Jen Selter is Instagram famous. The 20-year-old New York native is building her career by posting #belfies—butt selfies—on the photo sharing site in an attempt to be the next Jillian Michaels and encourage other women to work out. Selter’s photos have turned her into a social media darling and many have declared she has the best bootay on instagram. Recently, Vanity Fair featured Selter in a two-page spread called “Rear Admirable,” which has some crying foul.
Carimah Townes of Think Progress argues Selter’s Vanity Fair feature “rejects people of color” and shows the glossy is still “stuck in the past” because women of color are rarely celebrated for their shapely physiques.
In an article comically entitled “Rear Admirable,” Vanity Fair showcases social media sensation Jen Selter, who skyrocketed to fame after posting photos of her butt on Instagram. The pictures used in the spread include a backside shot of Selter in a black corset, and another of the model in 1940s-inspired, fishnet lingerie. The accompanying text describes Selter as a “member of a rapidly rising subset of Instagram stars: young women unfraid to share their deeply bronzed, sculpted figures.”
The takeaway message is that showing off curves in a public way is not only a new phenomenon, but looking darker, “or bronzed,” is the new way to be beautiful. It’s a breath of fresh air to see curves and darker skin tones applauded by a world-renowned publication, but disappointing that Vanity Fair used a white Jewish woman to convey a newly-accepted norm.
Although Townes concedes that women of color aren’t the only ones with round derrières, she asserts Vanity Fair “perpetuates the idea that curves are new, trendy, covetable accessories” (kinda like Kendall Jenner’s “bold braids”), while “dismissing women of color whose curves existed long before it was fashionable to have them, and whose bodies have been critiqued throughout history.”
Though I’m not totally convinced that Vanity Fair is purposely overlooking women of color here given the spread is not a celebration of big booties in general, but rather a brief feature about Selter’s sudden rise to fame, her argument is not far-fetched at all.
Three years ago I penned an article titled, “It’s Only Cool When White Girls Do It?” posing a similar question of whether or not things that are seen as commonplace for women of color are somehow exceptional once White women catch on.
Back then I mused:
It is no secret that white women have been held up as the epitome of American beauty since we landed on Plymouth Rock. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and milky white skin have become iconic images of what is seen as traditionally beautiful. However, in the past few years White (and other non-Black) women have been gaining fame based on things traditionally associated with Black women.
Think about it, the media couldn’t get enough of Angelina Jolie’s lips, but made nary a remark about Jill Marie Jones, Naomi Campbell, or Taraji P. Henson’s perfect pouts. And when booty became the accessory de jour, non-Black women were praised for their curvaceous backsides, while Black women with equally large assets were overlooked (or even said to have a “big ol’ ghetto booty,” ala Nicki Minaj).
What’s up with that? Why are these things—plump lips, hair extensions, a big ass, rhyming ability—only cool or noticeable when white women do it?
Both Townes and I seem to be grappling with the same question. And though I understand exactly how she feels about White women getting shine for things women of color beeeeeen on, I wonder if Vanity Fair’s choice to highlight Selter speaks to this larger issue or if the magazine is merely attempting to stay current by highlighting who’s hot on social media.