Why Did Vanity Fair Give 'Belfies' A Stamp Of Approval?

"Selfie" may have been the 2013 word of the year. But "belfies," or "butt selfies" are now in the spotlight. We learn more about why they earned a fitness model a spread in Vanity Fair magazine.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

You've probably heard of selfies, right? That's the slang term for an amateur self-portrait usually shared on social media. But you may not have heard of belfies. A belfie is a selfie that puts particular emphasis or focus on the subject's rear end. Twenty-year-old Jen Selter gained social media fame for her belfies, and she's now broken into the mainstream with a spotlight in the magazine Vanity Fair.

While some credit her - who's white - with beginning a new trend toward body positivity in mainstream fashion, others say wait, we've seen this before. Here to talk about that, Kara Brown. Her blog post, titled "We Need To Talk About Jen Selter," has gone viral since it was republished on Jezebel. Kara, welcome.

KARA BROWN: Thank you so much for having me.

HEADLEE: So in your piece, you say you tried to ignore this woman for as long as possible.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: What about the Vanity Fair article actually tipped it for you?

BROWN: I mean, the fact that she was being featured in a major fashion magazine was very different than getting, you know, thousands of likes on Instagram. This was sort of a stamp of approval. And, you know, as much as people like to talk about, perhaps, the diminishing influence of print magazines, you know, they're still very important and very relevant. And so seeing her on those pages, to me, was a different level than I had seen her before.

HEADLEE: And I guess your primary complaint is that when they gave examples of women who've become known for their rear end, none of them were women of color who kind of have been known for that...

BROWN: Yeah.

HEADLEE: ...For some time.

BROWN: Yeah. You know, they reference - I think Elle magazine called her the next Kim Kardashian. And, you know, it's - there were women before Kim Kardashian.

HEADLEE: So you also mention a number of other, say, body traits or even styles that were trendy years and years ago, sometimes even centuries ago. But they were associated with black women, and they only become notable to a fashion magazine when a white woman begins to do it. Why - can you name some of these trends for me?

BROWN: You know, I think having full lips, which, you know, it's funny because some of the pushback for me is, well, you know, these aren't traits that - these aren't blat - traits of only black people or white people. And that's true. But you also have to consider that, you know, in racist caricatures of black people, one of the things that they choose to emphasize or overemphasize are lips and someone's, you know, rear end.

So I think when Angelina Jolie became very popular, there was this, you know, wave of full lips - they're amazing, and look how beautiful she looks. And women were running out and getting, you know, whatever it is injected into their lips. And you just have to look around at all the other black women who've had this feature - not only had it, but celebrated it.

HEADLEE: So who does it hurt? Why is it wrong?

BROWN: I think it's - you're erasing women of color from depictions of beauty and from being understood as being standards of beauty. So, you know, when you look at Jen Selter and you think, oh, well, you know, she looks great. And - you know, and that's wonderful. But women of color are already underrepresented in fashion in the mainstream. And to take something that is largely associated with them, and then just sort of put it on a white woman and say it's amazing, you know, it's not - fair is not really the right word, but it's also just disingenuous.

HEADLEE: So if this is a problem and causes body image problems, especially among women of color, who's to blame? Do you blame somebody like Jen Selter?

BROWN: You know, I - initially, I was very irritated with her. But taking a step back, you know, I don't hate her. I'm not mad at her. It's really sort of the systems that we're forced to operate within.

And so, you know, if there was - I don't know what the masthead of Vanity Fair looks like. But if there was a person of color who, you know, was high - who was high enough where they felt comfortable expressing their opinion - or, you know, if I was there, I probably would've said, hey, you know, we've seen this before. So I think it's also, you don't have the people in these positions making decisions.

HEADLEE: And should we, instead, maybe ignore it?

BROWN: I mean, it's hard to ignore. And I don't think I should have to ignore, you know, things that are celebrated in our culture, and things that I see all the time, and things that I like. You know, I want to see myself and other types of people in them.

And, you know, you can't - and it's hard to ignore. You know, you can - there are black magazines. You know, you have Essence and Ebony, and those are great and amazing. But, you know, you also - why can't we be in Vanity Fair? Why can't we be in Vogue?

HEADLEE: Kara Brown's blog is "Yo, I'm Just Sayin..." Her post about Jen Selter was republished on Jezebel. She joined us from our New York bureau. Kara, thank you so much.

BROWN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.