“I get a little bit frustrated at people not understanding. Like when they ask, “What do you do?” Like, what an uneducated question!” Kim Kardashian, LOVE Magazine
I’m normally averse to all things Kim. With little more than botox appointments, fashion show appearances, and happy snaps to show for herself, the pursuit of fame and wealth is just kinda…lame. But last Saturday night, over a Moscow mule or two, I found myself in the throes of an impassioned Kim Kardashian debate. Most people present took my stance: “She’s famous for doing nothing”, “At least Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus are artists, performers and work at something they believe in..!” and “She got famous by leaking a sex tape, enough said!” and “All she cares about is looking good in photos, what’s there to admire?!”
But there was one guy, the only Kim supporter in the room, who spoke the loudest. “Kim is one of the most influential feminist icons and role-models for girls today.” Say, whaat??! Obviously I needed to hear this—as a feminist, the notion that someone as seemingly vacuous as the Keeping Up with the Kardashians front-girl could be a feminist let alone an icon was almost too amusing to dismiss. “She made it cool for girls to be fat. And not white.”
This got me thinking. And googling.
Already from high society, Kim attended Marymount High School in Los Angeles, she was buddies with Paris Hilton (operative word: “was”), and her dad rep’d O.J. Simpson. But it was in 2007, when a sex tape that had been made with her former boyfriend Ray J in 2003 was leaked, that Kim really hit the big time.
While it would be unfair to the likes of Paris to coin Kim the original reality torch-bearer, she struck when the iron was hot, and is the highest earning reality TV celebrity to date. Kim’s also been ranked — for what it’s worth — the most famous person in the world.
But back to feminism and female icons. It’s true that, for the most part, back in the early and even mid 2000’s, plus-sized women were marginalized, and even worse, ignored. The curvy woman renaissance—which includes plus-sized fashion, plus-sized bloggers, and fat feminism—is still quite a new thing. Kim’s also not “white”. While her mom is of Dutch, Irish and English heritage, her dad was a third generation Armenian American—which explains her coloring—and apparently garners her ample support amongst ethnic and non-white communities. The more I thought about it, Kim was, simply through her being, a movement in and of herself: the first plus-size, non-white girl to be the most famous woman in the world.
When considered from this angle, suddenly Kim seems like the greatest revolutionary of our lifetime!
Now, it’s not like girls with curves are anything new. Marilyn Monroe emancipated the voluptuous form and made chubby sexy back in the 1950s. But then Twiggy took over in the 60s, and right through to Kate Moss’s innings in the 90s, which continued into the mid 2000s, skinny set the standard.
But in the last five to eight years, fuller-figured girls have taken a stand. Social media has been both their battleground and their greatest ally, and with catch phrases like “Fat-o-sphere” and trending hashtags like #fatkini, plus-size girls are no longer expected to simply confirm or hide. In fact, as a response to such a popular and widespread movement, and along with blunt statistics that say that 65% of American women are “plus-sized” (size 14 or up), the fashion retail industry has almost unanimously redirected its focus.
“Of course it’s no secret that the fashion industry has long viewed American women through a distorted, size-two lens,” Forbes Magazine reported last year. “Full-figure women’s clothing is a large and growing, billion-dollar business. Plus-sized women’s clothing generated a whopping $16.2 billion in sales for the year ended November 2013.” The result being that fuller figured women can too shop for sexy and fashionable wear, and in turn, strut their stuff, just like skinny girls. In fact, now that the fashion industry is behind it, it’s cool to be curvy!
Was Kim really the trailblazer? The catalyst for a movement that has literally dismantled more than 50 years of female oppression? A movement that has finally liberated more than half of the American female population? It’s almost too much to take!
Kim Kardashian may, through a bizarre alignment of the stars, stroke of fate or weird joke, be the symbol of a long-awaited movement, a feminist eclipse. But she is also the covergirl of a very different culture. A culture that feeds on mediocrity and minimizes minds. A culture that values fame and wealth over purpose, passion, and contribution. A societal standard that says it’s OK to be the most famous person in the world for doing… well, nothing. (As if being famous were more important than saving lives, inventing something, or flying to the moon!) And while Kim may have made the fat girl feel good, the plastic surgery she has had done to her face (and maybe body)—evident when compared to photographs of her in her early to mid 20’s, suggests that Kim seems to stand for little when it comes to real self love and acceptance. In the word’s of Jon Hamm: “Whether it’s Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian or whoever, stupidity is certainly celebrated. Being a f-cking idiot is a valuable commodity in this culture because you’re rewarded significantly.”