Every week, blogger and columnist Sahar Shiralian explores a different aspect of popular culture through a feminist lens.
Summer 2011 was the summer of Kardashian. Like it or not, the reality TV royal family was absolutely ubiquitous in the media. Dressed to perfection, dripping in designer labels, and baring pearly white, perky smiles, the Kardashian trio has graced the covers of countless magazines, appeared in a number of television interviews, and have even entered the radio medium with a steamy pop song. In one episode, Bruce Jenner, the forgotten father figure in the Kardashian household, even laments that he “can’t get away from these people” while surrounded by Kardashian filled gossip magazines in a doctor’s waiting room.
After Kim married her beau Kris Humphries in a lavish, star-studded wedding this summer, the Kardashian sisters are indeed inescapable. There are several spin-off shows for each sister, and the E network is always abuzz with news of Kardashian adventures. Of course, many viewers ponder over what function these giggling girls exactly hold in society, or wonder why they are even famous in the first place. While these questions are pertinent (and do have a palpable, albeit frustrating answer), I am more concerned about their effect on impressionable young girls and the feminist community, especially when these women truly seem to be everywhere.
In the modern world of pop culture, celebrity gossip, sex scandals, and beauty tips indubitably dominate. The Kardashians, an attractive set of sisters, are merely living in a system that inculcates the populace with the notion that beauty and youth are paramount to a woman’s power. Capitalizing on their beauty, youth, and the scandal of a sex tape that seems to perpetually hover over their lives, the Kardashians have achieved monetary success and fame. These socialites, even if inadvertently, preach to women that beauty and youth ultimately matter. They encapsulate the idea that women serve purely a decorative and sexual function in society and simply forward negative misogynistic stereotypes. The stereotypes of women being inherently materialistic, gossip prone, melodramatic, hysterical, vain, and congenitally childish and less intelligent are inarguably propounded on the reality show “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” For example, Kim admits that she has a shopping problem, is frequently seen shopping in high-end stores with multiple bags, and in Bora Bora this season, she is seeing wearing a chic Gucci dress that she even nonchalantly asks Kourtney to cut! Losing a diamond earring during the Bora Bora episode, a hysterical and maudlin Kim frantically cries while her wiser and surprisingly more philanthropic sister, Kourtney, futilely tries to assuage the situation by stating, “Kim, people are dying.” As for accusations of vanity, a barely 30 year old and still youthful Kim infamously injects botox in an episode while bemoaning the loss of her youth. In another episode, she throws a temper tantrum befitting the antics of a toddler going through her terrible two’s when she has a patch of psoriasis and cannot appear picture-perfect in a bikini. Women have been denounced as hysterical, overly emotional, and childish for centuries; with such egregious examples in the media, we certainly do not need a revival of the argument that we are the weaker counterpart in 2011!
Although I only occasionally watch smutty reality television for a few laughs and as a guilty pleasure, many young women and teenage girls watch the Kardashian programs regularly. Despite their attempts to mitigate their reputations as mere pin-up dolls, Kim Kardashian and her sisters are far from being models of female empowerment. The Kardashian industry is certainly not a powerhouse of healthy feminist ideals. Kim’s main focus is her body, and it is sadly her only selling point. I hate to break it to her (and to myself and to women everywhere), but our nubile, youthful bodies and fresh faces have an expiration date. When we lose these means for power and tools of sexual manipulation, what do we have left? Unfortunately, we are left only with a nervous breakdown when we look in the mirrors and no longer see our formerly sexually alluring selves; inevitably, the new youth will replace aging, once worshipped beauties and use their tricks to gain power, leaving the usurped abandoned. The world is teeming with beautiful models, pretty girls on the subway, and sexually adept women in clubs and parties. I am not shaming women who take pride in their beauty, and I am certainly not slut-shaming. I am merely stating that the world needs more women of substance. Beauty and youth matter only temporarily, but talent, charity, and intelligence are qualities that endure and ensure the fidelity of lovers, partners, and friends. I do not expect young girls to hang photos of Hilary Clinton or Sonia Sotomayor on their walls, but I do hope that they cultivate their talents, work towards formidable, lasting careers, and attempt to make a difference in this world.
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