KYLIE JENNER’S INTERVIEW MAG PHOTOSHOOT:
WHAT WAS SHE DOING IN A WHEELCHAIR?
AMBER LOVE 02-DEC-2015 Last night, Twitter exploded when feeds like Models of Diversity spread the images of reality star KYLIE JENNER in a wheelchair. The images were from a photoshoot and interview she did with INTERVIEW MAGAZINE.
When people use the phrase “intersectional feminism” it’s about including all walks of life from ethnicities to financial status to education and to disabilities. You can’t be a decent feminist (for all genders) and ignore the privilege of ableism. In America, one of our own Presidential candidates even mocked disabilities within the last week (please don’t vote for Trump). We have a problem.
— Models Of Diversity (@ModsOfDiversity) December 1, 2015
Kyle Jenner was interviewed and did a photoshoot for Interview and they deserve the backlash they got. Jenner is an able-bodied 18-year-old woman made up like a fetish doll sort of in an Aeon Flux style.
The interview questions were not about the context of the photos. It’s about her life as a reality star and how she’s done more with her life than women 35-years-old (yes, she flaunted her privilege that nonchalantly).
WHAT ABOUT CONTEXT?
Steven Klein was the photographer and senior editor Chris Wallace interviewed Jenner for this issue.
Here’s the thing about seeing a single image: there’s no context. Remember the time when Michelle Obama looked pissed off while her husband talked to a visiting female politician? It was really the luck of the shutter to have captured it because she was smiling a second later. Same thing happened in the meme of John Travolta kissing Scarlet Johansson on the red carpet; one second later, she turned her head to see who it was and hugged him.
The single circulated image of Jenner in a fetish outfit and sitting in a wheelchair is damaging. It’s completely offensive and insensitive.
Seeing the single image, I first reacted like everyone else, WTF? What were they thinking (it’s not all on her)? Then I wondered if the image was part of a larger photo story. There was no caption.
In a photo essay, we are told a story, usually from a news source. There are little or no captions. Photo essays that get attention tend to be look at this war-torn country and the suffering children. They get Pulitizers for that. You almost don’t need the words because the news portion of it, the “story,” has been covered elsewhere and is familiar.
In a photo story, we get something fictional. Instead of portraits or fashion advertisements, we the viewer are treated to a fictional account with the model playing a character. I have personal experience with this.
I had the pleasure of modeling for a talented photographer several years ago to shoot the striptease/adult parodies of comic characters like Firestar and Susan Storm from Marvel Comics. I submitted both sets to Cosplay Deviants and they were rejected. The reason, I was told, was that there was no story to them. It was me against plain backgrounds. I happened to love the plain backgrounds because it showed off me and the costumes I made. It wasn’t what they wanted for content. They have sets like characters in kitchens or running through the woods. I’m surprised they accepted my Wonder Woman set which was also a plain background; the Power Girl set was me in my bedroom and bathtub like PG had gotten home from a long day of kicking ass and needed to relax.
Anyway, my point is, there was a model (me) playing a fictional character (Power Girl) and trying to convey a scene from a story (life after a long hard day).
I thought about Jenner and asked myself, was she trying to portray something? The answer is yes.
Was it smart to do? Absolutely not.
COSPLAY & MODELING: CAN A WHEELCHAIR BE A PROP?
After asking myself whether Jenner and Klein were trying to tell a story, I thought about our cosplay community. I have seen several cosplayers using wheelchairs. That’s what costuming and fantasy is about: doing what you want, pretending to be someone else, imagining what super powers are like. And it’s supposed to be for everyone.
But, I know that not all Oracle cosplayers actually need the wheelchairs they are in for photos. And I’m saying that from personal knowledge not from assuming they don’t need a device because they are spotted walking once in a while. I know disability is not black and white and that people have a range of limitations. Maybe a cane is all that’s needed one day, but there’s too much pain to consider it the next. Or maybe there are weeks when someone is fine, but then something flares up.
What I’m saying is, there are cosplayers who do use devices like wheelchairs and Matt Murdock canes as props and they are IRL able-bodied. (Elsa Henry spoke with me recently about Daredevil and how she, as a disabled person, detests the character and doesn’t find him empowering.)
Is cosplay the same thing as Jenner posing as a sex doll in a wheelchair?
I honestly don’t know. I think there’s a slight difference in the context, but I’m open to hearing what the nerd community thinks.
A lot of people have already spoken about how women who use wheelchairs are fetishized. If you haven’t heard of that, the TL;DR version is that it’s a sexual fetish for some men to fantasize about or engage in sexual activity with a woman who uses a wheelchair. The same way there are fetishes for other things (fat women, Asian women, pregnant women), using a wheelchair has this additional burden.
When I saw Jenner using a wheelchair as a prop, it wasn’t a harmless reenactment of a character who happens to use a wheelchair. She was displayed like a sex doll which completely alters the context. I wrote about this type of sexualization and how it affects something medically beneficial in my old post about Wizard World having massage therapists dressed in cosplay; cosplay is also already fetishized (sexual roleplay) and massage is already linked to sex work instead of solely for medical benefits. Jenner and Klein added that fetish element and it upset an entire community of people with disabilities.
FORGIVING OR IGNORING MISTAKES
I don’t think Jenner realized what she was doing, but it’s also not for me to forgive her. She didn’t offend me. She offended a lot of my friends rightfully so; and she offended a lot of other people in the modeling world.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes and don’t want them held against me. I’ve done photoshoots that could be misunderstood or taken out of context. A photo out of context is the same as a quote out of context. As the subject, I’ve learned some valuable lessons and I hope Jenner and Klein do as well.
What bothers me in addition to all this is when other media sites pick up the story that Jenner did this “amazing” interview with “edgy” photos, but they ignore the problem with her using a wheelchair as a prop. Sites that ignore it or gloss of it, could have implications that mean Jenner and Klein won’t realize they need to course correct in order to avoid insensitive mistakes in the future.
Hopefully after it went viral last night, her publicist had a good long talk with her so if the subject comes up again they have an answer: