Analyzing Kylie Jenner’s Instagram Response to the News of Her Alleged Pregnancy
On August 22nd, the entertainment media industry (and even some more ‘respected’ news outlets) were awash with the report that the youngest sibling in the Kardashian-Jenner family was pregnant. This report came out of seemingly nowhere but in our hyper-mediated world, nearly all news organizations were reporting the same story within an hour. More than a week later, this report has still not been ‘officially’ confirmed by anyone within the Kardashian-Jenner family. Rather than focus my efforts on any of the actual reports of Kylie Jenner’s supposed pregnancy, I would like to examine the first picture Jenner uploaded to Instagram after the announcement broke, as this was her first ‘official’ response to the news.
There is an extreme fascination with the physical bodies of the Kardashian-Jenners, both from those within the family and those who consume content regarding the family. Many pictures Jenner posts on her Instagram highlight her physical form, specifically her extremely trim (possibly surgically altered?) midsection. However, this photo performs a certain ambiguity by obscuring the part of her body now under extreme scrutiny by the media and general public. Her face and legs are made visible, but her stomach is hidden by the frame of the mirror used to take the photograph. This image does not confirm anything in regards to the pregnancy announcement but only serves to further the mystery surrounding the dramatic event.
This photograph is a ‘selfie’ taken by her best friend Jordyn Woods that utilizes a large mirror to reflect the bodies of Woods, Jenner, and three other friends. This brings up an interesting point in regards to the gaze of the camera discussed by Ariella Azoulay in “The Civil Contract of Photography”:
“The viewing position of the camera is not equivalent to a human viewpoint and cannot be replaced by it. During photography, the camera does not respond totally either to the photographer or to the photographed person. The photograph is a result of the encounter between the two, with the camera in between. Each vantage point is imprinted in the photograph, and none of these vantage points can be reduced to the others.” (Azoulay 384)
Because this photograph is a ‘mirror selfie’, the gaze of the camera, the photographed persons, and the photographer are all visible within the image. Jenner’s gaze looks directly at the viewer of the photograph, which in relation to the mirror, means she is looking at the lens of the camera in the mirror, or directly at the camera’s gaze. This is in contrast to the gazes of the other women who are either looking at themselves in the mirror or looking at the screen of the phone to see how they will look in the final photograph. This difference in gaze projects an intentionality on the part of Jenner. It seems she knows people will be focused on her in the photograph, and she is looking directly back at them. Is this a gaze of defiance or of knowing? Maybe it is both.
The Business of Image Production
The Kardashian-Jenners seem to be in the business of ‘image production’, constantly participating in sensational photoshoots designed to create the next ‘iconic image’ (to borrow the term from Hariman and Lucaites “No Caption Needed”). And yet, the image released by Jenner two days after the media’s worldwide pregnancy announcement is a noted departure from these attempts at iconic imagery. The picture depicts Jenner’s relationship with her close girlfriends and makes no actual reference to any possibility of a pregnancy.
Is this photograph’s ‘normalcy’ and ambiguity a political act? Thinking about Jacques Ranciere’s aestheticization of politics in “The Distribution of the Sensible”: “Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it” (13). What is Jenner making visible and what is she allowing the media and general public to say about her in this instance?
Jenner, her family, and her team are responsible for what is made visible and invisible regarding the matter of her possible pregnancy. This picture, though seemingly an organic moment with her girlfriends, was most likely one picture in a photoshoot of many, and the single picture chosen by Jenner to respond to the pressing rumor of her pregnancy. By keeping visuals regarding her physical form ambiguous, focusing her gaze on the viewer, and surrounding herself by other powerful young women who she is close to, Jenner is able to both stoke the flames of this alleged pregnancy rumor while maintaining both authoritative and enigmatic positions regarding the truth of the story.
This piece was originally written for a Doctorate seminar on ‘Methods of Rhetorical Criticism in Visual & Material Cultures’ taught by Dr. Barbara Biesecker in the Communication Studies Department at the University of Georgia. (Full Disclosure: I am not a Comm Studies student but am taking this class to learn how to speak more eloquently about visuals.)