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Keira Knightley's topless stunt: Valid protest or shameless self-promotion?

Guest blogger
Baring one's breasts to make a statement is all the rage these days

Let’s be honest: When a woman bares her breasts for public viewing, she’s doing it for one reason: because she wants the public to view her breasts.

That means you, Keira Knightley.   

The 29-year-old actress announced, in an interview with the U.K. Times, that she allowed herself to be photographed bare-breasted for the September cover of Interview magazine as a form of protest against what she called media “manipulation” of women’s bodies. She agreed to the topless shot only on condition that the magazine not Photoshop or otherwise retouch the image. “I think women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame,” she told the Times.

So high-minded of you, Ms. Knightley. It’s impossible not to notice, though, that Knightley’s social-protest pronunciamentos were nicely timed to coincide with the pending release of her new movie, “The Imitation Game,” due in theaters later this month. It’s also impossible to notice that – ahem -- Knightley looks fantastic on that cover.

Baring one’s breasts to make a statement is all the rage these days. Comedian Chelsea Handler posted a photo on Instagram of her topless self astride a horse to make the point that if Vladimir Putin can ride shirtless, so can she. (Instagram removed the photo, but Handler quickly reposted it on Twitter.) Jennifer Lawrence appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair looking nearly naked while arguing in the magazine that hacking her private nude photos were akin to a sex crime. And then there are those “nurse-ins,” where mothers descend on establishments with their babies and strip to the waist to defend their right to breastfeed in public.

All this is cheerleaded along by feminist commentators. Jessica Valenti wrote this on Monday for the U.K. Guardian:

“Willingly baring it all is a bold move at a time when so many people see the naked bodies of women, famous and otherwise, without permission. So if 2014 ends up the year of the breast, it will be because women made it happen on their terms. They’re making clear that their breasts, or lack thereof, are not public property – that our body parts are just that: one part of who we are and how we experience the world.”

Because nothing says “My breasts are not public property” so clearly as making your breasts public property by letting everybody look at them.

The case of Keira Knightley is especially absurd. Knightley is apparently still smarting over a digital enhancement of the poster image of her for 2004’s “King Arthur,” in which she played Guinevere.  

And this isn’t the first time that Knightley has made up for that 10-year-old outrage by taking it all off for a camera. In 2006 she posed in the buff for the cover of Vanity Fair along with an equally nude Scarlett Johansson. Perhaps Knightley’s aim then was also to protest that fact that photographers -- in this case Annie Leibovitz -- “manipulate” women’s bodies.

So please, come clean: You’re exposing your breasts in public because you think you look great that way and you want people to look at you.

Forget those flimsy fig leaves of moral justification. 

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.

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