6066. When Kori was just starting her modeling career, she was casted for the Blurred Lines video. The original video didn't make it past the test screening because people where furious that Kori was 13 and she was shown dancing around topless like the other girls. Her agent thought the shock factor would be a good publicity strategy to exploit her potential. She cut ties with that management team and signed up with a new agency. The video was edited and all her shots were cut out in the final version.
Beyonce has become a spokeswoman of feminism, including quotes from feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in one of her latest tracks and having the word “Feminist” displayed behind her while performing at the VMAs.
For feminists like me, this is wonderful to see. The majority of women benefit greatly from the efforts of early and current feminists, but few women (especially female celebrities) publicly embrace the term the way Beyonce has. I hope that the promotion of the term and the movement by someone as adored as Beyonce will help shift the public’s perception.
When I heard of Beyonce’s song “Pretty Hurts”, and the accompanying music video, I eagerly anticipated its release. The song is about the very painful and exhausting process many women dedicate their lives to in order to be considered “pretty”. The music video features Beyonce competing in a beauty pageant. We see her and the other women engaging in various routines including getting spray tans, working out, kneeling in front of the toilet, and ingesting non-food substances in order to fill up their stomachs, all while her song plays. Half-way through the video, all the women are on stage and the pageant MC asks Beyonce what her goals are in life. She thinks for a while, admits she wasn’t ready for that question, and then answers “My goal is to be happy”. Shortly after that scene, we see her standing in front of her various trophies. She grabs one and smashes the others with it. The last scene of the video actually seems to be taken from a home video of Beyonce’s. The scene is of her as a little girl, giving her very brief acceptance speech after winning a pageant.
The video is undeniably powerful, yet I still felt like I wanted more. The ending felt somehow unsatisfying. In reading an interview with Beyonce about the video, I realized why. She described the video as being about “inner beauty and substance. […] That song represents finding that one thing in the world that makes you really happy.” I realized that’s what was missing from the video. We see Beyonce as a heartbroken, angry pageant contestant, but we never see her happy. We never see her as herself. We never see her, or any of the other women, outside of the context of the pageant. In her video, Beyonce is vividly illustrating a very dark problem deeply enmeshed in our culture, and I would have loved to see her create just as vivid an image of her character healing and “finding that one thing that makes [her] really happy”.
As I recently watched Beyonce’s VMA performance, one of Chimamanda’s quotes struck me: “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are”. I understood why Beyonce included it in her audio track as she danced onstage. Beyonce is known for her beautiful and provocative style of dance and costuming. When I heard that quote, I realized that Beyonce sees her very sexual style as an expression of her feminism. Yet, to me, her performance still felt sexually objectifying instead of empowering. What is the difference? Can a female performer express her sexuality without objectifying herself?
I watched some of Beyonce’s more recent music videos, and started to realize what felt so off to me. They felt objectifying because we were mostly in the place of “watcher” while she was mostly in the place of “beautiful sexy object”. She made flirtatious eyes at the camera almost constantly. She contorted her body to present certain parts of it to the camera. Her dance moves always felt choreographed instead of internally inspired. Her movements seemed to be motivated by what the viewer would want to see, not how her body wanted to move at that precise moment. Her flirtatious eyes felt like a way to draw the viewer in and keep us watching, not how her natural expression would be if she were singing the song. It felt like she was using her body as an interesting prop to help keep viewers engaged in the video. It felt like every movement had the intention of satisfying our eyes instead of her body.
In a culture where everyone grows up learning that female bodies belong to those who see them, it’s difficult for women to feel connected to their bodies. We quickly learn that our sexuality is only acceptable if it appeals to the male gaze. Even when we just want to move our bodies to music, we are expected to do so in a visually pleasing (and preferably also titillating) way. Most of us internalize these messages at such a young age that it soon becomes difficult to untangle our own sexuality from the way we are expected to be sexual. It becomes difficult to quiet the external messages that have seeped into our own thoughts and just move our bodies the way they truly want to move.
There are a few music videos where I feel the artists express their sexuality in an empowering way. The first is Mod Carousel’s “genderf*ck” cover of the well-known track “Blurred Lines”.
The video has a distinctly groovy feel to it, as if the track started playing and all the performers just danced along to it. Even the men, wearing nothing but glittering thongs and heels, dance in a way that is empowered, genuine, and flirtatious. They have a full range of facial expressions, instead of only sultry stares into the camera. The women have the same broad range in their expressions and movements. This multidimensionality helps give their characters life, instead of flattening the characters into visually consumable objects.
A much darker, more emotionally intense example is P!nk’s video for her song “Try”.
The interactions between P!nk and Colt are incredibly sensual. Their entire routine is obviously carefully choreographed but it still somehow feels organic. We see a lot of P!nk’s body, but no part of it is ever “presented to the camera”. P!nk is physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged with Colt. At no point does she even present her body to him. They are two people fully interacting with each other, no one ever falling into the role of “object”.
