Kim Kardashian and the Culture of Shame

This article by Jayn Griffith at The Establishment is making the rounds on Facebook. It’s an enlightening read:

The Real Reason Everyone Freaked Out Over Kim Kardashian’s Nude Selfie – The Establishment

On International Women’s Day (March 8), Kim Kardashian posted a nude selfie on Twitter. The reaction was predictable: a smattering of compliments, some the affirming kind that praised her courage and her choice to do with her body as she sees fit, some genuine praise of her beauty, and some the creepy kind that expressed admiration of her body even as they complained about the obscuring black bars. Then there was the other side of the reaction: the name-calling, the shocked indignation, the attempts to shame.

Ms. Griffith’s article explores one side of the reaction against the photo. Her article talks about rape culture, the phenomenon where men treat women’s bodies as theirs to dictate where and how they may be used without any consideration of what the woman wants. It’s rape culture that rewards paparazzi when they’re on hand to take pictures of celebrities’ wardrobe slips; it’s rape culture that leads men to secretly video women in their hotel rooms and bedrooms and changing rooms; it’s rape culture that tells men it’s OK to cop a feel in a crowded place. And yes, rape culture leads to rape: not exclusively and not always, but predictably.

There’s another side of the reaction against the picture, one that’s easier to perceive and follow, one that’s easier to acknowledge, one that pretty much all of us have both perpetrated and felt targeted against us: the culture of shame.

It’s nearly a sport for us, shaming others, explaining in great detail how they don’t measure up to our own moral standards. We don’t do it exclusively to women, but they’re the targets more often than not, and the standards we expect them to hold to are utterly impossible. Ms. Kardashian, as an example, might be condemned as too thin and too voluptuous, a slut (for posting the photo) and a prude (for obscuring it with black bars), craving attention, being a poor mother, a poor wife, a poor photographer. I’m sure there are even those who will condemn the way she decorates her bathroom. And pretty much none of the people doing the shaming have any idea what it’s like to be Ms. Kardashian.

And it goes well beyond the Kardashians. Every one of us will be–has been–both the target and the perpetrator of shaming. We shame girls for showing too much skin and for covering up too much; we shame boys for being too rough and for being too gentle; we shame celebrities for speaking poorly on issues they have no reason to speak on, and for being human in their private lives (lives we have no business knowing about); we shame students for being too studious and for not being studious enough; we shame athletes for making mistakes while performing at levels the rest of us could never hope to reach; we shame politicians for compromising on issues in the name of progress, and for not compromising in the name of principle. I could fill an entire article with nothing but examples of how we tell others you should be ashamed of yourself.

And why not? It’s so much easier to condemn others, to try to make them regret their choices, than to examine our own. It’s so much easier to tear others down than it is to do the hard work of building ourselves up. And we get a similar return for our efforts: we can rise above our peers, we tell ourselves, by raising ourselves up or by pushing them down. And pushing them down is so much easier. It requires much less hard work, and pretty much no courage at all.

Of course, when we push others down, they do the same to us. And if we’re all pushing each other down, none of us rises.

Maybe we should think twice about tossing shame around so casually. Maybe we should give a little more energy to helping others up instead of condemning them.

Maybe we should make it a goal to extend twice as much grace as we do shame. We could make a game of it, keep score and compare notes with our social media friends at the end of the day. I bet we’d find shame nearly erased from our culture in a year.

Who wants to write that app?

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • I have mixed feelings about what she did, but I agree – shame is a waste – both dishing it out and taking it in. I am sad for my girls that they live in a time where posing such pics is even a thing. But I don’t know Ms. K or what drives her or what her hopes and dreams are.

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Beautifully said, Alyson, as always. Shame is a waste.
      Like you, I hope my daughter never makes that choice. But I don’t increase the love in the world by shaming those who do.

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