When the definition of a smart, powerful businesswoman comes to mind one does not immediately think of Kim Kardashian. Instead, some “hilarious” comment is made like, “‘Yeah, in the business of selling her body, wink, wink”.
However, it is undeniable that Kim Kardashian has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful celebrities. Having created a fashion empire worth over $600 million at retail, dominated the tech world with her incredibly popular Hollywood game app and recently been billed as a ‘Titan’ celebrity by TIME and the 80th most powerful celebrity in the world by Forbes, her influence is irrefutable. The fact that in 2013-2014 Kim made more money from public appearances than she did from her own reality TV show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is testament to her popularity.
Yet in the face of this success, her name is still marred by a sex scandal nearly a decade old. Comments debasing her success as entirely reliant on a sex tape released nine years ago without her consent litter most of her social media platforms. It’s fairly popular to mock her intelligence, her accent and her physique. It seems that no matter how many accomplishments she has in the entertainment and tech industries, Kim Kardashian will always be defined and chastised for her sexuality — a problem that women face much more than men.
For comparison, both Usher and Colin Farrell have sex tapes that have been widely distributed, but an “amoral” reputation doesn’t linger over their heads. In fact, the number of Google hits that searching their tapes brings up is less than a fifth of what searching for Kim’s does. Even taking into account the much larger audience for Kim’s tape and her comparatively greater fame, it could still be approximated that at least two million of those seven million hits are articles that persistently link Kim’s celebrity to her sexual past.
This is not to say that she does not have flaws. There is a lot of justified criticism surrounding Kim’s 2014 PAPER photoshoot which sought to “break the internet”. The cover photo of Kim balancing a champagne glass on her derriere is a whitewashed recreation of a 1976 photo famed for its fetishisation of African women and the portrayal of their bodies as servile and animalistic. The original photograph, taken by Jean-Paule Goude, was part of a pictorial autobiography literally titled Jungle Fever, showcasing the French photographer’s fixation on the bodies of black women, and at times easily manifested itself as pure objectification.
Her imitation of a photograph fraught with racial tension is deeply problematic, and probably indicative of unwillingness on her part to learn about and engage in political issues that don’t personally affect her. Kim herself has admitted to never giving much thought to issues of race and discrimination until she personally experienced racism upon the birth of her daughter North West.
Similarly, having watched her reality show consistently from age 12, I can say with some confidence that she is exceptionally self-absorbed, has a tendency to put her work before her family and is very materialistic. However, these traits are no different to those embodied by Jordan Belfort for example, and despite all the sex, drugs and lascivious excess depicted in his biopic The Wolf of Wall Street, people would find it ludicrous to fling gendered insults in his direction.
It is equally hypocritical to fault people like Kim for their vanity when it has never been more obvious that our society not only celebrates selfishness and narcissism, but rewards it liberally as well. The proliferation of reality TV shows, the abundance of megalomaniacal businesspeople and the popularity of the selfie-stick for crying out loud, indicate that the success of celebrities like Kim is symptomatic of a broader culture that encourages the traits we are supposedly meant to abhor.
In any case, anyone with a passing knowledge of Kim’s personality from her show and interviews probably realises that unlike Belfort and many other reality TV stars, Kim’s narcissism doesn’t manifest itself as the vindictive, cruel behaviour that people tend to project onto her; most of the time she comes across as genuinely sweet-natured.
And yes, Kim is famous for her appearance and essentially being “famous for being famous”. However, to say that celebrities should only be worthy of fame and adoration because of their talent is ludicrous.
Our love of celebrities is centred on their appearances, their relationships with other celebrities and often, their ability to relate to the public. It’s the real reason why we obsess over Angelina Jolie and pay attention to Emma Watson, despite all the amazing things both women have accomplished in their respective fields. Women in the celebrity world are especially regarded for their beauty, so to fault Kim for capitalising on her looks is to grossly misunderstand how the celebrity machine works. It also overlooks Kim’s tireless hard work; she is relevant because of her extraordinary business savviness, her unmatched ability to realise social media trends, and her indefatigable but intelligent self-promotion.
To undermine Kim’s accomplishments because she’s a woman who has done sexual things or to mock her for speaking slowly with a heavy Calabasas accent, is to seriously underestimate her. Kim was able to take the little notoriety that came with a sex tape distributed without her permission, and build a fashion and social media empire that continues to grow nearly a decade later.
Whilst Kim’s focus has not been humanitarian, her family has nevertheless shed light on important international and social issues, speaking out consistently against the Armenian genocide over the years and more recently, igniting a positive conversation around Bruce Jenner coming out as a trans woman.
I’m not saying Kim should be revered as a feminist icon; she has not identified as one. But in the face of so much achievement and her clear business acumen, it’s disconcerting that so many people still perceive her as little more than an insipid “attention whore”.
As women we have to be extraordinary to validate the attention and praise we receive. As such, I feel it is natural to want widespread feminist support for women that achieve so much in fields we still struggle to break into. I may not want my potential offspring to create sex tapes or to live the highly narcissistic lifestyle Kim does, but other than that, I’d struggle to take issue with them pointing to Kim Kardashian’s face on the cover of Adweek, declaring, “I want to be like her when I grow up”.Kim Kardashia