For the past week, Khloe Kardashian and her legal team have spent a lot of time trying to get an unfiltered photograph removed from social media. The image of Kardashian in a bikini, looking very pretty and human, was reportedly posted ‘by mistake’ and now her lawyers are filing DMCA takedown notices to scrub it from Twitter. As a result, I have seen the image frequently on my feed because that’s how the Streisand Effect works. As the story became its own embarrassing mess, Kardashian posted a statement of sorts on Instagram and Twitter where she explained how the ‘pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and to meet others’ standards of how I should look has been too much to bear.’
For over a decade now in photos, every single flaw and imperfection has been micro-analyzed and made fun of to the smallest detail and I am reminded of them everyday in the world. And when I take that criticism to use as motivation to get myself in the best shape of my life and to even help others with the same struggles, I am told I couldn’t have done it through hard work and I must have paid for it all.
You never quite get used to being judged and pulled apart and told how unattractive one is, but I will say, if you hear anything enough then you start to believe it. This is an example of how I have been conditioned to feel, that I am not beautiful enough just being me. I love a good filter, good lighting and an edit here and there. The same way I throw on some make-up, get my nails done, or wear a pair of heels to present myself to the world the way I want to be seen and it’s exactly what I will continue to do unapologetically. My body, my image and how I choose to look and what I want to share is my choice. It’s not for anyone to decide or judge what is acceptable or not anymore.
The statement was accompanied by videos of Kardashian showing off her body to ‘prove’ its authenticity.
In the age of social media, photographic filters, and face-remolding apps with millions of users, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what the most famous people in the world actually look like. The Kardashian family, a clan of reality stars and influencers of near-worldwide recognition, have spent over a decade turning the act of Facetune into an art. Given how much of their branding relies on creating an image of flawless aspirational beauty, it seems that drastic alterations are just part of their daily lives. Surgery, filters, good angles, the best lighting, hired paparazzi, world-class make-up artists… it takes a lot of work to look effortless. Then again, the effort was always the point with the Kardashians. We know that they’ve had work done. All you have to do is check out photographs or footage from the first season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians for the smoking gun. It’s the ‘glow-up’ that the internet loves, that mandatory physical transformation that accompanies the accumulation of obscene wealth. Actors get nose jobs and veneers. Models lose weight. Even politicians scrub up for cover shoots with Men’s Health.
And then there’s Khloe, the sister who was always positioned as the ‘ugly one’ by the press, the one whose parentage was questioned because of her appearance and who seemed to be subjected to the snidest comments by even her own family. I can’t imagine how smothering it must have been to spend over 15 years being bombarded by that noise, or what it’s like to internalize the cruelest rhetoric repeated by for-profit media. I do sympathize with that, as I sympathize with every woman who has had to find a way through the smog of patriarchy.
But honestly, watching that video and looking through her Instagram account, I still feel hopelessly sad for Khloe on some level. There doesn’t seem to be a single image or video of her that isn’t altered in some way, be it through smart lighting, Facetune, or other means. She looks like a totally different person from pic to pic. In some, her jaw has been whittled down to nothing. There isn’t a stretch mark or bump of cellulite to be found. Hell, she doesn’t seem to have pores. Once again, this trend isn’t Khloe or even Kardashian-exclusive. Everyone on Instagram seems to look like this. Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker noted in a piece on Instagram-esque plastic surgery how all of these women look like a ‘sexy baby tiger’ and that’s spot-on: that hard-edged look that is undeniably white, but deeply exoticized and rooted in the appropriation of Black womanhood and Twiggy’s mod makeup.
I don’t use Facetune because, as happy as I am with my mediocre appearance, I know how quickly I would fall into that black hole of the wholly unrecognizable. It was bad enough navigating the perils of professional photoshop as a teen. Just because you know the model on the cover of Vogue has been altered, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Now, those tools are available to everyone and, despite the default thinking that ‘everyone does it’, that emotional force it elicits remains blinding. And seeing this tool in full use while the poser talks about body acceptance… well, I have feelings.
Because here’s the thing: Khloe Kardashian is a problem of society’s making, but also of her family business. Nobody has done more to shift the parameters of modern beauty in the past decade (or, to be more accurate, appropriate women of color’s bodily experiences for profit) than the Kardashian Korporation. They have wholly altered their appearances through surgery, photoshop, and rich people bullsh*t, then used that to sell laxative teas, waist trainers, makeup kits, and books about accepting your true self to a young and impressionable demographic. I understand that Khloe must have felt immense pressure to match up to Kim, the head money-maker of the family, but you don’t get to exclude yourself from that narrative when you’re making bank from it.
Whatever self-image problems Khloe and the Kardashian women have (and it’s easy to speculate that there must be a lot of them), it’s hard to center them as the sympathetic figures in this narrative. Kylie Jenner lied about getting lip injections then only admitted to what everyone already knew once her lip kits made her very wealthy. Kim sells detox teas to an audience of 213 million followers. Kendall shills tooth whitening kits it’s doubtful she ever uses. Body positivity became skinny a long time ago, and its deradicalized commodification has proven highly lucrative to many but especially the Kardashian brand. Khloe’s one of those profiting from the mass insecurities of a generation raised on unattainable perfection. Clearly, it’s impacted her in a big way, but when she has the opportunity to break the cycle and instead she goes into overdrive to deny her own humanity, it’s tough to feel anything but overwhelming hopelessness.
The sad thing is that the untouched photograph — which I won’t post here because I don’t want to get sued, but it’s easy enough to find on Twitter — looks great. She looks happy, relaxed, and normal. She’s got a touch of cellulite and the loose tummy skin one would expect from a mother in her 30s but she still looks gorgeous. She looks better to me there than she does under the endless layers of Facetune. How tragic that this image, one where she’s clearly herself, has made her so insecure and is seen as damaging to the brand. As Khloe said in her own statement, she doesn’t plan to stop filtering images or making them ‘perfect’. Why would she? There’s no money in being OK with yourself.