When I saw Kim Kardashian arrive at the Met Gala this year, my first thought was: “Wow, she looks great.” By “great,” I’ve since realized, I subconsciously meant thin.
That’s because despite many years of self-help, I’ve been conditioned to perceive weight loss as objectively positive and aspirational. So when Kim teetered up the red-carpeted stairs in Marilyn Monroe’s Jean Louis dress and told livestream host LaLa Anthony that she lost 16 pounds in three weeks just to fit into it, I put down my bag of Doritos and stared at her in awe. I’ll admit it—instead of wondering whether that kind of weight loss is even safe for the human body, I was impressed in ways that made me feel like an impressionable tween all over again. I kept eating my chips eventually (you can’t take away my joy) but she left me thinking, “How did she do it? Can I do it, too?”
Khloe Kardashian, too, is suddenly noticeably slimmer. As seen in a recent series of beach snaps from her 38th birthday family trip, the former host of Revenge Body—a show where contestants strive to achieve a smaller figure—is not only thinner in her arms and face, but there is a drastic change in the size of her butt. This has lead many to speculate she’s had implants or fat transfers, possibly from the “Brazilian Butt Lift” that the family’s curvy rears helped popularize, surgically removed.
The Sun dubbed the two sisters “Kardashi-thin.” Social media is ablaze with proclamations that Kim and Khloe’s new figures signal “an end to the BBL era.” Just like that, the Kardashians have once again defined which body type is ‘popular’—and now they are actually a barometer of time. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. How did we get here?
I tried to go back and pinpoint the exact moment we became so fixated on the Kardashian body and I’ve landed on February 2012, when Kim joined Instagram. Before that, 32-year-old Kim was a few seasons deep on Keeping Up, and had come out with a series of fragrances and released a fitness DVD called Fit In Your Jeans By Friday. (Some things don’t change.) Two years later, she would release her Android game—one of the most successful game releases of all time—in which you could literally build the body of an up-and-coming socialite.
But it was Kim’s aptitude for the selfie that brought us in that much closer to the life we were already intrigued by. And her sisters have followed in her FaceTuned footsteps. Each Kardashian photo is like a hit of dopamine for the social media fiend and 10 years on, we still can’t get enough.
At their invitation, we’ve dedicated years to tracking the ups and downs of the Kardashian and Jenner faces, hair and measurements, which has sometimes lead to a strange sense of entitlement about their bodies. Let’s take a quick trip back to 2013. That year, a very pregnant Kim made her Met Gala debut as Kanye’s plus-one in the infamous “couch dress,” a floral gown by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy that we later learned was given the thumbs-up by Anna Wintour, herself.
It was the height of meme culture, and within seconds the mom-to-be had been visually compared to a large piece of upholstered furniture only the elderly could love. Generally, body-shaming is off limits while women are creating life in their wombs, and yet somehow the internet (that’s us) felt extremely comfortable doing so because, in part by her own hand, Kim’s body had already become cultural fodder, a conduit for our own obsession with how we look.
The Kardashian phenomenon, in my view, is what happens when you hold a mirror up to unrealistic collective beauty standards and sprinkle the fairy dust of fame and unlimited financial means. They are everything “we” say we want—big and small, curvy and thin, all in the “right” places, all at once. Now, I use the word “we” carefully, because I’m hyper aware that the collective “we” doesn’t generally include Black women like me. To me, Kim, Khloe and Kylie’s figures, which have become a mainstream ideal over the years, seem like a dystopian copy-paste of my aunties and cousins whose bodies were praised at home but shamed in public.
Now that Kim and Khloe are changing their bodies, shrinking their curves, I can’t help but think of when Miley Cyrus took a brief, commercially successful jaunt into hip-hop for her Bangerz album, only to distance herself from that “scene” once she was no longer reaping the benefits. (Two years later, in 2019, she apologized for doing so.)
While I have given side eye to every Kardashian for their actions over the years, my issue with their influence isn’t founded in a particular disdain for any of them. In fact, I’ve spent hours of my life binging KUWTK and I am the first to rock my Skims loungewear outside of the house. But each time we praise them for how they look, it represents so many double standards: We fetishize the Black female figure but show more appreciation for it on women who aren’t Black. We criticize women who don’t meet our standard of beauty, but shame them when they seek “unnatural” intervention to do so.
The Kardashians are subject to such contradictions, but they’re also profiting off them. Each one has capitalized off our fickleness in some way. Khloe in particular can’t seem to win with public opinion on how she looks—she’s long been weight and height shamed, and her (presumed) cosmetic surgeries are regularly used against her in discussions about her on-and-off relationships—but she’s managed to channel all of those opinions about her appearance into the Revenge Body network series and a fashion empire with her size-inclusive line, Good American.
All of them make money because of our culture’s relentless quest for physical perfection, despite knowing perfection doesn’t exist—even for them. And because we are so insatiably fascinated with wealth and abundance and fame, we find ourselves in a chokehold of influence wielded by women who have the means to change their bodies and faces with the tides. Kim has long been one of the most requested plastic surgery inspos, so imagine the panic of the women who’ve taken the steps—and loans—to ensure they look just like her, only to have her flip the script. Are we living in an Anna Delvey-style body image Ponzi scheme? I think so.
As someone who cannot and has no desire to look like any of the Kardashians (no shade), I can’t relate to feeling like these women are my body inspirations. But I can relate to feeling like I’m on a hamster wheel, endlessly chasing a moving goal post of aesthetic ideal with no real end in sight. If “the BBL era” is indeed over (which wouldn’t be the worst thing—that procedure has a disturbingly high mortality rate), maybe it’s a good time to fully examine why we’re willing to go to such extremes to look like someone or something that doesn’t naturally exist. Maybe it’s a good time to banish the idea of physical perfection altogether, to dismiss it as being as unattainable as a Cartier bag or a personal yacht. As someone who loves her chips, this route is much more appealing.