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The Kardashian empire is built on self-loathing
The Kardashian empire is built on self-loathing

OPINIONPop CultureJuly 25, 2023

The baffling hypocrisy of The Kardashians taking on modern beauty standards

The Kardashian empire is built on self-loathing
The Kardashian empire is built on self-loathing

A much-anticipated conversation on The Kardashians went down like a lead-filled hair vitamin, writes Alex Casey.

It’s the moment that has been teased all season long: the Kardashians are finally going to examine the role they’ve played in modern beauty standards. “All of us just need to have a bigger conversation about the beauty standards that we’re setting,” Kylie Jenner said in the dramatic season three trailer. “We have huge influence and, like, what are we doing with our power?” The mere suggestion of this level of self-awareness made headlines and earned praise around the world – could this finally be the mea culpa we’ve been waiting for? 

In last week’s episode we finally got the answer: not even a little bit. Coming in at just under four minutes long – by comparison, Kourtney and Kim spent 15 minutes discussing whether or not they had copied each other’s 90s inspired Dolce and Gabbana looks in the previous episode – the “conversation” was roughly as transparent and flimsy as an $80 “Cut it Out” swimsuit from Kylie Swim. The scene features Kylie and Khloe visiting Kourtney to do her makeup (using Kylie branded cosmetics of course, but more on that later).

“We have huge influence and what are we doing with that?”

“You should be confident in your imperfections,” Kourtney tells her sister after she walks in complaining about having streaky (?) hair. She continues: “I was just thinking about the beauty standards in the world today.” That’s it, that’s the end of the sentence. Young Kylie steps up and has a crack next. “I just feel like we have huge influence and what are we doing with our power? I see so many young girls on the internet now fully editing… I went through that stage too and I feel like I am in a better place, but other people can instil insecurities in you.” 

Interestingly, the line from the trailer where Kylie explicitly addresses the Kardashian family’s role in modern beauty standards has been cut entirely. Instead, they refer vaguely to “other people” and “society” and “unfair pressures” in the world, gently positioning themselves as victims and accepting no responsibility as both perpetrators and profiteers. “I was chubby and in a skin tight body con dress… Society gave me insecurities,” says Khloe, pulling up a photo of herself when she was roughly a size 12 (the average American woman is a size 16). 

“I look back and you weren’t chubby,” scolds Kourtney. “This is chubs,” Khloe responds, waving a paparazzi photo of herself around. “It’s like I’m wearing a fat suit.” 

Mfw size 12 is a fat suit

From the empowering chat about size 12 fat suits, the rest of the conversation meanders between Kylie talking about being self-conscious about her ears (“for five years I never wore an updo”), Khloe challenging modern beauty standards by sitting in the bath fully clothed, and the trio eventually concluding that having daughters of their own made them realise… something. “ “We do live in a world that is obsessed with perfection,” Kourtney muses. “I think the messaging is, like, you’re good enough just the way you are.” 

This would be all fine and well if the entire Kardashian empire hadn’t been built on making sure women feel the exact opposite. Consider the now-billion dollar company Kylie Cosmetics, who launched in 2015 with Kylie lip kits that were marketed entirely around Jenner’s own cosmetically-enhanced lips. The proliferation of her plump pout sparked an online challenge which saw young women replicate her look by suctioning their lips inside a shot glass, a practice which led to pain, swelling, bruising and risked scarring and disfigurement

While all of this was happening, Kylie was insistent that she had not had surgical enhancement. “Stop talking about my lips.” she told Grazia at the time. “I haven’t had plastic surgery. I’ve never been under the knife.” What she was not being honest about here was the fact that she had actually enhanced her lips with fillers (she later admitted to getting them, then made a fuss of dissolving them, then got them again). Meanwhile, teenagers around the world were having shot glasses explode in their faces as they tried to #getthelook. 

Kylie built a billion dollar empire on her lips

There are countless more times the Kardashians have tried to sell us stuff based on the way they look and the way we don’t, without telling us the full story. Kendall Jenner became the face of acne-fighting range Proactiv by way of a “raw and personal announcement” that backfired quite badly. “I experience it, I’m very normal, I understand you,” the model said. What she forgot to mention is that she had also been seeing an exclusive Beverly Hills dermatologist for years. Kylie was also a client, but you won’t see that in any of the marketing of the Kylie Skin range. 

Notably absent from the conversation in the episode is Kim Kardashian, Madame Chairperson of Feel Bad Inc. To promote the launch of her nine (!) step skincare line, Kim revealed to New York magazine in 2022 that “if you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might.” A month later, she made headlines for a particularly tone deaf response to a question about setting unrealistic beauty standards. “If I’m doing it, it’s attainable,” said the billionaire, who receives “painful but worth it” laser treatments every single night.

And we can’t talk about the impact of Kardashian face without talking about the impact of Kardashian body. Kim admitted to starving herself to drop 16 pounds in three weeks to fit Marilyn Monroe’s dress, all the while hawking modern day corsets and flesh coloured shapewear so tight it allegedly stopped a woman bleeding out after getting shot (feminism?). Khloe hosted three seasons of monstrous makeover show Revenge Body, not to mention the litany of posts promoting weight loss tea, appetite suppressant lollipops and laxative teas. 

Skims is now valued at $4 billion

As if the outside of your body wasn’t bad enough, the Kardashians have also promoted plenty of stuff to fix the inside of it too. There’s the SugarBear hair supplements, that help your tresses shine and grow and contains “relatively high” levels of lead. In 2020 Khloe Kardashian became an equity partner in and the face of local collagen powder brand Dose and Co, billed as “award-winning ingestible beauty.” Most recently, Kourtney launched a range of chewy vitamins called Lemme, the flagship product of which allegedly makes your vagina taste like pineapple

So while I don’t doubt that the Kardashians raising their own daughters has made them realise they shouldn’t have bullied Kylie about her ears or whatever, the fact remains that there are millions of other daughters out there whose self-image has been shattered by the beauty standards they set (slash stole from black women). I once talked to a group of 16 year-old girls about body image, and the Kardashian look was never far from conversation. “Big bum, big boobs, and a tiny waist,” said Aaliyah. “But small thighs,” added Lara, “and a thigh gap.”

Aaliyah also noted that the way the Kardashians look makes her feel bad. “You find you’re like, comparing yourself. I don’t have a big bum. I don’t have big boobs, so that’s sad.”

This is all to say, the much-anticipated conversation was pitiful and the Kardashians are trying to have their cake and sell you a waist trainer too. In the same way that any attempt by the Barbie movie to dismantle beauty standards is immediately undermined by the countless number of skincare and beauty products timed around its release, the Kardashians simply can’t challenge anything while also making one trillion dollars a second off that very same thing. If we really are suddenly “good enough as we are”, we all deserve our money back. 

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