Celeste Barber’s well known “challenge accepted” posts have been hailed for poking fun at the seemingly unreal poses and bodies prevalent in the world of celebrity.
This week, one of these posts caught my eye. Not for the humour it was aiming for in its execution, but for the caption. The post featured a video of 30-year-old model Emily Ratajkowski posing against a pillar in a pair of bikini bottoms and stilettos, which Barber then mimics in her usual style. Barber’s caption reads: “We are sick of you objectifying our bodies! Also, here’s my ass.”
If the post had a different caption, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice. But to me, that caption smacks of internalised misogyny and slut-shaming, bordering on victim-blaming. It made Ratajkowski an object, and reinforced the view that if women express their sexuality, then they are not only objectified, but seen to be courting such a response.
I mean, if she really didn’t want to be objectified, she wouldn’t pose like that, right? The implication is clear: you can’t be sexual without being sexualised; you can’t show your body without being objectified.
This rhetoric removes any accountability from the people doing the objectifying and places the blame squarely back on Ratajkowski.
Ratajkowski herself has been vocal about how she has grappled with the objectification that comes with using her body for her work. Last year, she wrote an essay for The Cut called “Buying Myself Back: When Does a Model Own Her Own Image?” where she described being allegedly sexually assaulted by a photographer during a photo shoot in 2012.
That photographer then went on to publish a book of images of Ratajkowski without her permission, including naked photos of her taken during the photo shoot, profiting off his alleged abuse. He denies the allegations but in his rebuttal of them he said: “You do know who we are talking about right? This is the girl that was naked in Treats! magazine, and bounced around naked in the Robin Thicke video at that time… You really want someone to believe she was a victim?”
Since those comments, singer Robin Thicke has also been accused of sexually assaulting Ratajkowski during the filming of the Blurred Lines music video clip which shot Ratajkowski to fame – a story she recounts in her book My Body.
It may seem harmless to make jokes about the perceived mismatch in someone speaking out against objectification when there are images of them that society deems to be “sexy”. But jokes at someone’s expense, especially that of a sexual assault survivor, aren’t just jokes.
Ratajkowski may not see Barber’s post because the model has blocked her but I guarantee many women who have been abused will. And they will continue to internalise that shame and guilt that society has instilled in us that tells us if we are sexually assaulted, it is our own fault. You clearly wanted it. What were you wearing? You led him on. What did you expect would happen?
Objectification should not be the price women have to pay for being comfortable in our bodies, expressing ourselves or even just existing. How someone looks or how they dress or what they say is never an invitation for commodification, which can be a starting point for a series of damaging and misogynistic behaviours, including image-based abuse and sexual abuse, both of which Ratajkowski has allegedly faced as a direct result of how her body has been fetishised.
Emily Ratajkowski posting nude photos or using her body to make money doesn’t make her comments on objectification any less valid. But Barber’s caption, trying to juxtapose Ratajkowski’s words and image for laughs, shows me that these are still largely viewed as contradictory ideas.
The lack of response from Barber following widespread criticism of her post has been just as disappointing to me as the caption. What could have been a valuable opportunity to address internalised misogyny in a meaningful way after a quick joke that went wrong, has reinforced that it’s genuinely the way some people still view women. I’m hoping that despite the lack of response on this issue, Barber goes back to what she does best: exposing our society’s unrealistic beauty standards without targeting individual women.
My wish is that by having these conversations and highlighting these issues when they appear in our Instagram feeds, rather than laughing along at the “joke”, we can start to challenge the idea that objectification is simply a given when someone shares an image of their body.
Lauren Beckman is a writer and feminist content creator living on Ngunnawal land.
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