Lola Kirke isn't a household name yet. Despite roles in Gone Girl and Noah Baumbach's Mistress America, most know her as the younger sister of Jemima Kirke, who plays Jessa in Girls. But a slew of movies coming out this year -- including American Made, alongside Tom Cruise -- mean that Lola Kirke is probably enjoying the last gasps of relative anonymity.
A few weeks ago, however, Kirke got a taste of the insanity that comes with being a human in the limelight, after she Instagrammed an eight-second video of herself casually dancing to Carly Simon, resplendent in nothing but flesh-colored underwear, dangly earrings and high heels, with the caption "Red carpet ready!" It was a video shot before the actress attended this year's Golden Globes, and it captured the excitement and joy of the moment for a young star who is still thrilled to be invited to such events.
It's important to note that Lola Kirke has, at the time of writing, 28k followers on Instagram. The photo of her actually on the red carpet later that night is a pretty solid representation of what usually happens on her page -- 5,640 likes, 339 comments. By comparison, the underwear video garnered a whopping 3 million views and 1,500 comments. Her caption attached to the aforementioned red carpet pic succinctly explains why: "Thanks to all you beautiful people who didn't send me death threats on account of my #awesome #hairyarmpits!"
To read through all 1,500 comments under Lola's underwear video is to experience everything bad that happens to people on social media in one handily condensed and unedited nightmare spiral -- not to mention how gender roles influence how we humans look at each other and interact in real life.
On the surface, the outrage at Lola's video does seem entirely based in disgust at her unshaven armpits. In one comment thread, she is called "ugly," "nasty," and "bitch" so many times that counting each instance becomes a Herculean task. Kirke is also repeatedly referred to as "slutty," "gross," "hoe," "disgusting," and "unhygienic." The emoji with the closed eyes and the surgical face shield is used hundreds of times.
Interrupting this endless tirade of insults are supporters, desperate to remind Lola that she is "beautiful" and "awesome," but the hate just keeps coming at a rate that demonstrates that this isn't just about one moderately famous woman's underarms.
The men leaving insults on the thread mostly make it about them. @triggeredredmemes says: "I don’t want a bitch that won’t shave in bed with me." @anthony_ramirez.24 says: "I wish I didn’t see this." @just_finding_nemo says: "I don’t understand why some women don’t shave their armpits." @xx_.king._xx says: "it’s different on a dude but you bring a female in the picture that look decent then got hairy ass armpits that sh-t ain’t adding up. plus idk a dude that like that on there girl." And @tiamobieber seems to feel threatened by having a woman embrace something that he believes is a male privilege: "Disgusting! YOU ARE A WOMEN NOT A MAN."
Then there are the men who think this must be a publicity stunt, for no right-thinking woman would ever willingly leave hair on her body without real (financial?) motivation to do so. @Mohragabfans says: "Clearly she doesn’t have a career. Nobody is paying her any mind. So, she figured. Growing my disgusting armpit hair will get my whack ass self on some headlines (which happened) but don’t forget, she did that all to grab the medias attention. It’s sad to be this desperate and thirsty." @Joshsa7 agrees: "I love her but she is so badly trying to prove a point by not shaving its unbecoming."
Interestingly, the women expressing outrage make it about their own idea of feminine roles, which, in turn, often reveal some serious, internalized misogyny. Some have strange notions about the dangers of armpit hair for women like @lizre, who states: "If you people don’t like to shower, shave, brush your teeth etc. Fine but the truth is that it is disgusting without hygiene people can get sick."
Then there's anti-underwear police like @solas_one, who says: "Someone tell her that we have kids in instagram.. we don’t need to poison there minds with this kind of sh-t…someone tell her to send this video to her husband and not to a bunch of perverts…" and michelle_cookie101, who says: "I’m reporting you bitch for nudity and porn… Shave your pits dude."
The overriding message, if you subject yourself to the entire thread of comments, is twofold: 1. Lola Kirke must be brought down a peg or two, and 2. Women's bodies are public property to be dissected and commented on at will. Much of the thread issues outright demands to shave, as if Lola's body is a public monument to be designed by and voted on in a virtual town hall.
The amount of attention focused on Lola Kirke for this one, silly, short clip also demonstrates how much our culture has been focused, for so many decades, on making women feel terrible about themselves at every opportunity. Not only do many of the Instagram commenters make that their goal, but a major reason this post generated an abnormal amount of traffic is because, in those eight brief seconds, it was clear that Lola Kirke was feeling good -- about her body, about herself, about her life. And the sight of that turned out to be so jarring, on such a deep level for a great many observers that they felt the need to remind Lola -- and all of us -- that there is a real price to pay if you allow the world to know you are a confident woman. If you happen to be such a woman with the nerve to not observe every single one of the extremely narrow rules around American beauty ideals, things will be even worse for you.
Earlier this month, Lena Dunham interviewed Camila Cabello about how the 19-year-old has coped with stardom in the pop group Fifth Harmony. Wise beyond her years, Cabello said: "The best decision that I've taken in my career thus far has been this year; I've just stayed away from social media. I don't go on it... Even though I know that there's way more support than there is hate, I don't have that in my head."
It's a sad state of affairs when young, famous women must close themselves off from social media -- something most of their non-famous peers use daily -- in order to avoid having around-the-clock hate directed at them. Here's hoping Lola Kirke can provide a positive example of how to rise above and beyond it, while we wait for online culture to catch up.