For anyone who's managed to sleep through the last week, notorious provocateur Kim Kardashian posted a nude on Twitter on Monday, with some strategic censor bars to avoid running afoul of the powers that be. Twitter promptly exploded with a range of comments, many of which were sexist and misogynistic, and, at least publicly, she was pretty amused by the response.
She's a grown woman and she can put whatever she wants on her Twitter account, but I shouldn't need to tell you that. People who dislike Kim Kardashian or don't want to see pictures of her probably shouldn't be following her on Twitter. But those who want to trash her for taking control of her body and her public image should perhaps consider the fact that when they write her off as vapid and superficial, they're erasing her tremendous accomplishments as a businesswoman.
All people should be free to take as many selfies as they like, in whatever state of dress, and this is particularly loaded for women, who are constantly reminded that most of the time, they don't get to be in control of how their bodies are shown, or seen.
Kardashian sits at a strange intersection of cultural issues, as her body is part of her business, and she's also well aware that like any conventionally attractive woman, she's a figure of objectification. She's chosen to leverage that objectification in an act of defiance, which is commendable on its own, but also? She makes a huge amount of money, and few people talk about that (unless they're making fun of how she's making it).
In a commentary on the situation, Kardashian said:
...In all seriousness, I never understand why people get so bothered by what other people do with their lives. I don't do drugs, I hardly drink, I've never committed a crime — and yet I'm a bad role model for being proud of my body?...I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin...I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world...It's 2016. The body-shaming and slut-shaming, it's like, enough is enough.
She noted that she's an entrepreneur, among many other things, and it's this that I find particularly important. Lots of people reduce Kim to her body, or brush her off as a vapid reality star, but that's entirely unfair. Yes, she's very attractive, and yes, she stars in a reality show, but she built up an $85 million empire and is definitely doing better than a certain presidential candidate I won't name on the whole not-running-businesses-into-the-ground front. In 2011, Glamour named her "Entrepreneur of the Year." She's been invited to speak around the world on her business ventures, projects, and collaborations.
Kardashian is an extremely savvy businesswoman and she has been since her teens. She was fortunate enough to learn a lot about financial literacy from her parents, and she grew up in relative privilege, which definitely gave her a head start on building her business acumen. She's involved in television development, fashion, beauty, and publishing, mostly from a celebrity and entertainment angle.
She has also, of course, developed herself as a brand, but that's a sound business decision — Coco Chanel is a brand. Alexander McQueen was a brand. Taylor Swift is a brand. Hell, Shakespeare was a brand. Lots of public figures have built up their businesses around themselves, and some are treated with more disdain than others.
The Kardashian family as a whole has built their profile through accessibility, adept social media outreach, and brand extension. This is the kind of advice people routinely give to businesses across a broad swath of industries, but for some reason, it seems to really bother someone when a business organization helmed by women puts these basic principles into practice.
Just a few of the things Kim Kardashian has been involved in over the years: A very successful reality television show and spinoffs; very profitable endorsement deals; fashion lines in major stores around the world; publishing, with last April's Selfish; athletic shoes; video games; perfume; makeup; jewelry; retail stores; and shoes.
Notice some themes there? She's built up her fortune around products and media for the most part traditionally associated with women, and therefore lesser and weak. If she'd made her fortune in tech, or the biosciences, or publishing "real" books, people would likely be singing a very different tune.
Women who do make their fortunes in those fields typically aren't as objectified as Kardashian, but that's because these industries aren't about how you look. For Kardashian, her body is both her body and to a certain extent a business investment — like a pianist's hands, or a ballerina's legs. She works very hard to make herself look the way she does, and she celebrates her body online and off because it's part of pitching the lifestyle that she markets as part of her brand.
Her success is also a direct confrontation of the sex tape that launched her into the public eye, a sort of "okay, if you're going to objectify me because of a video that came out a decade ago, here you go."
You buy clothes or makeup or shoes or any number of other things from the Kardashians because they embody something important to you — or you don't, because that lifestyle doesn't interest you. Kardashian's conscious decision to build an empire around her life, and her body, was a smart business move. It's not one available to all women, and it's not one all women are interested in, but that doesn't mean she should be derided for it.
It's extremely telling that Kardashian gets trashed on the regular for being involved in an industry that many people identify as petty and superficial. The fact that Kardashian's celebrity, brand, and financial empire is heavily rooted in these industries makes her a popular figure of snide commentary — including among those who know better. I'm far more interested in the fact that Kardashian has struck out for herself to make her own footprint in an industry where men often dominate behind the scenes, even if women are the face of campaigns.
That's what she's role modeling, and what should impress people — she's showing women and girls that they should go for what they want in life, and that there's nothing wrong with loving fashion and the entertainment industry.