One of the most overused – and misued – words in showbiz today. Any celebrity who does something vaguely moral is heralded ‘empowering’. Whether what they’re saying or doing has actually ‘empowered’ anyone, however, appears to be insignificant.
We’re all clear what ‘empowering’ means, aren’t we? It doesn’t mean the same as ‘powerful’. You can think something is strong without necessarily feeling ‘empowered’ by it.
To empower someone, is to give them the authority, power or confidence to do something they didn’t feel they could do otherwise. It is not the same as to ‘inspire’, which means to motivate or influence. And neither is it the same as doing something people heartily agreeing with.
Why am I making this point? I’m fed up with celebrities claiming their mission in life is to 'empower' people. I find it endlessly irritating. Not only is it arrogant, but also ironic – if I (an average joe) was in need a confidence boost, the very last person I would look to for it, is a beautiful, successful celebrity.
Who are these celebrities intent on ‘empowering’? Who AREN’T they, more like? Every week, one or other of them raises their head above the parapet to drop the e-bomb and it’s usually in connection to something OH SO WORTHY that they’ve done. Like, do their job. A few weeks ago, for instance, there was Karlie Kloss, who apologised for cultural appropriation by appearing in a US Vogue shoot dressed as a Geisha. 'My goal is, and always will be,’ she told fans, ‘to empower and inspire women'. How? By modelling clothes in a magazine photo shoot? Baaaaaaah.
Then there was Khloe Kardashian, who signed up as the face of Protein World’s weight loss challenge earlier this year to, as the brand says, ‘empower’ young women to ‘feel more confident and comfortable in [their] own skin, lose baby weight, or just show [their] ex what he’s missing’. Not only a contradiction in terms (feeling confident in one’s skin for oneself surely doesn’t sit comfortably alongside ‘showing an ex what he’s missing’), but also ironic, since wasn’t it Protein World who created ‘that’ Beach Body Ready ad designed to make women feel less than confident in their own skin? (Yes, it was.) Furthermore, empowering women to lose weight by buying protein shakes… can’t put my finger on it, but something about that doesn’t sound all that ‘empowering’ to me.
I’m not saying celebrities cannot empower – many do. I would say that Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart’s refusal to define their sexuality has more than likely ‘empowered’ a number of bisexual and gay women. But that wasn’t their goal; and ultimately that’s why it was empowering. It was genuine, not artificially conceived.
By far the most irritating ‘empowerment’ trend at the moment is the ‘empowering’ naked woman selfie. You know the ones: ‘I’m getting naked to ‘empower’ women’. I mean, URGH, at every level.
Number one culprit of this is model Emily Ratajkowski. Emily is a feminist, and campaigns for a woman's right to sexually express themselves. She does this by posting naked selfies – her way of saying, ‘I can reveal whatever part of my body I like because sexy is beautiful and the general public has no right to slut shame me for doing so’.
Right on, sister. Couldn’t agree more. But that’s because no one has the right to slut shame anyone, ever – whether they ‘sexually express’ themselves via Instagram or otherwise.
I have a huge problem with the media identifying Emily’s decision to bare all as 'empowering'. Is she really sexually liberating the masses by baring her breasts? Or is she actually, showing off her body because it makes her feel confident to do so? I think, the latter. As she, herself, has claimed, the only person she’s actually empowering is herself.
Case in point, when speaking last year to WWD – in response to the topless snap, below, which she posted in support of Kim Kardashian’s 'Nothing to wear' Instagram pic) – the model said: 'My response to people saying I post over-sexualized images is that it’s my choice and there’s an ownership and empowerment through them.'
She's empowering herself, yes. But who else is she empowering? Not me, that's for sure! I don't look at pictures of Emily and a) feel confident in myself, b) feel more in control of my life or c) fired up to imitate her. And that's not because I don’t have a figure like hers. It’s because other than noting that Emily is a lot thinner than I am, I don't really think anything when I look at pictures of her in a bikini. Sexual liberation, what? It doesn’t cross my mind. Has she given me the confidence to flaunt my own sexuality? Not one bit.
What I take umbrage to most is the self-congratulatory aspect of all these assertions. The people who have genuinely empowered me to do things I didn’t think I could – my family, my friends – would never pat themselves on the back for having done so. Not publically, nor even privately, because they haven’t empowered me for praise or recognition. In fact, they’re not even aware that they have empowered me at all. They have merely lived their lives: achieving great successes, weathering great failures, and being bloody courageous to boot. And that is what I find ultimately empowering.