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Should young women Keep Up with the Kardashians?

The Kardashians have undoubtedly created a new sort of celebrity, but how have they also affected our cultural ideals around body image?

Different sketches of women's bodies

Keeping Up With The Kardashians has just ended forever, after blessing our screens for FOURTEEN years. GASP. My mum never actually let me watch their show when I was growing up and yet, I seem to know quite a lot about the Kardashians. They were catapulted into the spotlight in 2007 and have since grown into America’s most famous reality stars, multi-business owners and, let’s face it, the embodiment of social media as we know it. They have played a massive part in shaping modern celebrity culture.

With a collective social media following of over a billion, it’s unequivocal that the ending of KUWTK isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from them; they’ll continue to capture the world’s attention through their individual brand and business empires. With fame, comes opinions. From the UK tabloids to my mum – everyone has something to say, which in itself shows their power. Some people love the Kardashians, idolise them even, and some people criticise them, accusing them of promoting dangerous and extreme ideals.

All I know is that, irrespective of how I feel about them, their social media facade has influenced the relationship I hold with my body. Surgeries, photoshop, laxatives masked as skinny teas, diet lollipops, waist trainers, 6am workouts, bowls of salads bigger than your head, the list goes on. The Kardashians have forcefully yet ‘fashionably’ perpetuated diet culture. They have carefully crafted a certain aesthetic and we’ve all been cast under a magic cosmetic spell through their profiles and brands. 

Kim Kardashian is often recognised for marking a cultural shift in the desirable body type as she deviates from the Kate Moss and Nicole Ritchie stick-thin ideal. Kim has the curves, big boobs and bum, with a tiny everything else. And some people are grateful for that, as Kim broke boundaries and paved the way for the curvier shape to take the fore. Personally, as someone that’s got a shape more aligned with Kim’s as opposed to her younger half-sister Kendall Jenner’s, I guess in some sense I also appreciated how that figure has been given more appreciation. Nevertheless I can’t look past the idea that yeah, Kim’s curves are great, but she still has a razor-edge stomach and an hourglass waist. 

Not to mention her appropriation and exploitation of Black culture and aesthetics. Black women throughout history have been degraded and hyper-sexualised for having similar body features to Kim. However the way Kim straddles and harnesses both her racial ambiguity and her whiteness, makes her a desirable woman by eurocentric standards and reinforces how beauty standards still adhere to whiteness. And it’s not just Black culture that she chooses to appropriate but Asian culture too. Her globally successful skinwear line SKIMS was previously called Kimono, as in the beautiful, traditional Japanese garment, before it was rightfully slammed for being ‘culturally offensive’. Kim changed the name, claiming she has a ‘deep respect’ for Japanese culture. 

So when Kim utilises her precious platform (and with over 200 million followers) to promote detrimental weight loss products, blackfishing and appropriation,  I’m reminded of the falsehoods, facades and the damage such ideals are doing to young women and girls who want to look just like her. 

@alexkelly2014

Who approved of this editing???#kardashian #photoshopfail #kim #skims #editingfail #kimk #kimkardashian #onceyouseeityoucantunseeit

♬ original sound – Alex Kelly

Even as recently as the last couple of weeks, a video was circulating around TikTok of Kim on shoot for SKIMS. As Kim sensually slid her finger across her waist line, it was quickly distorted to reveal, you guessed it, THE PHOTOSHOP. This distortion fabricates an illusion that her body is always ‘perfect’, with the message being that we should change what we look like to fit an ideal. 

Kendall, supposedly the more ‘natural’ of the sisters, is the world’s highest paid supermodel. Women comment on her Instagram pictures in despair because they don’t have the same slim, toned physique; tagging their friends so they can wallow in harmony. I may be discussing this lightheartedly but it’s actually quite devastating that young women feel that they aren’t as attractive or valued because they don’t look like Kendall. This isn’t Kendall’s fault of course, however she’s definitely propagated specific body standards. Even through modelling for Victoria’s Secret, a non-inclusive brand that only caters for the super-thin, she encourages the message that thin bodies are the most desired and accepted

Recently an Instagram post containing two comparison images went viral: one of Kendall Jenner in a set of bright red underwear, next to Alyssa Carsson, a young space enthusiast, who has delivered TEDTalks to young women aspiring to a career in STEM.  Alyssa was the first to complete the NASA Passport program, visiting all 14 NASA Visitor’s Centers stretching across 9 states. The post queried why society both admires and aspires to be like Kendall when we have intelligent young women such as Alyssa making history? Unsurprisingly, it was heavily criticised for having a classic misogynistic narrative and pitting two women against each other, with most women noting the importance of celebrating ALL women. Of course, one woman’s success does not invalidate another’s.  Yet it’s worth noting that beauty is very much prized over brains. Yes, even in 2021: Alyssa has achieved nothing short of the extraordinary as she defies a male-dominated industry, proving that women can be whatever they want to be and be bloody good at it too. Society needs to acknowledge that women don’t have to have beauty OR brains, they can have both. Women shouldn’t be trapped in outdated stereotypes.

Kylie, the youngest Kardashian-Jenner who is just a month younger than myself at the age of 23, transformed her biggest insecurity into a multi-million dollar business. Her lip kits have left girls everywhere trying to emulate her perfect pout. Kylie’s insecurity is similar to that of many young women. However, this pressure to ‘fix’ our insecurities unfortunately peddles the idea that we are less desirable if we do not. What message is that giving to young women? Oh, you’re insecure about something? Just change it. Cover it. Fill it. What about acceptance? I really do believe that women should be able to do whatever they like if it’s going to make them feel good. I’m also not a stranger to using Instagram filters. Still, it doesn’t help anyone love themselves if the women that are most desired in society are those who have had to change themselves to fit unrealistic beauty standards.

It’s taken me a while to process this, and despite them being huge figures within our collective cultural consciousness, essentially the Kardashians don’t owe us anything. Whatever they wear, what they look like, what their body size is – I don’t know these women. I don’t know what they’ve been through. I don’t know how they really feel and they can make their own choices. What’s really important for myself and women everywhere, is to remember that we don’t all have the nutritionists, the stylists, the home-gyms and the MONEY that builds that celebrity aesthetic. Perfection is subjective – for me, it’s the stretch marks, the cellulite, the realness. So while the Kardashians make millions from their image, I’m going to focus on existing and being happy with what I have. 

Molly is a freelance writer and editor based in London, with six years experience working and volunteering with young women in the non-profit sector. You can find her on Instagram @mollygorman, or Twitter @mollygorman1

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