JESSICA CHOTINER ’17
The term “role model” is a dangerous title, an almost parasitic phrase. It can attach itself to individuals whether they want it or not. One day you’re posting pictures of your squatting regiment on Instagram and the diamond encrusted fake nails you wore to your birthday party, and before you know it, you’ve got a million followers, and suddenly you’re a role model. This is the Kylie Jenner story: the story of a girl who went from average adolescent reality-TV star to surgically enhanced sex-symbol before she even knew how it happened.
HerCampus.com recently published an article titled “The Exploitation of Kylie Jenner: A Danger to Young Women.” That title is pretty dramatic; things tend to get dramatic when the words “exploitation” and “danger” are used. The article discusses Kylie’s branding as a social media star and general ‘bad girl’. In brief, the author said that Kylie is too young for the sexually charged attention she receives, and that she made herself popular through “dismemberment,” which in the advertising business means being known for one’s body or body parts rather than as a complete person. The author goes on to discuss Kylie’s relationship with Tyga, which has come under fire, as Tyga is eight years older than Kylie. The article ends with the assessment that Kylie Jenner and similar figures in popular culture give young girls unrealistic expectations of themselves, which is bad for their self-esteem. Though Kylie is not solely to blame for these issues, being the style icon that she is, she should not be celebrated for her body or for her scandalous relationships.
Maybe Kylie’s shared photos and videos do encourage the “sexualization of women”, maybe Tyga did have sex with Kylie while she was underage, and maybe Kylie Jenner is not the ideal person to have as a figurehead in pop culture. Then again, Kylie comes from a family that specializes in attaining fame and attention without demonstrating the usual talents that lead to such notoriety. The Kardashian-Jenner clan is famous primarily for being attractive, looking ethnically ambiguous, and for sharing too much of their personal lives with the world.
The truth is that Kylie Jenner and the other Kardashians know how to sell themselves, and if their goal is to be pop culture icons and to be wealthy, then obviously they are succeeding. Some might say that their success is less deserved than that of someone such as Taylor Swift, who has a reputation for her talent as a singer and her wholesomeness –– she loves sweaters, cats, and ‘girl power’. However, just like Kylie Jenner, Taylor Swift strategizes to get attention, though she is seeking a different kind of recognition.
In a perfect world, people in positions of power or influence would be conscientious of the social responsibility they carry. Realistically, fame does not come with a contract that obligates celebrities to be “good role models”. In fact, that seems to be the real issue. Is it right to assume that someone who is famous should follow a particular moral code?
I don’t think so. Kylie Jenner is one person, but millions follow her actions. If we say that it is her responsibility, her obligation, to be a “good role model”, we are effectively saying that her followers have no responsibility to think for themselves. Attempting to change Kylie’s “raunchy” behavior is almost in the neighborhood of censorship. There are plenty of weird books out there, plenty of illicit movies, and off-color opinions, but as a society, it is the general thought that those materials are free to exist if everyone else is free to ignore them. This is where the concept of “good taste” comes into play.
The media is vilified and blamed for corrupting the youth, exploiting women, and setting unrealistic standards for style and beauty. However, the choice of topics or individuals that receive coverage in “the media” is fueled by demand. People and cultural themes are only popularized if the consumer wants to read or hear about them. Odds are that you are saying, “What about Kylie’s seemingly fake lips or boobs? What about Tyga? Isn’t the song “Pleazer” about Kylie? Is it not wrong for an 18-year old to have those kind of procedures and tout them as the norm?” Good point. I wish I’d thought of that.
Changing one celebrity’s lifestyle is not going to fix the problem. There will always be a Kylie Jenner- type person: someone who makes a splash by being shocking and seductive. It is also safe to say that Kris Jenner is not getting my vote for “Exemplary Mother of the Year” (clearly that goes to Blake Lively –– what a goddess). Unfortunately, for those of us who do not care for Kylie Jenner, there is little we can do to thwart her popularity or change how Kris Jenner parents. If one does not like Kylie’s antics, one ought not read about her, dress like her, or give her one’s time and attention. I certainly do not.
This is all under the assumption that Kylie truly is a “bad role model”. It is possible that the standards, to which the HerCampus author and many others are comparing Kylie, are antiquated and more detrimental to women’s rights than Kylie herself. What does ‘the sexualization’ of women even mean? If today’s women truly want to overcome archaic standards of what it means to be ‘good’ or ‘moral’ as a female, then maybe we need to stop criticizing the women that ignore those restrictive norms. That’s another article though.
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