A lighter, more bubbly example is Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” music video:
It’s very flirtatious, with lots of great dancing. Again, despite the clearly choreographed routines the dancers all look like they’re moving the way their bodies want to move at that moment. The dancers’ personalities shine out of their faces and gestures. Even Meghan’s glances into the camera are not “Do you find me sexy?” but more “Come join our dance party and enjoy your body like we’re enjoying our bodies!”
As feminism becomes even more of a hot topic, thanks to many people (including Beyonce), I hope to see more music videos that feature multidimensional female characters. I want to see music videos become another medium where female artists can fully express themselves. I want to see more empowered female sexuality. I want to see women following their own bodies. I want to see the “subject/object” dynamic gone from interpersonal relationships and media, replaced by “person/person”.
Terry Richardson is the fashion world’s open secret. You might not know his name, but you’ll probably have seen his trademark celebrity snaps: slightly overexposed against a white background. He’s shot everyone, from Barack Obama to Justin Bieber, and he’s worked on campaigns with dozens of high end fashion labels. But that’s not the whole story.
In the last few months, I’ve spoken to several women who worked with Richardson and were unhappy with the experience. Take Sarah Hilker, who was 17 when she first met the photographer in 2004. Brandishing a fake ID, she went to a “model search” party for the alternative pin-up community Suicide Girls, where Richardson was shooting.
She tells me that he surveyed the scene, and decided “he was probably the worst type of person to photograph me … the images he chose to take at the event were very crass and lewd”. She describes a weird production line, where girls were pushed to undress and play with Richardson for the camera. “There were young women so drunk they could barely stand, never mind be of sound mind to sign a model release form.”
Hilker previously told Jezebel that she was uncomfortable with what she was pressured to do at the event. “In one corner there was a literal pile of SG bras and panties and the other was a small table with model release forms. Some stranger immediately grabbed me and whisked me over to the panties pile meanwhile, another person came over to me and shoved a model release form in my face. They had no interest in seeing my I.D. or even asking me any questions. I was being pushed towards the front of the line to go shoot with their panties and a blank model release form in my hands. I hadn’t even had time to get undressed to put them on.”
Although she has since shot nude, she decided that she did not want to be a part of what was happening, and she did not speak to Richardson at the event. “I feel rather strongly that agencies and companies should not affiliate themselves with a person that mistreats women, who are their biggest consumers,” she told me. “That being said, I also wish that more women were educated and prepared to deal with the hardships that come along with the industry’s coldness, the power of saying the word, ‘No’, with the conviction of walking away, and not regretting it.”
Then there’s Canadian model Liskula Cohen, who walked off a Vogue shoot with Richardson after his requests got more and more explicit. The men joining her on the shoot were not models or actors, they were friends of Richardson. She told me that “he wanted me to be completely naked and pretend to give one of the men a blow job, while he was also naked”.
Cohen says that after she walked off set, she was replaced by another model who gave blow jobs to both men and “they apparently had no qualms ejaculating on her for Terry’s images”. It’s possible that Vogue did not know what was happening on the shoot - although given Richardson’s reputation, they might have been able to guess. “Needless to say I have never shared the images or this story with anyone. I live with this guilt inside of me, that I did something terribly wrong,” she told the blog Girlie Girl Army. “In 24 years of modelling I have only walked out once. He made me feel as if I was a prostitute, a whore or even less then if possible… I want other girls who read this to know that if you do something like this, you will survive, but it will haunt you. I have scoured the internet for these images and thankfully they are nowhere to be found. But it haunts me in my own mind. I would hate for my daughter to see these images… That shoot was nearly 12 years ago and it still outrages me, makes me feel queasy, and makes me feel ashamed. I am a 41-year-old mother and this is how my work experience with Terry has left me.”
In a 2010 The Gloss article, ex-model Jamie Peck describes a shoot with Richardson where he asked her to remove her tampon so he could play with it. When she refused, he decided to get naked. “Before I could say “whoa, whoa, whoa!” dude was wearing only his tattoos and waggling the biggest dick I’d ever seen dangerously close to my unclothed person”.
Danish model Rie Rasmussen told Jezebel in 2012 that the girls who work with Richardson “are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves”. Another model who didn’t wish to be named describes Richardson’s ‘creepy demands’ in the same Jezebel post. “Eventually, he had me go down on him and took pictures of him coming on my face, which I had never done before, and when I went to the bathroom to clean up I could hear him and an assistant joking about it, which is when I decided to never tell anyone”.
On paper, Richardson’s CV looks great. He has photographed celebrities including Madonna, Kate Moss, Miley Cyrus, Chloe Sevigny, Mila Kunis, the Olsen twins, Beyoncé, the casts of Gossip Girl and Glee, Emily Ratajkowski (one of the models in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video), and Lady Gaga. His work has been published in Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Vanity Fair, GQ, i-D, Rolling Stone and Vice, and he has been hired by YSL, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Diesel, H&M, Mango, Supreme, Aldo, Jimmy Choo, Sisley and Gucci. The big names want to pose for him, publish him and use his services, this much is clear. The question is why.
It’s difficult to buy the line that top fashion publications and designers aren’t aware of the allegations against Richardson. It’s more likely that they simply don’t want to engage with them when his style is so commercially successful. According to one fashion insider, everyone in the business is aware of the behaviour of “Uncle Terry”, but no one wants to say anything - particularly not teenagers and twentysomethings in an industry where models work freelance with no job security, their next booking dependent on a tight-knit world where everyone knows everyone else.
