Kylie Jenner recently posed for a series of photographs in Interview magazine, donning skin-tight leather lingerie, strategically positioned in forms that highlighted the meeting of her thighs, intentionally focusing on her bare buttocks, essentially embodying the hypersexualization of young women. This is a mere eighteen year-old. This is Kylie Jenner. This is unsurprising.
Jenner’s series of hypersexualized photographs ultimately culminated to a front page spread where she is costumed in an outfit reminiscent of 1980s Madonna, seated in a golden wheelchair that she has made into her royal throne.
Many have taken offense to the exhibition of her body parts, questioning the surveillance of body and appearance for young women and girls. This kind of conversation is easy to talk about because more than half of the world’s population is comprised of women—it directly affects more than half of the human population.
However, it is just as important to examine Jenner’s front-page exploitation of physical disability. This kind of discourse is difficult to initiate in our daily social interactions because physical disability may not be as a prevalent or as popularized of a media topic for most people.
Of the discussions that have taken place, most have been around issues of ableism, representation, and its meanings that continue to take place within the online realm of social media. Many are quick to emphasize that wheelchairs are not a fashionable prop, but rather a restriction, an unchosen reality for some. Although there is some truth to this assumingly well-intentioned idea, it further perpetuates negative ideas about disabilities—that they are deficits, that they are obstacles, that they are crutches that will never allow some to fully experience a rich life. And this is not okay.
In response to criticism, Jenner explains that she feels like a mere female face and body restricted by her own fame—symbolized in her image as a living doll in a golden wheelchair.
While she is deserving of some sympathy and credit that many fail to provide to idolized, spiritualized, commodified, dehumanized celebrities, the fact remains that she is a wealthy, able-bodied white young woman. It is problematic to take a wheelchair, a means of navigating an otherwise challenging world for some, and use it to characterize her own struggles with constant surveillance.
It is problematic to recycle something with preexisting profound meanings, erasing someone else’s narrative to fit your own.
Trailblazers Campaigns Officer Lauren West notes that “A wheelchair is in no way limiting. It does not restrict me; it frees me.”
Laura Bizzey adds that “[a wheelchair] is a lifeline for so many of us, so that we can go out and have the freedom that we deserve as human beings.”
Hayley Gault also notes that “It’s not a novelty or prop for many of us, it’s our freedom.”
Maybe Kylie Jenner should take note from these women and see that what supposedly restricts her can be personally recreated to bring power back to herself. Lauren West reminds people this in underlining that:
“Empowerment is an interesting word. To me, it symbolises freedom, control of my own life and a lack of restriction. As a wheelchair user, I view my wheelchair as empowering. Instead of being stuck in bed, I am able to go where I want, when I want. It puts the power in my hands.”
by ELAINE LE