I have never watched an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I do not follow any of the five sisters on Instagram, where Kim, Kylie, Kendall, Kourtney, and Khloe have accrued over 550 million fans. I have never bought a product the sisters hawk online, not one box of Flat Tummy Tea or a tube of Kylie’s matte lipstick. Yet their influence is all around me.
Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which Kim announced will end next year, premiered in 2007. It was the same time I was fumbling into adolescence, turning to celebrity magazines to teach me how to be a woman, or at least look like one. The show has been on air for 13 years, which is half the time I’ve been alive. Most of what I put on my body has trickled down from the Kardashian’s rarified wardrobes to make an indelible mark on my life and how I live it.
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There are the black bike shorts I’m wearing this very moment that swaddle my midsection in lycra, similar to the ones I saw on three different women in the grocery store yesterday. When I take mine off at night, the waistline leaves a little mark on my belly. I can thank the Kardashians for the streak—they popularized the look.
The Kardashians made bike shorts a Thing, just as they did with contouring, a makeup technique meant to sculpt one’s face structure—or give me a “five-minute nose job” as the Sephora sales girl told me when I bought my own kit a few years back. I used the palette exactly once, beating my face in front of my bathroom mirror, then promptly dropped the kit on the seat of my toilet. The powders smashed upon impact; I now keep it in my purse and use it as a surface if I ever need to write something down.
The crop top I’ve worn all summer, the Barbie-pink boxy blazer I picked out for my first journalism job interview, the lace-up leather “going out” skirt that lives in my closet as a relic of my art student past, were no doubt inspired by outfits the family wore online.
The ending of the show, of course, will do little to dull the family’s power. In fact, I think it’s kind of quaint how long the women allowed the network to keep airing their lives on television, when they so clearly reign as online personalities. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the show’s ratings have been declining for years, probably because the family’s fans are more interested in following them via social media, not a cable channel.
To be sure, this is not the time for an obituary on the ways the Kardashian-Jenners have shaped fashion trends. We do not need to speak in the past tense—they will continue to do this. Just last week, Today reported that Kim has filed a copyright for the name “KKW Home” and plans to sell bed and bath products. (It’s a bold move for someone who describes her decorating style as “minimal monastery” and lives in a barren mansion with bone-white walls that is entirely devoid of stuff.)
It is also evident that the family did not create most of the looks they consider signature; time after time, each sister has been accused of profiting off of cultural appropriation. The Kardashian-Jenners have made a living ripping off Black designers, co-opting styles and trends, and receiving credit for “coming up” with them from the mainstream press, while the original creators are left to air their grievances with the sisters’ money machines through online callouts.
The Kardashian-Jenner sisters may not be inventive, but at least they are consistent. When they steal looks, they also homogenize the hell out of them. It is almost impressive how white bread a cut-out Thierry Mugler bikini can be when styled on Kim Kardashian, whose trained posturing, slicked back hair, and measured gaze come off as rehearsed to the point of robotic.
I still remember the first time I ever heard the name Kim Kardashian. I was reading a tabloid item right around the time the show started. The woman who would later amass a $900 million fortune was relegated to less than half a page of the beauty section. In what would predict the punchline for most of her career, Kim was asked about her ass. How did she keep her famous measurements curvy in the rear, but cinched in the waist?
As I recall, Kim said it all happened when she got out of the shower. She’d tie a towel around her waist, and if it slipped off of her hips but held snug right around her butt, she knew she was the right amount of slim thick.
I was only 13, and had not realized a cardinal rule of womanhood: never attempt a celebrity “beauty tip” for yourself, it exists only to sell things and make you feel like complete shit. So I naively reached for a beach towel and hoped for the best. The terry cloth sheathed my body, lumpy with pre-adolescent weight, making me look like a bratwurst in a bandage dress.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians may be ending. But the girls it influenced are still here. I don’t know what’s next for the Kardashians once this show ends. But as someone who has spent the decade adhering to an aesthetic the family hawked, my body sucked in by a waist trainer, hair fried by bleach jobs, soul feeling utterly useless because I don’t look good in highlighter-neon spandex, I beg the family: Give me a break.
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