Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox has recently been under both praise and scrutiny from the media and feminist communities due to her recent nude photo shoot for Allure magazine.
Though many women undergo public scrutiny for similar photo shoots, hers is targeted largely due to the fact that she is a transgender woman in the public sphere. Members of the public hold different stances on the matter — some supportive or indifferent, others judgmental and discriminatory.
Nude photo shoots are a widely disputed topic in general. Some believe that women are pressured into these types of shoots in order to conform to misogynistic views of what a ‘beautiful’ or ‘magazine-worthy’ woman should look like. In doing so, they believe women conform to patriarchal norms in which they must be feminine and slender in order to appear beautiful across the glossy spreads.
But in approaching it this way, we negate the woman’s power within the situation. Instead of a viewing the woman pictured as a conscious actor making her own decisions, she is negated to a player within a game she has no control over. She is delegated a role in which society controls her every action based upon its sexist system.
While this may in part be true, it doesn’t explain the whole situation, and takes the woman — her choices and beliefs — out of the conversation completely.
In baring their bodies, women reclaim them — a display of radical self-love.
On the other hand, many women, such as Laverne Cox, believe that by modelling in these types of shoots, they are reclaiming their femininity within their own terms. Rather than being told how to dress and perform their own gender, they take the lead and behave how they chose. In baring their bodies, they reclaim them — an act of empowerment, and a display of radical self-love.
Laverne Cox illustrates that she is confident in the body she has and the gender she is, and she doesn’t feel that she needs to be ashamed of what makes her who she is, no matter what society tells her. In making this choice, she and other women take back their own power within public spaces.
When critiqued about her stereotypically feminine looks during an interview with renowned feminist activist bell hooks [sic], Cox defended how she chooses to perform her gender. “This is where I feel empowered [. . .] and comfortable. I think it’s important to note that not all trans women are embracing this [referring to blonde wigs and high heels], but this trans woman does. And this trans woman feels empowered by this.”
When did the conversation change to what makes a society, rather than an individual, feel comfortable and empowered? While a conversation regarding society’s influence on gender is valuable to have, it isn’t the only narrative we should pay attention to.
At the end of the day, celebrities and trans women are still people like you or me. They are individuals who have the power to choose how they portray themselves, whether that be on an average day, or within the pages of a fashion magazine.