Terry Richardson famously remarked “it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing”. His non-celebrity pictures, largely using young, unknown models, are often pornographic in nature. He has blurred the boundaries between pornography and fashion advertising more than any other living photographer, and the companies and magazines that work with him know that this is part of his appeal.
A detail from Terryworld, Richardson’s art book.
Whatever you think of porn, however, it is an industry which is beginning to be more aware of the potential pitfalls of asking young women to work for older, powerful men. I asked adult performer Zara DuRose about the standards in the industry, and she told me that when she is booked for a job, what goes on in a scene is agreed, in detail and in writing, beforehand. She confirms that “you have to sign a model release and they take copies of two IDs to confirm that you’re over 18 and a copy of your up-to-date health certificates”. She adds: “I’m not afraid to say if there’s something I don’t want to do. People can talk openly about what they want and how they expect things to work. This way you know where you stand and there are no surprises on the day.” In the supposedly more sweet and innocent fashion industry, comparable standards are not always observed.
By all accounts, Terry Richardson is treating models in a way that would be unacceptable in the adult industry, where explicit material is the order of the day. And top fashion brands, big companies and mainstream publications are condoning his behaviour by continuing to use him. Beyoncé, who has spoken of her feminism, has been both photographed by Richardson and used him to direct her music videos. Richardson is protected by his powerful fashion friends, who keep offering him work and publishing his pictures, while the women he has allegedly abused remain voiceless, despite having shared their stories. (In this 2004 New York Observer piece, Vice’s co-founder Gavin McInnes dismisses objectors to Richardson as “first-year feminist types” before asking of a meth-addicted sex worker with black eyes photographed in Richardson’s show: “How is old she? You think she’d mind if her tits were on display?”)
There is currently an 20,000 signature-strong change.org petition calling on big brands to stop using Richardson. H&M have stated that they have no plans to use Richardson now or in the future. Lena Dunham, who has shot and socialised with Richardson in the past, denounced him in a recent Guardian article as an “alleged sexual predator” who she does not count as a friend. Richardson has consistently refused to comment on the allegations made against him.
A jobbing model who needs to work might not have the luxury of turning down a shoot with Richardson. In that case, Liskula Cohen’s advice is “bring a body guard, keep your clothes on, and if he exposes himself call the police”.
The fashion commentator Caryn Franklin describes Richardson as someone who “appears to leverage his postion to ignore professional boundaries when he posts images of himself having explicit sex with young women”. She says that fashion is an industry that “shows very little concern for the wellbeing of its young models. Agents, editors and designers ignore the online accounts of his predatory behaviour and in refusing to address his dysfunctional approach they are endorsing something that is profoundly wrong”.
Liskula Cohen adds that “as for Vogue and all of his clients, I have no idea why they continue to use him”.
Sharing my opinion. Don't care if I get hate for it. I'm upset at the hypocrisy of the media.
The video I saw of TMZ talking about the DWUW video is the most ridiculous uneducated piece of fucking shit segment I have ever seen in my life. Rapey song? (And yes they said rapey SONG, not just rapey video).Do they not listen to the lyrics? Someone tell me how
“You can’t have my heart And you won’t use my mind but Do what you want (with my body) Do what you want with my body You can’t stop my voice cause You don’t own my life but Do what you want (with my body)”
sounds rapey. Or how about
“Write what you want Say what you want ‘bout me If you’re wondering Know that I’m not sorry”
“I feel good, I walk alone But then I trip over myself and I fall I, I stand up, and then I’m okay But then you print some shit That makes me wanna scream”
Yeah that’s so fucking rapey. They’re talking out of their fucking asses. They are so uneducated it’s literally DISGUSTING.
“Come over here if you want to get raped, by a creepy wannabe Timberlake”
“This song and video, will make you wanna take a, knife that is really dull, and shove it in your trachea!”
“And now it’s time for stupid hashtags that say my last name, it’s extremely lame! What they should say is I’m a douchebag, who thinks he’s so smooth, now everyone’ dancing, except for me I’m way too cool.”
“‘Cause I’m a scumbag! Who wrote this concept? Nothing happening makes any damn sense! [There’s a car on ya butt!]”
“Now let’s watch T.I. dance, like a dirty old man, who just shit in his pants!”
“Now here’s a crappy attempt at funny: What rhymes with funny?! [ALOT OF STUFF, IDIOT!]”
“Robin you asshole! I’m preggo with your baby. Even though I said no, you knocked me up anyway!
[But the lines were blurred!]
They totally WEREN’T! You’re just a BASTARD! *kicks him in the nuts*”
^ Just SOME of the amazingly perfect lines from Bart Baker’s Blurred Lines parody.
Please go watch it,you will thank me.
I will listen to Blurred Lines on repeat because I disagree with basically every opinion about it on here.
And because it’s a catchy song.
And because I think Robin Thicke is hilarious and adorable.
And I see nothing wrong with the song, or the video.