By Chloe Hough
I was recently told by my (now ex) boyfriend not to write this article – to get off my “feminist kick” with all the “big words” I had learned at the 2014 Women in the World Summit, hashtag’d #WITW14 with over 500 million Twitter impressions, founded and co-hosted by editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast Tina Brown.
I found this comment interesting as I told him post-conference about my plans to write a response to the Vogue cover article, “Keeping Up with Kimye,” as this summit was not a bra-burning, men-denouncing dichotomy scenario, but in fact, quite the opposite. This conference was a place for all genders to gather: We celebrated strong women such as Hillary R. Clinton and Christine Lagarde, were inspired by young women CEO’s who have created humanitarian change and learned more about pressing issues such as Pussy Riot’s time in prison under Vladimir Putin for peaceful protest. It was full of “cool women” as Tina Brown eloquently put it.
I am not here to put out conjecture on why Kim should or shouldn’t be labeled “aspirational” as Anna Wintour puts it in her editor’s note. There is a strong debate around the Internet about the significance of Kim’s gracing the cover. Brown herself wrote a response to Wintour’s comment (mainly plugging #WITW14) titled, “Why Kim Kardashian is Not an Aspirational Woman.” Other articles I have picked through discuss why Kim is relevant, and why she deserves the attention she receives.
I am here, however, to discuss what I found in the shadows of the spotlight, in the connotations of the article and the wording Kim and Kanye chose to describe their “fantasy world.”
Vogue’s Hamish Bowles paints a very honest, even graceful portrait of the couple and their darling baby, North West. The set is reminiscent of a more Hollywood-glamour era than a monotonous reality television show. Bowles even manages to work in the “narcissism-nurturing mirrored wall” that parades a very real reflection of the millions watching the show and reading the magazine. I am reminded of Marilyn Monroe – I suspect Kim would be pleased to be compared to such an archetypal symbol – but I am saddened at the thought of what Marilyn became. She, much like Kim, is and was an ideal, a fantasy. Kanye even says, “Kim is like a fantasy, period. She’s like a dream girl. And I think a dream girl should live in a dream world.” So it goes.
Kanye is also quoted saying, “It’s really interesting that we’re on the front lines of a few different concepts at the same time. You’ve got the interracial thing; you have mega-media and mega-art crash; you have, you know, the Vogue-and-reality show combination. There’s a lot of new frontiers being broken in 2014.” And I have to wonder: Is part of this grand debate over the cover rooted in the fact that we are not sure if Kim is, in fact, a pioneer, breaking “frontiers,” or rather if she is simply a product of society?
For example, one of the most telling pictures of this fantasy world embodies sort of an ersatz-iconic sentiment of glamour, narcissism, societal burden and paradigm all at once. This is the photograph of Kanye holding an iPad, recording Kim and North taking a seflie on a cell phone, mirroring their lives in a quite literal, as well as metaphorical fashion. Annie Leibovitz is famous for capturing, if I had to choose only one word, truth in her photos, and this one is no different. It is also important to remember there is a fourth wall of sorts: the audience. The camera itself is a mirror. And speaking of mirrors, Kanye even states of the couple’s wedding: “We could get the Hall of Mirrors [at Versailles] or something. We could turn up.”
One of the segments at #WITW14 discussed the power of the selfie and the ability it presents to young people in particular that one can be beautiful without a mirage of makeup slathered on, without “hypersexualization” as actress Rashida Jones entitled it, and without pretense for the model in question. The problem with this is that we are hypersexualized, and Kardashian is no exception. Famous for pioneering contouring in the celebrity makeup world, notorious for her accidentally released sex tape with former beau Ray J and renowned for her “womanly” ass-ets, Kim Kardashian could be called the antichrist of feminism.
I, however, would make the case that the multi-dimensional selfie photograph by Leibovitz is a parallel, if not an echo, of a whole generation of millennials and their predecessors who have elected to put Kimye on their self-proclaimed throne. The paradox with the selfie is this: Kardashian is bashed for her idolization when in reality she is just a reflection of ourselfies – pun intended. We venerate ourselves (guilty), which is empowering and damaging at the same time, as it can lead to a perpetual teenager reigning queen, marrying her prince and living happily ever after. Right?
Of course Vogue, like all major monthly publications, chooses its cover models to remain, in part, culturally relevant – Tina Brown even relents this in her critique of Wintour’s selection. So I pose this question: Should we be attacking Kimye? In promoting #WITW14, Brown does make an excellent point that Kim Kardashian would not be one of the “cool women” on stage at the summit. And in my personal opinion, she probably wouldn’t want to attend anyway.
However, we as a society (and I hate to use that term in such a general sense), have created a frenzied dialogue about what cultural hubs such as Vogue magazine should and shouldn’t promote, and yet we personify the camera following Kardashian’s royal self(ie).
We have socially konstructed the Kardashian Kommonwealth, and now we must live with our rulers and their empire.
See more of the #WorldsMostTalkedAboutCouple here.
Edited by Hannah Swank
Photo by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue magazine