Where is the line between admiration of human beauty and dehumanizing objectification? Is it possible for a person, a woman in most cases, to sell some sacred part of herself to the point of dehumanization? Doesn’t that power to use or sell her body as she wishes, and still retain her sacred self, rest with the woman in question and her alone? Regardless of how she is perceived by others, both buyers or third parties? Let’s be clear, objectification of women is dangerous. And the impulse to protect is strong. But be warned, it is a fast descent to the burkha, the habit, the chastity belt.
Admiration of human beauty is deep in our culture; in art, literature, and music. Consider Ruth Orkin’s iconic ‘American Girl in Italy’ photo from 1951 and the story behind it:
Was the lady in question, Ninalee Craig, admired or objectified? Does it even matter? Craig says no. Maybe some men objectified her while others respectfully admired. We’ll never know. That is their concern. No doubt objectification can be dangerous, but if the objectification remains only in the heart and mind of the objectifier, only the objectifier himself is degraded.
Let’s not inadvertently disempower women through this concern over objectification. Let’s rather focus our efforts on disempowering men who objectify women, all the while remembering that paying tribute to feminine beauty can itself be a beautiful act.