What description comes to mind when you think of Kim Kardashian? An infamous socialite? A successful reality television star who got her start by releasing a sex tape? If you were Sharon Osbourne, “ho”” would be your word of choice, but if you were Kim Kardashian herself, you might say “a feminist.” That is, as of last month.
In a recent interview with Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Kardashian expounds on her views: “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.” This isn’t the first time Kardashian has spoken about her disdain for labels but it is her first time claiming to be a feminist. In fact, Kardashian has a longer history of saying she isn’t a feminist—most notably last August, when interviewed at the 2016 Blogher conference. At that event, Kardashian responded to a question about being a role model by saying, “Everyone always says ‘Are you a feminist?’…and I don’t think that I am.” She went on to clarify that she supports women but she just does what makes her happy.
It’s impossible to know why Kim changed her mind between those two interviews, conducted only one year apart. Nevertheless, she seemed devoted to her new ideals. In addition to solidifying her stance with Harper’s Bazaar, she also posed as Jackie Kennedy Onassis for the September 2017 cover of Interview Magazine. Photographer Steven Klein explained the conceit in a press release: “For this shoot I wanted to capture feminine beauty as an expression of empowerment and self-respect.” By all accounts, his vision was feminist. Rightfully, this provided further proof of Kardashian’s own seemingly deeply-rooted feminism.
The photo shoot sparked a backlash on social media, however, because in the photos, Kardashian appears to have darkened her skin to match that of her daughter, North West, and the magazine’s cover proclaimed that Kim was “America’s First Lady.” As Us magazine reported, that was too much for many people. “pretty sure blackface is racist even if you’re married to one. . And posing like a Kennedy? #WeAllRememberYourPorno.” Another tweeted, “She could never be Jackie O or Michelle O. Hell, she’s barely even Marilyn.”
Kim herself seems confused about precisely which image she should be cultivating. This week Kardashian took to social media to post a nude photo of herself climbing a tree (well, nude except for a pair of black combat boots), leaving many people shaking their heads and wondering if Sharon Osbourne was right when she said, “Those girls [like Kim Kardashian] live off their bodies. Half of L.A. has been through them, and everything they do from the sex tape to the plastic see-through dresses and the gym wear is about sex, not female progress.” It is true that nude photos and feminism aren’t generally bedmates. It’s also no secret that Kardashian is much more experienced with the former than the latter.
As everyone by now likely knows, Kardashian’s fame-crawl began after the release of a sex tape she made with one-time boyfriend, Ray J. Although he has since disappeared from the spotlight, Kardashian has eagerly courted it ever since. In some ways, she is a model for working with what you’ve got or making the best of a situation. She doesn’t have any identifiable talents such as singing or acting or writing; and yet, some ten years after the tape’s release, Kardashian is reported to have a net worth of around $150 million. Clearly, she is doing something right. Or rather, something that works. Her reality TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians has ensured her place as a permanent celebrity. It doesn’t much matter whether or not people tune in because they love her, hate her, or even love to hate her—they’re watching all the same, although that, too, will not last forever.
Ultimately, what Kardashian’s fluctuating views of feminism and willingness to pose naked for money—not to mention her massive social media following and reality TV empire—suggest is that she might just be the perfect modern celebrity after all: morally vacuous, undeniably plastic, and willing to sell herself and her family for the right price. Her fame says as much about the society that fuels it as it does about her.
Image: Steven Klein/Interview Magazine