How do you begin to dissect fame like that of Kim? Where do you make the first cut in such omnipresence? Because it’s not just about her, the flesh and bones woman, any more. We exist within her vast show, literally and figuratively. Even if you don’t actively choose to follow her movements, she’s there. Inescapable.
We should start with the unavoidable: the sex tape. In the mid-00s Kim wasn’t famous like her friends Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton, for whom she was a stylist. Richie and Hilton were catapulted into the public eye with their feckless and fantastic reality show The Simple Life, blasting a tsunami of velour Juicy Couture and Von Dutch trucker caps into society. They giggled and pouted on every red carpet and magazine cover going. But this kind of fame eluded Kim, despite her notorious parents and her social life. Until, that is, her sex tape – recorded in 2003 with her then-boyfriend Ray “Ray J” Norwood – was “leaked” into the public domain.
However, there are some claims that the tape was a total set-up to bring Kim fame. The tape was released in 2007 and now here we are in 2017: Kim has both monetised fame and created a new definition thereof. As the inveterate clarion call goes: she is famous for getting her tits out and for, well, just… being. Stepping out of her car. Being famous.
But can it really be that simple? Hilton, too, is famous for a sex tape, (and has also denied any involvement in its leak) and her fame is but a faint stain on Kim’s now. What other questions should we be asking? In trying to unlock why Kim continues to occupy us so intensely, should we not also be examining ourselves?
First, let’s look at the facts: in 2015 Forbes suggested Kim’s net worth was $52.5m. Her fortune is attributable to clothing lines, iPhone games, emojis, appearing on her family’s reality shows – and, no doubt, the financial rewards that come from being a one-person advertising agency to her multimillion Twitter (43.9m) and Instagram (67.4m) followers. She is, to put a finer point on it, “doing OK”.
It’s not just Kim’s businesses that ensure her celebrity continues to swell. It’s not just her marriage to Kanye West, one of – if not the – world’s most controversial and brilliant recording artists. It’s not just the selfies, the nakedness or the conversations she generates in real life and online on a daily basis, from the vast feminist soul-searching to the constant, kneejerk slut-shaming. It’s not “just” anything. Her fame is, within the context of fame itself, brand new. It is multi causal and hugely complex, and it is ours as much as hers. Why? Because, whether we love or hate her, we cannot get enough. We can’t get enough of people knowing we’ve had enough. The snake eats its tail.
But is Kim’s bare body “wrong” because it’s bigger and occupies more physical space than, say, an adolescent model with exposed nipples on a catwalk at Paris Fashion Week? Is it wrong because she doesn’t fit with the “proper” fantasy women images of your – the blonde, Caucasian, all-American Pamela Anderson types that would be stuck to bedroom walls?
It seems we just cannot bear the idea that a woman might really enjoy getting her tits out because they are her own, wonderful, luminous orbs of maternity and desire. We can talk about the patriarchy and the male gaze until we are blue in the face, and we should, of course we should, but the fact remains: Kim chooses to get her tits out. She wants to, even though she doesn’t “need” to. That so many of us can’t stand it while she continues to do so – although not really, on social media, because they’re blurred out – keeps her suspended in conversation. Even those who view her trajectory into fame as a symptom of everything that’s wrong with the world today and those who assume she is stupid, who claim some kind of moral or intellectual superiority, keep talking about her. It is absolutely fascinating.
Such is Kim’s fame and the way she chooses to present her body, it’s only natural for us mere mortals to want more than she gives us.
Kim’s family may also occupy the press on a daily basis, but she manages to retain an alienness that her sisters, her mother and Caitlyn Jenner don’t have. Such is her fame and the way she chooses to present her body, it’s only natural for us mere mortals to want more than she gives us. I’ve often wondered what Kim’s gums look like close up. Does she have the same little blonde spirals of hair on her neck that I do? What do her toenail clippings look like? I’ve no idea because she is in control of how I see her, and yet part of me wants to zoom in more. Then part of me wants to examine why on earth I do, and so on it goes, and I’m still thinking and talking about Kim.
My dad asked me recently what I thought someone like Kim and her fame represented to a 12-year-old girl, who is just beginning to become aware of her body and its place in the world. Exploitation and consent are vital subjects to explore with young women, but Kim is a fully consenting adult woman. Personally, I can’t help but think that she shows us that we don’t all have to be the same kind of woman. Some of us like science, some of us like lip gloss, some of us like growing our body hair out, some of us like offal, some of us like taking naked photos. Hell, some of us like all or none of those things. Instead of asking why Kim is famous, we should be thankful that she is, because she gives us the chance to have a conversation about difference.