In 2019, New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino perfectly described what everyone now knows to be the ubiquitous “Instagram face:” high, contoured cheekbones; plump, pouty lips; full, perfectly arched and shaped eyebrows; a defined jaw line; eyelashes as long and thick as spider legs.
Here’s the problem: Khloé has always billed herself as being different from the other Kardashians.
As Tolentino put it, “The face is distinctly white but ambiguously ethnic—it suggests a National Geographic composite illustrating what Americans will look like in 2050, if every American of the future were to be a direct descendant of Kim Kardashian West, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Kendall Jenner (who looks exactly like Emily Ratajkowski).”
There’s an Instagram body, too, also distinctly Kardashian: A celebrity plastic surgeon told Tolentino that many clients come in specifically asking to look like a Kardashian, from top to bottom. The waist is so tiny one is left to wonder how any organs manage to fit inside it. The butt, by comparison, is big and round, but somehow perfectly smooth and cellulite-free. The breasts are full and perky.
It shouldn't be surprising, then, that when an unretouched photo of Khloé Kardashian in a bikini (looking lovely, fit and relatively normal, if not above average) leaked this week, the reality star freaked out, then commenced to wield her immense power and influence to try to scrub said photo from the internet.
Here’s the problem: Khloé has always billed herself as being different from the other Kardashians. She has publicly lamented being called the “ugly” and “fat” Kardashian sister her entire life. Her own reality TV show, “Revenge Body With Khloé Kardashian,” helped ordinary people who dealt with similar criticism, often from family members or close friends, cope with their own body insecurities. She created a denim company, Good American, whose tagline is literally “Representing body acceptance.”
Kardashian explained in a statement that she wanted the photo wiped from the internet because "the pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and to meet other's standards of how I should look has been too much to bear."
Had she refused to buy into the impossible beauty standards set by her own family and allowed the world to see her as she is, that could have sent a powerful message.
Had she actually refused to buy into the impossible beauty standards set by her own family and allowed the world to see her as she is, that could have sent a powerful message. Instead, she responded to the leaked photo of herself by filming a video in the mirror, in a low-lit room, to assure the world that her body does in fact meet the standards of a Kardashian body — a move that doesn’t exactly promote body acceptance.
Kardashian herself has drastically changed and edited her face and body for Instagram, promoting those same body image and beauty standards that she herself describes as hurtful “pressure” from others.
The bigger irony is that she and her family have not only set those oppressive standards but have wildly profited off of them. The siblings — starting with Kim, but now fully including all five Kardashian and Jenner sisters — have built an empire of wealth on their signature aspirational look, which is objectively impossible to achieve even for them without the help of implants, fillers, injections, Instagram and Snapchat filters, personal trainers, Photoshop and ungodly amounts of makeup.
It’s almost impossible to overestimate the level of influence the Kardashians and Co. wield over the beauty market. At 21, Kylie Jenner became the youngest self-made billionaire in the world with her makeup line, Kylie Cosmetics, after she pretended that her face-transforming lip fillers were actually just from expertly applied makeup that she would be happy to share with other women and girls, for a profit. When she finally admitted she had lip augmentation in 2015, online searches for “lip fillers” went up 3,233 percent.
Since Kim Kardashian “broke the internet” in 2014 on the cover of Paper magazine with a photo of her deliberately exaggerated, greased-up butt, Brazilian butt lift procedures have skyrocketed. She also popularized waist trainers, basically a modern-day corset or girdle, for women seeking to emulate her microscopic midsection.
It’s almost impossible to overestimate the level of influence the Kardashians and Co. wield over the beauty market.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting the world to see an unflattering photo of yourself —that’s human. And there’s nothing wrong with wearing makeup, or getting Botox, or putting a flattering filter on your Instagram photo, if that’s what makes you feel good.
But if you are a member of the Kardashian family, so often referred to as “America’s royal family” due to their massive wealth and cultural influence, you do not get to complain about the oppressive beauty standards that you yourself have created and perpetuated and profit from. And you do not get to describe your clothing line as body positive if you are going to have a public meltdown about your body looking relatively normal (but, again, still quite fit!) in a photo.
Khloé Kardashian had a real opportunity here to do something meaningful, to break with the family brand and tell women and girls, “Yes, even Kardashians don’t wake up every day with a perfect Instagram face and Instagram body, and it’s normal and fine if you don’t either.”
Instead, she let the crushing beauty standards set by her own family come back and bite her in the aspirational butt.