Kim Kardashian-West: Feminist
“Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
While it may have taken a while for her to declare herself a feminist, Kim Kardashian-West may just be one of the most influential figures in feminism today. To many it is an idea hard to comprehend. After she finally felt comfortable enough to call herself a feminist, scores of commentators were quick to jump online citing the reasons her feminist card should be revoked. How could one of the most overexposed, sexualized, branded and critiqued celebrities in the world be considered influential in gender equality?
The worldwide furore surrounding her 2014 Paper Magazine spread saw what seemed to be the first serious discussion about Kim Kardashian-West’s brand of feminism. Naturally, there were memes and those who condemned the images, but surprisingly some, were quick to defend the 35 year old mother. The impact these images had was massive with a rep from Paper Magazine telling Adweek “November 12, our traffic hit 6.6 million page views with 5 million of those being unique visitors. This is just direct traffic to the site, and does not include the billions of impressions created on social channels and news outlets." The images might not have broken the internet as intended, but the volume of people who sought them out and shared their opinion may have sparked one of the fastest spreading and widest reaching feminist discussions known to the internet.
The images did not only display Kim’s curvaceous body but reinforced another facet of Kim’s feminism that is often overlooked. Since her rise to fame, product endorsements have been the financial cornerstone of the Kardashian empire. Some rightly didn’t work out so well, such as The Kardashian Kard deal with MasterCard ending in a lawsuit after the sisters pulled the card due to worldwide bashing of its high annual fees. However, most of Kim’s endorsements have been highly lucrative with her earning upwards of $65 million per year from her various deals, not including the earnings from her game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, her most financially rewarding venture. What is surprising about this continued financial success is that many of the companies that sign Kim’s pay checks are quite conservative. Retailers such as Babies R Us and Sears, both of who have mothers and families making up a majority of their target market, stock the Kardashian clothing and children lines.
This could be because Kim has proven a safe business partner with none of the breakdowns common amongst the crowd she used to run with and has expressed no polarising political views. However, maintaining a pristine family friendly public image would be significant to these companies business model. So after instances such as the full frontal Paper Magazine spread, has the corporate world, not really known for its liberal acceptance of female sexuality, not attempted to distance themselves? A Change.org petition even called for the Kardashian lines to be pulled from the stores. The petition was ridiculed and Babies R Us responded in support of the lines but it showed the potential risk of selling the Kardashian brand to a family friendly market. It could be said Kim’s shameless sexual expression has forced the often Victorian minded corporate heads to adapt their attitudes. However, a quick look at any comment section centring on Kim will show there are still many quick to dismiss almost anything she does and her sex tape is often the reason.
The first appearance of Kim Kardashian on the gossip blogs where she is now a staple can be traced back to around 2006. However, back then she was not the subject of the story but a figure in the background. She was a personal stylist/shopper to the stars with a client list that reads like a tabloid magazine from 2005. Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton were the most notable but it was singer Brandy that proved to have the most impact on Kim’s stardom. It was with Brandy’s brother, Ray-J, that Kim infamously made the sex tape. The pair met in 2003 after Kim’s divorce from her short term and reportedly abusive elopement with music producer Damon Thomas.
The tape was filmed around this time and leaked to Vivid Entertainment in 2007 when promo videos were released on the Internet for the world to see, all without Kim’s consent. Initially Kardashian-West filed a lawsuit against Vivid to stop its distribution. However, while the details on what occurred after this are unclear, Kim dropped the case and reached a financial agreement with Vivid estimated to be worth roughly $5 million.
The success Kim has obtained since the release of the tape has proven that she can do what not many have been able to before her. Taking the rampant exploitation of her by the media and using it to turn a profit. Another example of this came after the 2014 celebrity photo hack with the release of her coffee table book “Selfish.”
In May this year Kim released a 445-page book filled cover to cover with her selfies in chronological order. To some it is the epitome of the level of vanity Kim portrays and to some such as actress and writer Lena Dunham it is an “experiment in female identity exploration.”
"selfie with selfish #yeahiboughtit (I support experiments in female identity exploration/am a student of pop culture…instagram.com
Anyone who knows Kim Kardashian-West knows that with Kim comes selfies. New York Magazine art editor Jerry Saltz credits Kardashian-West as a partial inventor of the selfie and after the books release compared her to Andy Warhol. It is not the selfies themselves that are remarkable, but how Kim uses them. To her they are more than an expression of vanity or confidence to gain likes. They are how she asserts control over the media’s portrayal of her and creates her brand. During her talk at the prestigeous Commonwealth Club of California, Kim acknowledged that her selfies may be ridiculous and agreed that they objectify her. “I think there’s power in that,” she added “I have the control to put out what I want, and I feel proud of that. So even if I’m objectifying myself, I feel good about it.”
It is the books midsection where things get interesting. Printed on black pages are the naked photos leaked after the hack, plus more. She writes under two of the more of explicit images. “I wasn’t intending to put these in the book but saw them online during the icloud hack. I’m not mad at them. lol they are taken with a blackberry and I don’t have icloud… it’s all a mystery!” Here we see Kim doing what she does best, aside from taking selfies. Taking the media’s exploitation of her, turning it into a commodity and making a profit for her and associated business partners.
Much of Kim’s feminism does revolve defying patriarchal expectations of women to gain financial success. All though not all of it is about her getting rich. In May 2015 Kim’s step-parent, Caitlyn Jenner, came out as a trans-women. One of Jenner’s most outspoken supporters throughout the transition was Kim, appearing the most on the reality series about Jenner’s transition and cheering her on at the ESPY Awards. Despite Caitlyn giving Kim a run for her money with online impact.
“No matter if we don’t understand it, no matter if people think it’s this crazy concept, it’s not really for us to judge. If that’s how Caitlyn wants to live her life then I support it, I’m so happy for her and I’ll try to do whatever I can to try to make it an easy transition for the other family members,” Kim told Ellen DeGeneres.
Transgender rights are a natural extension of feminism although some radical feminist’s disagree. Kim’s acceptance and support of Caitlyn Jenner has been her most apparent act of feminism yet. While many will disagree and many will continue to critisise her, some of it deserved, it does appear Kim Kardashian-West does have a unique brand of feminism, no matter how often we see her naked selfies.