Earlier this week, the stewards of the Kardashian empire made some frantic (and ultimately failed) attempts to scrub a candid image from the internet.
“The color edited photo was taken of Khloé during a private family gathering and posted to social media without permission by mistake by an assistant,” Tracy Romulus, chief marketing officer for KKW Brands, told Page Six. After being posted, the image circulated on Reddit and Twitter, where threats of legal action by the celebrity family temporarily stemmed the flow. “Khloé looks beautiful but it is within the right of the copyright owner to not want an image not intended to be published taken down.”
In trying to hide the photo from public view, Team Kardashian only ended up encouraging more people to seek it out — and many of them were surprised by what they found. I certainly was, having expected an unflattering angle, perhaps, or infinitesimal chin or tummy rolls. But the apparently offending image of Khloé smiling poolside in a bikini is completely unremarkable, forgettably lovely. According to one of Page Six’s sources, the shot “features some edits,” though not nearly to the level of professional retouching we’ve come to expect from the Kardashian clan. If anything, this photo was more charming than the usual fare for its very normalcy; Khloé looks relaxed and happy.
Shortly after news of the family’s scrubbing attempts broke, Khloé went live on Instagram in various states of undress, writing in the caption that it’s “to show you all this isn’t photoshopped 😝.” In accompanying text slides, Khloé writes, “This is me and my body unretouched and unfiltered. The photo that was posted this week was beautiful. But as someone who has struggled with body image her whole life, when someone takes a photo of you that isn’t flattering in bad lighting or doesn’t capture your body the way it is after working so hard to get to this point — and then shares it to the world — you should have every right to ask for it not to be shared, regardless of who you are.”
Most of us know what it’s like to hate a candid snap of yourself, no matter how many of your loved ones insist you look great. For a publicity-conscious Kardashian whose carefully curated image is paramount, the stakes of a “bad” photo are all the higher. But there’s some dissonance between the "beautiful" assessment from Khloé's team and the subsequent judgment that the photo didn't present her in an accurate way. Khloé casts light on that contradiction in her statement, going on to address the pressures she’s faced “to be perfect and to meet other’s standards of how [she] should look,” which has at times “been too much to bear.” For over a decade in public life, she writes, she’s been deemed “the fat sister,” “the ugly sister,” and her famous image has been hyperscrutinized and ridiculed.
In the most recent edition of BuzzFeed News’ Please Like Me, a newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention", my colleague Ade Onibada notes that anyone who’s watched enough Kardashian content, including Khloé’s reality show Revenge Body, will be familiar with her many complexes about her image. Onibada writes that she “once joked about having body dysmorphic disorder and suggested that her entire family might too, but she was ‘kind of into it, as it keeps us on our A-game.’”
I feel for Khloé. I know what it’s like to be the heaviest girl in my friend group, to compare my body to the supposedly more beautiful and deserving bodies of others — though my experiences, I’m sure, can’t really come close to those of the least-favored sister in one of the most aesthetically famous families on the planet. Khloé doesn’t situate herself in the context of the Kardashian beauty empire, however. She condemns “the impossible standards that the public have all set” for her, but she fails to acknowledge the fact that many of them come directly from her own family — and that she and her sisters profit enormously from other women’s attempts to meet them.
Perhaps we all might feel a little bit better about our imperfect human bodies if influencers like the Kardashians didn’t rake in millions from hawking unnecessary and ineffective weight loss tools, or if famously beautiful women didn’t funnel their wealth into countless cosmetic surgeries, or if filters and photoshop and Instagram Face (popularized by…the Kardashians) weren’t so ubiquitous. Celebrities like Khloé say they hate the game of excessive and extraordinarily expensive body modification as if they’re mere players with no agency or influence. But celebrities are incredibly powerful cultural figures. They’re happy to wield that power when it benefits them — in accruing money, connections, fame — while often refusing to admit it even exists when they’re held accountable for putting toxic garbage into the world.
Khloé concludes her statement with a call to believe in beauty “from within,” adding, “We cannot continue to live life trying to fit into the perfect mold of what others have set for us.” But it’s clear from preceding slides that she isn’t so much interested in abolishing the “perfect mold” as she is in avoiding negative feedback for contorting herself into it. She resents that her drastic efforts in self-beautification aren’t applauded by the public, writing that she takes the criticisms “to use as motivation to get [herself] in the best shape of [her] life and to even help others with the same struggles.” All she gets in return, she writes, is being told she "couldn’t have done it through hard work and must have paid for it all.”
No matter how much or what sort of “work” she does to maintain it, Khloé has obviously paid for her body — in money, in time, in trainers and dieticians and cosmetic procedures. And why wouldn’t we think so, when the Kardashians want us to pay them (more specifically, their fashion and beauty businesses) so that we may inch ever closer to the ridiculously unattainable ideal they promote on social media, reality television, and beyond?
“The reality is that Khloé is in a body-conscious, hypercritical prison that is partially of her own making,” Onibada writes, “and with every decision to edit, filter, airbrush, Facetune, distort, and divorce herself from her actual image, she further fortifies this prison.”
It’s extraordinarily sad to me to imagine chasing down a nice, normal photo of yourself — in which you’re flat-stomached and wide-hipped and smiling a pretty, genuine smile — because it’s not staged and edited to absurd levels of perfection. “Kardashianism becoming tragic,” the writer Doreen St. Félix tweeted. “Now they really are an American dynasty.”
It’s tempting to pity Khloé whenever another new post or video inspires petty interest in how much her face and body have changed over the years. Still, that doesn’t excuse her or her family’s consistent promotion of attaining the “perfect” body. For her sake and for ours, she should perhaps try surrounding herself with people who don’t hold themselves or others to the same ridiculous standards. Anti-fat stigma kills, and so does the brutal pursuit of a “perfection” that doesn’t actually exist. It’s way past time we held celebrities accountable for the ways they fan those flames. ●