Say what you will about Kim’s Kardashian’s spread in Paper Magazine — and the criticism has been well deserved linking the images shot by Jean-Paul Goude to Sarah Baartman–but Kardashian has found a way to do the once unthinkable: stick it to The Man. She’s jumped the slut-shaming shark, and, in an unprecedented move, aligned herself with the most conservative brands and corporations without consequence. If she’s dangerous, it’s not to women, but prudish, male-dominated board rooms. She may not be the package feminists want, but Kim Kardashian has broken something and it isn’t the Internet.
The thing is — for all we like to talk about and look at Kardashian, we’re hard pressed to actually do anything about her because she may be the feminist heroine we never saw coming, and she’s doing it by linking part of her fortune to family brands funded by some of the most family-friendly money in the investment world, as well as brands many Americans view as the very definition of wholesomeness.
Bear with me. Babies”R”Us, the gleaming, sterilized off shoot of parent company and every child’s favorite store, Toys”R”Us, represents two things the vast majority of American parents share — the news of a pregnancy and where to buy ALL THE THINGS for baby. And whose money is behind those major children’s brands? None other than Bain Capital, the investment firm founded by the grandfather of 23, Mitt Romney.
It’s a safe to assume no one would dare link Mitt “Binders Full of Women” Romney and Kim Kardashian. Romney, the uptight, tone-deaf billionaire and former presidential candidate, unable to find qualified women for his Massachusetts governorship cabinet appears, at least on the surface, to be the water to Kardashian’s oil. Until, that is, we open the binder and see none other than Kim “Full Frontal” Kardashian.
The odd reach of Kardashian extends beyond the portfolios of failed candidates and our most precious resource and into more unexpected places like Sears. Ask almost anyone over the age of fifty, and there’s a good chance the first line of credit extended to your family came from Sears & Roebuck to buy a host of household items like refrigerators, clothing, washing machines, even tires. Sears owns K-Mart and, the retailer of very happy white people in catalogs, Lands End. Kardashian perfumes can be found at CVS, Target, Walmart, Kohls, pretty much everywhere. And this year, with the launch of her app — the Kardashian Life–Kardashian has taken over your digital life, too.
Mothers, the bread and butter of any brand implosion, have been radio silent on Kardashian in any meaningful way. Sure, there was a Change.org petition to pull the Kardashian Kids line of clothes from Babies”R”Us citing the “overt sexualization” of Kim as the reason, but the company responded, the Internet mocked the petitioner, and the petition was pulled from the website.
Kardashian rarely places a stiletto-embellished toe out of line. She recently Instagrammed a photo of herself voting. She’s remained tight-lipped on issues like racism until becominga mother to a child of color. By all appearances she’s managed to avoid any kind of public meltdown brought on by the self-destructive tendencies that are popular in Hollywood like they’ve been infused into the dwindling California water supply like fluoride. That is, except for her body — one that she revels in sexualizing openly and clearly loves. So Kardashian is, by all accounts, a safe business partner.
But women’s bodies and their autonomy have always been overriding issues of contention in all things business, politics and life. That a woman like Kardashian has managed to flagrantly assault the masses without the kind of real-world consequences like banned products and canceled TV shows from corporate prudes is astonishing. Miraculous, even. It would be easy to point to a male svengali as the way to explain a “pass,” but Kardashian’s mother, Kris Jenner, is her manager. The Kardashians are a woman-centered enterprise without any XY puppet master. The Kardashian-Jenner women fill an entire binder needing no introduction.
Kardashian is not an artist, she is not talented, and she’s done nothing to warrant her fortune and power. I could write the same about George W. Bush. Bush found Karl Rove and became president while Kardashian probably turned to her mother one night, told her that a sex tape she filmed with a boyfriend was about to go public, and her mother looked her in the eye with flashing dollar signs, and the rest we’ve consumed.
The way we dismiss beautiful tarts is in and of itself sexist, but we’re too close to Kardashian’s flame to see the entirety of what she’s scorched. It’s true that she may have created a new, unattainable beauty standard for women as the Tina Fey meme suggests, but Kardashian is more than the sum of her ample parts: more than a mother, more than a body, wife, sister, daughter, centerfold, product. Revolutions, be they sexual or otherwise, grow larger than their catalysts — history always ignites the spark, looking back.
I don’t think it’s too grand to plot Kardashian’s provocative self-promotion as a point on the continual evolution of women and sexuality. Kardashian embodies the madonna/whore complex seamlessly and without irony, daring the public to choose one or the other, like we’ve always done to women. But we can’t with her because she’s too damn shameless. Which, I gather, is the entire point — there is nothing inherently shameful about any woman’s sexuality. For all her flaws and do-nothing-to-be-famous-ness, Kardashian has changed the way women look at themselves in relation to their bodies within a framework of leaning in, don’t push any buttons, be one of the guys, and a political environment filled with unprecedented vagina panic that defines femininity as a disability or a character flaw to overcome.
To discount the open door because it came with a beautiful body and in-your-face vanity misses an opportunity for the sake of misplaced righteousness. That’s right — feminists need Kim Kardashian.