Perhaps the only other article that managed to rack up a storm as much as her infamous sex tape leak in 2007, was the announcement accompanying her Vogue cover over a decade later, “Kim Kardashian West was on her way to becoming a lawyer.” The stark shift in headlines embodied the reinvention of Kardashian’s persona, and yet, a change in the public’s perception of her is still to be seen.
Mentioning Kardashian as a role model is likely to be met with a line-up of scoffs, eye-rolls and less-than-discreet chuckles, particularly from men. Why is it that a model, actress, businesswoman and aspiring lawyer worth $370 million fails to be taken seriously by the media and the public? Kardashian undoubtedly remains an unparalleled sex symbol of our generation, epitomising the glorification of the female body and showcasing the comfortability she finds in nudity. Her collaboration with the notorious Playboy magazine remains an iconic moment in pop culture, setting the pace for curvier women to make an appearance in mainstream media after the decade-long idolisation of stick-thin bodies associated with models such as Kate Moss in the 90s. Posing entirely nude for the November 2014 issue of Paper Magazine, thereby “breaking the internet” and becoming the victim of some heavy controversy, she once again unabashedly claimed her body. Two years later, she graced the cover of GQ magazine proudly flaunting her postpartum physique, another one amongst dozens of her NSFW shoots. To those unwilling to pay attention, it might seem that the social media star’s primary endeavours, since her sex tape leak, involve being splayed out on the covers of magazines fully nude or posting yet another racy photo on Instagram. In the midst of the chaos around her controversial photoshoots, however, Kardashian was busy building a multi million-dollar empire.
In 2017, Kim Kardashian launched the wildly successful KKW Beauty, a makeup brand that amassed over $14 million in just one day – going on to generate over $100 million the following year. On top of that, she established her shapewear line, Skims, in late 2019. It sold over $2 million worth of product within the first two minutes of its launch and continues to sell out just as rapidly with each succeeding launch. As Kardashian’s current estimated net worth is a whopping $370 million, with her several businesses, sponsorships, and reality show amassing to her wealth, it’s puzzling as to why the media fails to view her as a business mogul, and rather as the butt of every joke (no pun intended). The issue here lies with the double standards reinforced by a, needless to say, patriarchal society time and time again. Although the feminist movement has accounted for a culture shift, the unjust fact remains: it’s still a man’s world, no matter how far up the elitist ladder you climb.
Examining the tumultuous journey’s of those successful in show business will often showcase the manner in which the public is reluctant to allow a woman to reinvent herself, and even more bizarrely; as opposed to allowing a woman to personify two social images at once. You can’t be both smart and sexy. The history of film and television plays a large role in perpetuating this toxic ideology: presenting the intelligent, career-oriented student in high school as rugged and unbothered by her appearance, whilst the hyper-feminine, overtly sexual student plays the class bimbo. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that we’ve been able to see a move away from this trend, most notably from Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and the hypersexual Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, illustrating to women everywhere that you can be both promiscuous and successful. For men, on the other hand, we’re able to observe an encyclopedia of characters embodying wildly successful bachelors who spend their free time pursuing parades of women. Men never have to choose between their career and their sex life, but rather, we have come to expect a refuse-to-settle, million-dollar mindset from them. Jordan Belfort, Hugh Hefner, Leonardo DiCaprio and Dan Bilzerian all personify this playboy lifestyle without the penalties women face and never once is their intelligence questioned. The idolisation of multi-million-dollar business owner Hugh Hefner is met with nods of approval,yet a woman in his place would be shamed. The irony lies in the man shooting nude women for Playboy being met with a stream of accolade, whilst the woman in front of the camera is made to feel as if she has just committed social suicide. As a culture, we’ve come to perceive sexually comfortable women as objectifying themselves, and thus throwing out the possibility of being intelligent, serious, funny or anything other than their bodies. The ideology of a conventionally sexy woman as only being sexual needs to be broken down, allowing a safe space for women to feel confident in their femininity They shouldn’t have to choose between patriarchally constructed images of what a woman can and should be – a by-product of men failing to take a woman seriously after seeing her naked or learning about her promiscuity.
Returning to Kardashian’s announcement of her work in the legal field and the prejudiced response it was met with, it’s critical to recognise that despite taking on the challenge to fight for prison reform, she hasn’t pulled back in the racy photo department. Kardashian remains unapologetically herself – posting a nude selfie on Instagram on a Monday and freeing a wrongfully charged woman from prison on a Tuesday. Her most recent case involves fighting for Alexis Martin’s freedom, a young girl who was sentenced for life after pleading guilty to murdering her sex trafficker, whom she was raped by at the age of fourteen. Kardashian successfully managed to help commute her sentence, one of the many inmates she has helped free in the past year. The dedication and empathy Kardashian displays is unmatched, as she fights against a system that otherwise perpetuates a cycle of injustice, leaving masses of people losing their lives to prison with no help to be found.
Despite her success as a businesswoman and the incredible prison reform work she continues to do, the tragedy remains that no matter how much she achieves, headlines and the common public will refuse to let go of the defining image of Kim Kardashian as the girl from a grainy sex tape who got lucky. The deconstruction of the division between smart and sexual is yet to be recognised, but luckily, women such as Kim Kardashian provide an example of what it is to be unapologetically female – in other words, a role model.
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