Looking at the roles Keira Knightly has had in films over the years, it’s easy to think she is blessed with the body that the industry wants: thin, a nicely rounded backside and a face of natural beauty. It’s true that Knightly is beautiful, but that in itself isn’t enough to satisfy the industry. For years she has struggled with accusations of being too thin, and for those of us not stalking celebrity magazines it might also come as a surprise that the movie industry has photoshopped her on many occasions, such as in Pirates of the Caribbean and the poster for King Arthur. “They always pencil in my boobs,” she told Allure magazine in 2012.
In the September issue of Interview magazine, one of their six covers will feature the actress topless. Like so many others, Knightly has finally exposed herself for a douse of publicity, you might think. But the artistically black and white shot, taken by Patrick Demarchelier, isn’t screaming for attention. With wet hair plastered on her face, wearing only trousers and lace gloves, Knightly poses for the camera without actually posing at all – she stands there, natural as can be, confident and without the model glint in her eyes that says: “Adore me, I’m beautiful.” Rather: “This is what I look like, and I’m not afraid to show it.”
In a business where body image means so much, going topless with a small chest is all the more admirable. Feminists might argue that, big or small, she’s exposing herself and whatever her intention, men everywhere will look her up. “I am a feminist, but I clearly objectify myself – so that right there is a total contradiction to feminist principles,” Knightly also told Allure magazine, after she posed nearly topless in a leather jacket two years ago. It is obviously difficult to balance her values in a business that demands she objectify herself, but rather than see the photo as an objectification we should see it for what it is: a woman as nature intended. That is where real beauty lies. There will always exist people who will take advantage of such pictures because exposed breasts have become a cultural taboo. If they weren’t, and women were allowed to go topless in public just as men are, the sexualisation of breasts would surely decline.
Knightly is not the only one to bare her chest for a cause unrelated to satisfying ogling men. In New York, topless women recently crowded the streets to celebrate the International Go Topless Day. It is one of only a handful of cities in the world where the law recognises women’s rights to bare their chests in public. The day is there to encourage women into feeling comfortable going topless, no matter if their breasts are pointy, bouncy, flat, or plain missing. While I still feel awkward going out in public without my make-up on, it’s admirable what so many other women have accomplished with their self-image.
Knightly’s photo shoot, and the confidence she hopefully inspires in feminists everywhere, is a step towards a more equal society for women of all sizes. She demonstrates that we should feel comfortable in our own bodies, not afraid of society’s cultural stigmas or what people generally consider ‘beautiful’. Having had to put up with the movie industry’s mutilation (photoshopping) for so many years, going topless shows that she finally stands up for her values as a feminist. Rather than expressing vulnerability or a desire to ‘show off her goods’, she shows how strong she is. And that is not something that should be covered up.
September’s “The Photographer’s issue” of Interview Magazine is out now