by Jess Howard
The Kardashian/Jenner family are rarely far from the press. From Caitlyn Jenner’s sensational Vanity Fair cover early this year, to the recent birth of Saint West, they are seldom out of the news. Recently, it has been model and the youngest of the Kardashian sisters, Kylie Jenner, who has been in the limelight.
Causing controversy by taking part in a photoshoot in which she posed passive and sexually in a gold wheelchair, Jenner’s photoshoot, directed by photographer Steven Klein, and accompanying interview, were part of a feature in Interview magazine, and it is explicitly clear why the internet has reacted in such a passionate and infuriated way.
Before we even consider the photographs featuring Jenner in a wheelchair, we should first look to her clothing and make up. Jenner is made to look passive, rigid and emotionless. CNN even went as far as to suggest that she resembles a ‘sex doll’. In one particularly shocking image, she is leaning over a box with shoes on her hands and feet with her bottom in the air, cheeks on display from the hole cut out of her fetish-like trousers and crop top.
What does this image say to us? What are Jenner and Klein suggesting? Many have argued the degrading nature of these images. By wearing shoes on her hands and feet, it is suggested that she should be crawling closer to the ground, possibly placing her at a lower status than the male model she poses with in other images. And by revealing only these areas of flesh she is undoubtedly placed in a submissive position. Fetish and BDSM are perfectly natural practices that many enjoy and should be wildly accepted, but arguably this stance is inappropriate given the younger age group of Jenner’s followers and fans.
Now moving on to the images of Jenner in the gold wheelchair. Understandably, the differently abled community have been angered and outraged by these photographs, which explicitly glamourise physical disabilities and wheelchair use. Within these photographs, the wheelchair is reduced to a fashion accessory, mocked as something that has equal value to a designer shoe or handbag. Clearly, the wheelchair is not a fashion accessory, it is a lifeline for millions of people who are unable to walk unaided, and should not be treated or represented as such a frivolous item.
Within these photographs, the wheelchair is reduced to a fashion accessory, mocked as something that has equal value to a designer shoe or handbag.
Many differently abled people took to Twitter and other internet sources to demonstrate their anger at these images. Many were infuriated by the contradictory ways in which they are treated, in comparison to the message Jenner is sending about physical disability. The same CNN article described how wheelchair users are “infantilised because of [their] wheelchair, denied even the idea of sexuality and agency let alone desirability”. Understandably, many are angered by the fact that they are treated differently because they use a wheelchair, a message that is completely overlooked by these photographs of Jenner.
Furthermore, many have argued the irony of the minuscule amount of fashion models that use wheelchairs that are employed on the books of high-end modelling agencies. In 2014 Daniella Sheypuk was the first wheelchair using model to runway at the New York fashion week. In an interview with The Guardian, Sheypuk correctly highlights that differently abled people are also consumers, who purchase and interact with fashion on a daily basis, and therefore it is ludicrous to exclude them from any form of fashion design or merchandising. Yet Jenner, an able bodied woman who has no need for a wheelchair, manages to bring the physical aid into the limelight with one photoshoot.
To summarise, whether it was intentional or not, Jenner and Klein’s photoshoot for Interview was in bad taste. Both model and photographer took an item that is so essential to millions of people across the globe, and trivialised it to that of a simple accessory. While they both had an opportunity to highlight the importance of differently abled people in the consumption of fashion, they chose to ignore it in favour of creating drama and sensation. Either way, regardless of the intention, this should act as a loud reminder for the fashion world that it needs to disregard its prejudices towards differently abled people, as consumers and as models – both just as important to the success of a brand, and style as a whole.