Is Laverne Cox posing nude cause for celebration?

Transgender actress Laverne Cox poses naked in this month’s Allure, telling the magazine:

“I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again. But I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks. There’s a beauty in the things we think are imperfect. It sounds very cliché, but its true.”

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Ideals of female beauty vary over time and geography, but what’s consistent in patriarchal culture, whether the idealized body happens to be Rubenesque or Twiggyish, is that women are shown naked. (For a gallery of images, please see my post Why do men feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons) Cox has has a unique opportunity to publicly redefine what it means to be a woman, and I’m disappointed she’s sexualized here. There’s nothing new or celebratory or original about a woman posing naked.

I don’t get why all of a sudden, if the naked woman is over 50 (like Julia Louis Dreyfus on the cover of Rolling Stone) or plus size, we’re supposed to do a 180 and be grateful for the sexism. Look, she’s 50 and topless! Isn’t that wonderful? People still think she’s pretty, men still want to fuck her, she has value in the world!

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After the Swimsuits for All image was hailed all over the internet, I posted: Memo to the world, objectifying fat women is objectifying women and wrote: “Do you think I’d be any happier if my 3 daughters saw the Swimsuits for All picture in the Safeway checkout line instead of the Sports Illustrated one?”

 

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Fat women, trans women, women over 50 beauty contests don’t represent progress. What’s progress? When it’s no longer normal for my daughters to see women paraded as meat everywhere they look.

7 thoughts on “Is Laverne Cox posing nude cause for celebration?

  1. I know I’m a bit late to comment here, but I feel pretty strongly about this so I thought I’d write anyway. While I understand your point that objectification is objectification, even if it’s of a women from a minority group, I also think that as white, cis women it is emphatically not our place to question Laverne Cox’s decision.

    There is a long and violent history in America of white people, including white women, telling people of color, especially Black women; and of cis people, including cis women, telling trans people, especially trans women; and most especially of basically everyone telling trans women of color, what to do with their bodies. Feminism is so much about context, and I think we need to consider the context of those histories when we talk about Laverne Cox’s decision.

    Feminism is also about staying in your lane when something is out of your experience. And while obviously one doesn’t have to belong to a minority group to discuss issues affecting that group, there are some things on which we really need to defer to the people involved. As a white and cisgender woman, I don’t think it’s my place to tell Laverne Cox what to do with her body, because for me to do that would perpetuate a system in which my views about her body are prioritized over her own views about her body. When society as a whole takes so many choices away from trans people (and trans women of color most of all) about their bodies, who are we to tell them what to do? Laverne Cox clearly thought a lot about her decision and made a choice that she wanted to represent not just herself, but the marginalized communities that she is a part of, by posing nude.

    For many trans people (as an outsider to the trans community, this is based on what I’ve read and heard from others, not personal experience), oftentimes there is a problem where trans people’s bodies are not accepted; where they are seen as somehow wrong or unappealing, etc. This creates a different problem than exists for cisgender women, and therefore a different context for considering issues of nudity. If, as a trans person, Laverne Cox is so often reduced to her body in a negative way, defined by what it is and what people assume about her gender based on it, then is there not power in reclaiming their perceptions? Is there not something important about positively affirming that her body is in fact beautiful, and that trans bodies in general are in fact beautiful? The mere fact that she is posing in Allure, a woman’s magazine, is affirming her female-ness. Is that not powerful? She clearly thinks so, and I think we need to respect her decision.

    Lastly, I’m not sure I even agree with the notion that the photo is objectification–or if it is, that it’s equally bad as the Sports Illustrated cover. Objectification is taking a person’s entire being (a woman’s, in most cases) and shrinking it down to just how they look. But in the case of this photo, the quotation at the bottom gives Laverne Cox a voice. She is not shown as just a naked woman, but as someone thoughtful and intelligent, who made a decision to present herself in a certain way based on carefully-considered factors.

    The opposite of objectification would be accepting and embracing the entirety of a person, physically and mentally and spiritually, etc. Across multiple news stories, media platforms, etc., Laverne Cox has been pretty well embraced in most ways–she’s had an opportunity to demonstrate her intelligence in multiple interviews, she’s written a book where she’s gotten to talk about her own personal journey(s), and there’ve been many other articles written that focus on her career/talent as an actress. But there haven’t been any articles/media coverage of her that I’ve seen focusing on her physical appearance and positively affirming her beauty. Considering the entirety of Laverne Cox’s presence in the media, this article/photo could be seen as just filling in the gap, focusing on her physical beauty in a way that previous media coverage of her has not done and therefore giving a more complete picture of her when paired with all the other things that have been written about her.

    • Hi Ann,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Laverne Cox is on her path, doing what she has to do. I get that. It is not my job to tell someone else how to live their life. But I have every right to express how her decision effects me. For me, this photo is yet another naked woman in a magazine where there is already a sea of naked women. For me, this image is not original or creative or special. That is what my post is about.

      Margot

    • Feminism is not about ‘staying in your lane’ while another woman runs roughshod over what feminism has tried to achieve. would it be ok with you a black transwoman started to say that the best thing a woman can be is attractive to men? Just because that is a so-called life experience, or a way of seeing things doesnt mean it wont affect other women. There is a whole trope now of transwomen saying they are ‘better women’, and the reasons given range from the regressive, to do with wearing dainty fashions, to the disgusting: that trans are ‘tighter’ because actual women have children, and better because they dont bleed….so having children and having female bodily processes, is disgusting. (Funny how that’s what men say). There is even a Transgender Singles site that has entire posts about how transwomen are better because they appreciate men and know how to be feminine. So, what, this isnt to be called out? Its ok?

      Its not ok. Here’s a person claiming womanhood, and the most empowering thing Cox can think of to do is pose in a way men like. Its not even an athletic or productive pose. Its a porn one. There is absolutely nothing empowering about it and it is regressive and dangerous. Cox could have shown transwomen as contributing to the female gender, doing something powerful, like running her own business, or supporting other women, but, no, the best thing a woman can do is get in a soft porn pose and make men say: “Wow, she’s hot”.

      And its even worse to suggest that just because a person fits certain classes, they can do and say what they like while the rest of us should be silenced. What Cox has done just emphasizes again that this is what women are for. And why is this ‘beauty’? See, again, its beauty as men see it. I have often wondered how many transwomen would actually become women with the wave of a wand if they had to be plain women. They place far too much emphasis on making themselves look what men think attractive, and that is because they are socialised male..one of the most infuriating things is to hear so many of them claim they dont have male socialisation, as if being privileged male since you are born somehow wouldnt affect you, just because you say it doesnt. Cox thinks this is empowering and that is exactly, exactly, what Men’s Rights Activists say: that women have power, because they are hot. Of course, if they arent hot, they dont exist.

  2. Great post. Objectification is objectification, bottom line.
    …I am a little annoyed, that when growing up, I missed the lesson where average women go to the beach topless with each other and play grab-ass. Photographs have led me to believe I missed a very normal American activity in which all women indulge. Must have been out sick that day.

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