One Topless Photo Shows Everything That's Wrong With the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign


A lot of ink has been spilled over the campaign that drew attention to the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by the extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. Although reactions have been mixed, if you watch Fox News, the word "pointless" and "no effect" might be the only ones that come to mind. If you've seen the photo Sports Illustrated model Irina Shayk posted on Instagram recently, words like "what in the world" may pop up too.

What started out as a trending hashtag on Facebook rapidly turned into a full-blown foreign policy crisis, and that's obviously a good thing. Over 1 million tweets have been propelled into the twittersphere with authoritative figures like Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai demanding action. Due to growing pressures, the White House has responded swiftly with significant legislative action. Members of the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Defense have travelled to Nigeria in an attempt to gather intelligence about where the girls are located. Much of our government's action have largely taken place because of the mobilization around the issue online. 

Image Credit: Twitter

Regardless of how you feel about hashtag activism, the digital campaign was a success on many fronts. There is no way the U.S. would have been so highly involved in this issue, especially given that this extremist group has been kidnapping people for years and the government has never gotten involved.

Image Credit: AP

However, as Irina Shayk's failstargram illustrates, the amount of attention a digital campaign brings does not mean it only has positive effects. Jill Fillipovich has expressed the fear of #BringBackOurGirls turning into another Kony 2012. "There’s a danger in this kind of hashtag activism [...]: It obscures context, large and local," she wrote in Cosmopolitain last week. Although she sees the merit of mobilizing online, she wonders if it will become "a social media spectacle, devoid of nuance and actual information."

The Twitter reaction to Shayk's photo mirrored those concerns. "Would you stand there naked wishing sorrow on the 9/11 victims? Would you do it for the tsunami? This is a tasteless attitude to 200 missing girls," said one user. "Self-centred and in VERY poor taste" said another.

Although no one can profess to be in Shayk's head, it's hard to see her photo as anything else than a ostentatious attempt to turn the attention on herself. Even if her Instagram followers suddenly care about the missing Nigerian girls, why does she think she needs to use her naked body towards that end? It's insulting to everyone's intelligence if you feel the need to prop your naked boobs on a cause to get people to care about it.

Given that the school girls, if left in the hands of Boko Haram, could end up being sold into sexual slavery, any attempt to sexualize on the part of so-called supporters isn't just callous, it's cruel. Parading the hashtag like some kind of frivolous and aesthetic badge of honor, in a dangerous attempt to titillate the viewer over missing school girls, misses the point entirely.

Image Credit: AP

The fact that some media outlets are framing the story as simply a "racy selfie" that's for a "good cause" shows just how little empathy we still have for black girls, especially those living in the developing world. No one would be debating about the insensitivity of the picture if we were talking about 300 missing American girls, especially if they were all white.

Sometimes, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. That applies to celebrities and social media. Sometimes, if you don't have anything nice to Instagram, don't Instagram anything at all.