As of this year, Kim Kardashian is estimated to be worth $45m. She is an American television and social media personality, socialite, fashion designer, actress, model and businesswoman, although her critics tend to use some of those terms with a pinch of salt. She has managed to capture the unfaltering attention of the global media, transforming from a reality television star into one of the most recognisable faces on the planet. There is no denying that Kardashian is successful. But she is not a feminist icon.
It is difficult to find someone who hasn't come across her latest escapade, accidentally or otherwise. Created for the sole purpose of controversy, she appeared nude and oiled-up on the front cover of Paper magazine – with a champagne glass balanced on her derriere. It trended on social media as soon as she shared it with her 25.4 million Twitter followers with the hashtag #BreakTheInternet, beaten only by tweets about the human race parking a space probe on a speeding comet.
Far from 'empowering'
Commenters were quick to commend Kardashian for pushing the boundaries with her full-frontal – and rear-view – pictures. Sexual liberation, bravery for shunning the fashion magazine culture of size zero models and empowerment are all terms that have cropped up alongside her name.
It is important to note that we don't know if Kardashian identifies herself as a feminist, but canonizing her as the "overlooked face of feminism" is a bold statement for someone who rose to fame from a sex tape.
Kardashian has been lucky enough to be able to build her empire on her fortune in the genetic lottery. Her currency lies in her figure, her hips, her face, and she has flaunted her capital to no end, to position herself as one of the most desired women in the world. Such blatant sexual objectification is something almost all feminists – regardless of wave or agenda - have strived to eradicate.
As a businesswoman, Kardashian has made millions from endorsing food, clothes, make-up and more. She is a talented marketer, or at least those who surround her are, but her business deals are based on commodities that play on the insecurities of women: lip-plumping gloss; slimming dresses; leg-lengthening heels. Although perhaps unwittingly, Kardashian has played into the unrealistic beauty standards that continue to plague women. It is bordering on the preposterous to suggest that her work is a business model for feminists.
Empowerment is another word thrown around more than the empty promises of a politician before election day, and one misaligned with Kardashian's latest #BreakTheInternet venture. So overused that it rarely has meaning or value, it is a word that is often not a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise patriarchal values of beauty. Kardashian's nude photos are not empowering, nor feminist.
Having something to say
Not all nude photos are the same, however. In September, actress Keira Knightley posed topless and highlighted her stance against photoshopping. Her purpose was clear; to make a bold statement about body image and the unethical distortion of women's bodies by the media.
"I've had my body manipulated so many different times for so many different reasons, whether it's paparazzi photographers or for film posters," Knightley told The Times. "That shoot was one of the ones where I said: 'Ok, I'm fine doing the topless shot so long as you don't make them any bigger or retouch.' Because it does feel important to say it really doesn't matter what shape you are."
Obviously there is a fine line between which nude photos of women are for a beneficial purpose, and which are not. But Knightley brought to the table an important and feminist issue, Kardashian did not and never pretended to.
Striving to increase rape convictions, getting paid the same as men, eliminating verbal harassment/domestic violence/female genital mutilation, giving a voice to all women regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or class – all of these are empowering and examples of feminism at its best. Greasy magazine pictures? Not so much.