Let’s talk about Kylie Jenner. Everyone is talking about Kylie Jenner right now because Jenner recently did an erotically charged photo shoot where she was featured in a wheelchair and now, she’s won the ire of disability activists. But maybe using disability as a prop wasn’t what she was trying to do and maybe if she was someone other than Kylie Jenner, the context of these photos would matter more.
To be sure, the conversation surrounding disability is very much needed and this blog post in reaction to the photo in question is a very good one that discusses the ways in which wheelchair use, mobility, and visibility are all viewed in modern society. If you want to know why a photo shoot featuring a wheelchair as a stand in prop for disability is a terribly bad idea, that post covers it. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about intent, context, and the ways we let our perceptions about individuals color our reactions in the media.
At first glance, this photo seems to be exactly what the outrage points at. Jenner is dressed in a latex corset, in a wheelchair. However, when seen with the other photos featuring her being removed from the storage box, posed, etc, it becomes clear that the wheelchair photo is part of the featured lifestyle of men who love dolls and that Jenner is supposed to be a sex doll in these shots.
I support this starting an unintentional conversation surrounding disability and how it is perceived by society, I think that’s a very important conversation. What I don’t think is needed is the vilifying of Jenner for this photo shoot.
There is a context to this photo that is missed by removing the one shot from the greater whole. There are changes that would make the single photo a bit clearer and the message stronger. For example, if Jenner held her hands with slightly splayed fingers next to the wheels, as the actual dolls look. This is nit picking however as it’s fairly clear without such a small change.
By removing the photo from the context, it helps to fuel the narrative that is popular around Jenner (and by extension, her entire family) as being the bad guy. Vapid fame monsters with no care for anyone but their own. They are villains that the country loves to hate.
The question is, if someone else had been featured in this photo, a media darling instead, would the reaction of been so strong and unforgiving? Would they have been given more of a benefit of a doubt? Part of the reason why this photo has gone viral isn’t just because of the perceived negativity but also because of the woman in the chair.
Even if you personally have no issue with Jenner, none of us exists in a vacuum and we can all be caught up in the outrage machine. We feed off of that, we fall prey to that. This isn’t some random model being insensitive, this is KYLIE JENNER once AGAIN doing something that INSULTS an OPPRESSED GROUP. This is someone from THAT family ONCE AGAIN flaunting their PRIVILEGE while real people suffer.
That is the narrative. Meanwhile, the male photographer whose concept it was is getting a pass. They don’t have to explain themselves, answer to anything. The magazine is going to get a pass. They did release a statement but ultimately they won’t be known as the magazine that put out the abelist fashion spread but Jenner will always in part be known by this photo shoot as one more terrible thing that she did. This isn’t to say that Jenner is a saint that is simply misunderstood but it is to say that maybe, in this case, she’s not alone in her fault.
If there is truly a fault at all. Context isn’t always important but sometimes, it does make a difference. Sometimes it changes the story that we’re telling. If the narrative of the photos is about how she has no agency and is a doll then why would we want a disabled model to be in those pictures? Isn’t that counter to the image that the community wants to be seen? What about the other photos in the spread? Would a disabled model want to be seen being carried around, in a box, posed, etc?
Is that the story they want to be told?
Let’s talk about disability in our society. Yes! Let’s talk about how it is portrayed by the media! Let’s have that conversation so we can as a whole become less abelist with more positive representations for everyBODY.
But let’s not take that stand based upon this woman in these photos. Let’s have the conversation because it needs to be had not because we think a fame monster is being a fame monster that needs to be called out.