain size in order to be considered “sexy.”
I’d struggled with my weight as a young woman, but for the past two decades, I’ve been thankful for the fact that I now have a “healthy” body weight, and a “fit” body. But I had resigned myself to never having a “sexy” body. My body would make Calvin Klein, with his idea of a size ten, five-foot-eleven model being “plus size” run screaming in the other direction. In fact, I’ve never been able to buy Calvin Klein bras, because even in my size, they don’t fit me. I’ve always thought of my breasts as being “too” full, my tummy “too” rounded, but it never occurred to me that I was judging myself (just as I judged you) and finding myself lacking.
But then, I saw your photos, saw you smiling with such a look of daring and fun, I realized how badly I had let myself down, had let my husband down, even. He’s always told me he finds me sexy, but you know what? There was always a tiny part of me that didn’t believe him. There has always been a tiny part of me—when I would see a Victoria’s Secret model that would think, with despair, “I’ve never had a willowy body like that, and I never will.” How did that affect my perception of myself and maybe even my relationship with him, I now wonder?
Seeing your photos, all this went through my mind. How society has issued an edict on which female bodies are sexy and which aren’t; which women can pose for magazines in their altogether and which should be mocked. At the same time that your photos were released, another star, Keira Knightley, posed topless in a “protest against photoshopping” she said. Was she ridiculed? Did memes of her breasts on a turkey platter show up on Facebook? No. Why—because she’s the “right” size? Because it’s okay to show off one’s body as long as it meets the approval of …whom, exactly? Fashion designers who force models to starve themselves into their clothing?
But Ms. Knightley has a point too, hasn’t she? Who dictates what size makes a woman beautiful?
And what does it say about us as a society that a full grown woman who boldly shows her full hips, backside and breasts is someone to mock, while an emaciated 16-year-old in lingerie is “sexy?” We, as women, have not only accepted but embraced the idea that a fuller woman has no right to feel as good about her body as you obviously do. Fuller women have no right to show our sensual side. We should be laughed at for not being a size zero. And only a woman who “works” for her body, not by healthy eating and reasonable exercise, but by starving herself, too often suffering from eating disorders, drug abuse and everything else that goes with the modeling industry, is permitted to feel “sexy.” The dysfunction of this has become so acceptable that someone like you who doesn’t buy into it, is the one who’s ridiculed.
I’m not blaming naturally thin women. They didn’t start this–the fashion industry did. But I do blame myself and others like me who buy into the diktat, sometimes without even realizing that we’ve bought into it, that only certain shapes are acceptable and others simply laughable. We’ve built into our perceptions of beauty a prison for women, just as sexist as other societies who stone women to death for not covering themselves from head to toe. Our stoning is psychological rather than physical.
Kudos to you for breaking free. And that’s why I have to thank you. Your photos made me feel more beautiful. Your photos, your presence in the tabloids, made me see two things about myself that I didn’t like and I am now determined to change: that I not only judge other women when I believed that I wasn’t, but that I also judge myself.
There’s a dress that’s been hanging in my wardrobe for over a year, a dress my husband loves, a dress I wouldn’t wear because I thought I looked “fat” in it. Thanks to you, I’m wearing that dress. Thanks to you, I am going to mentally put my middle finger up to anyone who mocks me, mocks my beautiful body, the body that I have never appreciated it, the body that has been healthy and strong for me all of my life.
So, a very big thank you, Kim. Thank you and I’m sorry.
With warmest regards,
Patricia V. Davis