The Not-So-Feminist Profile of Kim Kardashian-West
The body has been commodified. Different types are sold, with the most popular being the white, feminine body. There are variations of her, with the most popular version being a half white and half Armenian body, like those of the Kardashian family. Kim Kardashian-West, the family member who is the focus of this profile, has gone from having her sex tape leaked to the public to convincing the President to free Alice Marie Johnson from an unfair prison sentence. Kardashian-West holds a complicated seat in the public. There are those who her call a bad influence to young girls and those who worship the cheekbones she carved out with a contour stick. Kim Kardashian-West uses her body to navigate her way through social-media sexuality and have ambiguity with blackness in a way that affects cultural trends but fails to change social norms.
In the decade since Kardashian-West’s leaked sex tape and first season of her reality TV show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, much has changed for her and for this country. Social justice activism has risen dramatically, especially in the youth. Teenagers have fought against issues like racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. Kardashian-West has also taken up activism through prison reform. As stated in the previous paragraph, she met with the President to free Johnson from a life sentence for drug possession and money laundering, and it worked. Because of Kardashian-West, Johnson has been freed. And despite the meeting and her husband’s well-known affiliation with Trump, Kardashian-West doesn’t approve of his presidency, like many of activists. In an interview with Bazaar Arabia, she states “Anyone can run the US better. My daughter would be better.” So what does this mean for Kim Kardashian-West? Is the same mind and body that freed a black woman from a life sentence still a good feminist? Well she’s not even a feminist. “I feel in my soul I’m a feminist. I just don’t need labels to make me feel or know what I am inside,” said Kardashian-West in the same interview. In order to examine Kardashian-West with a critical feminist lens for this profile, this needs to be stated early on. To know that while feminism might be in its fourth wave, Kardashian-West does not identify with this group of people. That while she believes in female empowerment, she doesn’t believe in the label.
There’s melanin then there’s makeup. There’s appreciating black culture then there’s appropriating it. There’s being married to a black man and being a mother to half black children and then there’s using their blackness to make the non-black figure more popular. Kardashian-West, along with her sisters, are infamous for their black fetishization. Whether it be only dating black men, rocking black hairstyles, or stealing from black artists, the family has found a way to have all the aesthetics of being black and none of the problems. Blogger Sesali B. notes in her post titled “Flirting with Blackness” that “Blackness is used to legitimate the Kardashian’s cultural relevancy. It disassociates them with whiteness which is boring and stale in its neutrality, in the same way that their physical features and class disassociate them with Blackness.” Kardashian-West can dress black but hasn’t faced any form of racism the way the black people do. Race is used as a commodity to heighten Kardashian-West’s status. She was accused of using it literally to sell her makeup. In a promotion for her makeup company’s cream contour kits, many people believed that Kardashian-West darkened her skin and appeared in blackface. One Twitter user commented on this ad saying “Y’all [Kardashians and Jenners] wanna be Black so badly.” Another promotion from last August for a makeup product from her brand featured braids that many people in the comment section deemed as another action of cultural appropriation. It’s still an issue for her even after of couple years of these accusations. So while Kardashian-West is on a crusade to free black prisoners who have received extreme sentences due to what many activists believe is their race, she still participates in an everyday form of racism.
“Nude selfies until I die,” is an acceptance speech Kardashian-West once gave out at the Webby Awards in 2016. This reflects the feminism that is most widely circulated through social media, that self-love is garnered through the body. In Elese Dowden’s “Othered Body, Obscene Self(ie),” she specifically talks about Kardashian-West’s 2016 International Women’s Day nude selfie. She had many people in the comments calling her slut and a bad role model to children, especially her own. Even Kardashian-West herself admits not everything she posts online is appropriate for her children in the Bazaar Arabia interview referenced earlier, but she continues to do it because it makes her feel confident. “If doing sexy shoots makes me feel confident, then I’m okay with it. That might not be appropriate for some people, and there’s a time and a place. There’s certain things I’ll show my kids and certain things I won’t show my kids.” This idea of flaunting one’s sexuality may seem progressive, but according to Dowden, still preserves standards of femininity. “Perhaps all forms of social media entail some kind of being-for-others, particularly emerging forms of digital expression that make claims to authenticity while simultaneously embracing increasingly conventional notions of heterosexual femininity.” A social media presence like Kardashian-West’s has the same ideals that society has always seen. That women can’t be too dark, have to be curvy yet still slim, and that to be a women, you have to be feminine. And all of this is done for the purpose of the male gaze. Kardashian-West’s circulation of her nude selfies has no room for gender role changes.
Using Kardashian-West in a feminist profile even though she herself does not consider herself a feminist was interesting. Because she’s not. Whether she feels that way in her soul or not, she offers no real change for women. Traditional standards of white womanhood on Instagram, but make it hip. While there’s no denying her influential work in media and her recent work with Johnson, Kardashian-West makes no radical change. It’s a harmful, it’s an everyday evil that most activists have trouble changing because most people don’t recognize it. Through her sexuality and black aesthetics, Kardashian-West’s body is a commodity in social media that does not seek change, for a change to the standards she claims to fight would mean she could no longer sell herself.
-Andrews-Dyer, Helena. “Go Ahead, Take Kim Kardashian Seriously as a Criminal Justice Activist. It’s Okay.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Oct. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/go-ahead-take-kim-kardashian-seriously-as-a-criminal-justice-activist-its-okay/2018/09/28/9470c7fc-ba91-11e8-9812-a389be6690af_story.html?utm_term=.d60b42881328.
-B., Sesali. “Flirting with Blackness.” Feministing, 2015, feministing.com/2015/07/17/flirting-with-blackness/.
-Dowden, Elese. “Othered Body, Obscene Self(Ie): A Sartrean Reading of Kim Kardashian-West.” Hecate, vol. 43, no. 1/2, Jan. 2017, pp. 117–130. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fyh&AN=131627113&site=ehost-live&scope=site&custid=s9010241.
-Kardashian, Kim. “Kim Kardashian West (@Kimkardashian) • Instagram Photos and Videos.” Instagram, www.instagram.com/kimkardashian/.
-Kardashian-West, Kim. “Remember This: Kim Kardashian’s Bazaar Cover Shoot Inspired By Her Ultimate Style Muse Cher.” Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, 30 Aug. 2017, www.harpersbazaararabia.com/fashion/editorials/kim-kardashian-west-september-cover-star.
-Parker, Maggie, and Karen Mizoguchi. “Kim Kardashian West Promises ‘Nude Selfies Until I Die’ in Webby Awards Acceptance Speech.” PEOPLE.com, Time Inc, 16 May 2016, people.com/tv/kim-kardashian-wests-webby-awards-acceptance-speech/.
-Pham, Jason. “Kim Kardashian Accused of Blackface in New Contour Kit Promo.” StyleCaster, StyleCaster, 4 Nov. 2017, stylecaster.com/kim-kardashian-blackface-makeup/.