WHY is posing naked ok for some pop stars but not others, wonders Andrew Eaton-Lewis.
What is the difference between a naked picture of Lana Del Rey and a naked picture of Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes)? Both have caused a stir in recent weeks. Khan appears naked, in black and white, on the cover of her new album, The Haunted Man, her modesty covered (just about) by the man she is carrying over her shoulders like a dead animal she has just hunted down. The image, Khan has said, is “in honour of women like Patti Smith; just these raw, honest women”. Khan is wearing no make-up, and – highly irregular, this – doesn’t appear to have shaved her legs
Compare this with the photo of Lana Del Rey on the cover of the new issue of men’s magazine GQ – an image widely mocked because it is one of five collector’s edition covers, the rest of which all feature men fully clothed in designer suits. If GQ had actually set out to illustrate how sexist it is, it couldn’t have done better.
Some of the criticism, interestingly, has also been directed at Del Rey, who, with her vampish, forever pouting image, stands accused of shamelessly pandering to male sexual fantasies in order to become more famous. The GQ images are fairly conventional soft porn – they look spookily like Jack Vettriano paintings, in fact, particularly the one of the anonymous, suited man with his hand on Del Rey’s breast.
But there is also a troubling hint of misogyny in the keenness to condemn Del Rey as, essentially, a whore (and her female critics are as guilty of this as her male ones). “Can Lana Del Rey pose naked and still be taken seriously as a musician?” was the question posed by the NME – which for me prompts the obvious response: “Is it ever up to musicians whether you take them seriously or not? And why on earth should your ideas about what serious musicians can or can’t do be their responsibility rather than yours?”
Is anyone asking “Can Natasha Khan pose naked and still be taken seriously as a musician?” Not that I’ve noticed. And is that because she’s posing naked in an empowered way, or just because, with its artiness and nods to Patti Smith, it seems a bit cooler than what Del Rey is doing?
If so, that’s a double standard to rival those of GQ. Yes, Patti Smith has posed naked (Robert Mapplethorpe was her best friend for years, so it would be surprising if she hadn’t) but she never did it on an album cover (unless you count the diaphanous top she wears on the cover of Easter). Neither – as far as I recall – did she ever make it a major selling point for her music (like, for example, releasing a naked picture of herself on the same day as the first song from her latest album). It’s certainly arguable that Khan – in this instance, at least – has more in common with Del Rey than she does with Smith.
Sexual objectification is, as the website Jezebel noted a few days ago, a complicated thing – particularly in the hypersexualised culture we now live in. It depends on intention, context, control (was it your decision to be photographed like that, or did someone else put pressure on you?). But those who praise Khan while judging Del Rey should examine their motives and their prejudices.
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