The Internet Has Decided Cardi B's Nudes Aren't Wholesome. I Wonder Why 🧐

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Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 06 2021

7 mins read

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This is a story of two celebrities. One is a fit, hot, white dude. One is a fit, hot, Black woman. They both accidentally post nudes on Instagram, swiftly delete them and—because this is 2020—it matters not at all. People screenshot their photos and they quickly go viral. And what do you think happens next?

If you guessed that the internet is respectful and mostly decline to share the white dude’s photos while the Black woman’s nipples are all over Twitter, you’d be correct.

Last month, Chris Evans shared a screen recording to Instagram, not realizing that he’d accidentally captured his camera roll—which featured a photo of someone’s dick (presumably his own). He immediately began trending on Twitter, but to spare him the indignity of having the photo shared widely, fans tried to bury it by posting cute animals or (clothed) photos of the actor with the hashtag #ChrisEvans. (They were inspired by anti-racist K-pop fans.) Evans’ celebrity friends also spoke out in support, his brother poked fun at him and he turned the incident into a PSA for voting. It was all very nice—and for many women, a sign of society’s continuing inequality.

As actor Kat Dennings pointed out, when women’s nude photos are leaked, accidentally or otherwise, the public reaction is rarely so wholesome. And Refinery29 writer Ineye Komonibo made a similar point, writing, “I can’t say that the same energy was immediately extended to stars like Kim Kardashian, Iggy Azalea, Demi Lovato or Vanessa Hudgens—who even had to apologize after her pictures were leaked in 2007—and I think we know exactly why.”

Not everyone found this argument convincing; at the time, Slate staff writer Heather Schwedel argued that, while men and women are treated differently, this incident wasn’t a “sexist parable.” “Over the past 10 years, stars have gone from being shamed when private photos or videos get out to being treated as victims of a crime (some of [Jennifer] Lawrence’s perpetrators went to prison), or in Evans’ case, as victims of unscrupulous actors who spread the photos online,” she wrote. “At the same time, the act of taking nudes has basically become normalized. Put simply, they are less of a big deal, and the act of consuming them without permission has become guilty and shameful.”

But we just got an almost perfectly analogous situation, and wouldn’t you know? It looks like some people do still get shamed for their nudes.

Last weekend, while in Las Vegas to celebrate her 28th birthday, Cardi B accidentally shared a topless selfie to her Instagram Story—apparently it happened because she was using her camera as a mirror, which is clearly dangerous and something I will never do again, I promise. As with Evans, people screenshotted the post and immediately took to social media to share them. Many of her fans did rally behind her (in the most on-brand way), but overall, I certainly didn’t see the same outpouring of support that Evans received, even though her first reaction was an audio post on Twitter in which she clearly sounds embarrassed.

“Lord, Lord, why the fuck you have to make me so stupid and retarded? Why? Why, why, why?” she said. (Although, we don’t use that word anymore.) “You know what, I’m not even going to beat myself up about it. Nope, no, I’m not. I won’t, it is what it is, shit happen. Fuck it. It’s not even the first time. I mean I used to fucking be a stripper so whatever. Ay, Dios mío.”

Despite the fact that she clearly didn’t mean to post the photo, a lot of assholes not only shared it, they also mocked her because her areolae are “too big.” For the record, there are no laws about what size nipples should be, so fuck that.

But the bigger problem isn’t what they said, it’s that they felt entitled to say it.

That’s why the idea that we’ve entered some feminist utopia where women aren’t judged for their nudity and people feel bad about looking at nudes without consent feels so unlikely. Hello? People have plenty to say about women’s bodies, their sexuality, their “unladylike” behaviour, their weight… Earlier this week, 18-year-old singer Billie Eilish was body-shamed for gaining weight, and that’s not the first time people have criticized her appearance this year. Back in April, she was slut-shamed for wearing a bikini.

When Cardi and Megan Thee Stallion released “WAP” in August, a multitude of men, including CeeLo Green, were clutching all the pearls at the idea of women liking sex. “Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, they are all more or less doing similar salacious gesturing to kinda get into position,” he told Far Out magazine.

At another point in the interview, he says music today is “unfortunate and disappointing on a personal and moral level… it is shameless, it is sheer savagery.” This despite the fact that CeeLo Green has a song that alludes to drugging a woman to rape her (“Necromancer,” which includes the lyrics “I’d have my way with what’s left of the will in her / Cosmopolitans and cocaine and an occasional pill in her”). And In 2014, he was accused of actually drugging a woman and raping her. (He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation and community service.) Seems pretty shameless and savage to me, tbh.

And it’s not just in pop culture. In July, a study published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery implied that female vascular surgeons who posted photos of themselves in bikinis or “provocative” Halloween costumes on their personal social media platforms were unprofessional. (It has since been retracted.) Meanwhile, schools are still enforcing dress codes—policies that tend to disproportionately affect young women, especially young racialized women—during remote learning.

I could go on.

Cardi’s Blackness plays a huge role in the public’s feelings of entitlement to her body. As Teen Vogue’s Brittney McNamara explained back in August about the WAP controversy, “the stigma is increased [for Black women and women of color]. Since Black people were enslaved in America, Black women have been oversexualized, falsely seen as having animalistic sexual desires to either be exploited or suppressed. This translates into the criticism we’re seeing today—Lady Gaga sings about riding a ‘disco stick’ and having explicit sex dreams and she’s called ‘empowering,’ while Cardi and Megan are ‘disgusting and vile.’”

It’s not just that Black women have historically been sexualized and perceived as hypersexual. It’s that we still behave within the constraints of this dynamic. In a 2018 study of white university students, researchers demonstrated that participants paid more attention to the sexual body parts of Black women compared to white women, and that Black women are “implicitly associated with both animals and objects” to a greater degree than white women. And Cardi’s past as a stripper probably doesn’t help matters—there is still a perception that doing (or ever having done) sex work counts as perpetual consent.

In her piece about Evans’ nude leak, Schwedel seemed to imply that, because he isn’t likely to face any career consequences, and none of the women whose nudes leaked in the past have lost work because of their nudes either, it’s basically no harm, no foul. But it’s not really about lost work, is it? It’s about who feels entitled to comment on, gawk at and share photos of women’s bodies—and why that control doesn’t lie with women themselves.

And Did You Hear About…

Kenyan comedian Elsa Majimbo, whose most recent video is perhaps a little too accurate.

Bon Appétit’s video re-launch. Thoughts?

Ice Cube working with the Trump administration on its “platinum plan,” which promises to allocate $500 billion toward improving life for Black Americans.

HuffPost’s story on race and racism in the Bachelor franchise.

These two literal unicorns.

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