At this juncture, Kim Kardashian is one of the most recognizable people in the world. She is arguably the most famous member of her already notorious family, whose successful reality show and subsequent spin-offs have helped their fame to skyrocket in the last few years. Although Kim has done a lot of work to promote her various business enterprises, which include clothing and beauty product lines, many people would argue that she is most famous for her looks and fashion choices. Even in the early days of her success, Kim was almost never seen out in public without a full face of makeup and a chic, put-together outfit. In many ways, her widely perceived “good looks” have played a large role in launching Kim to celebrity status. Girls and women tend to envy her, while men want to be with her – although perhaps that is why other women are jealous of her.
Kim’s dedicated presentation of herself as an attractive, fashionable women plays into Amy Shield Dobson’s concept of “heterosexiness”. Dobson defines heterosexiness as particular kind of sexualization that is aligned with a specific heterosexual, gendered image. It is derived from traditional femininity and mainstream heterosexual pornography. This kind of self-presentation is usually intended for the male audience, but also for other women to see the female subject as attractive to men. A heterosexy presentation tends to combine cutesy, girly elements with more sensual, revealing ones. This can be seen with Kim Kardashian on a regular basis, whether she is being professionally photographed on the red carpet or taking “selfies” on her social media pages. Her form-fitting clothing accentuates her feminine curves, and highlights the most sexual parts of her body. Additionally, Kim tends to pose seductively, pursing her lips as if to lure her audience in. This self-presentation has earned her quite the reputation as one of the hottest women in the world, or at least in Hollywood.
The bulk of the “upkeep” for her image is done by Kim Kardashian herself. With almost 19 million followers on Twitter and 12 million on Instagram, she is a perfect example of a networked microcelebrity. A networked microcelebrity, as defined by Zeynep Tufekci, is the practice through which individuals use social media strategically to draw attention to themselves, to draw others into asymmetrical relationships, to be consumed by others. Although Kim Kardashian was initially introduced to the public through a sex tape scandal and the launch of her family’s reality series, she uses social media to broadcast her heterosexy image and leverage her popularity.
The result of Kim’s consistent social media presence and sexualized self-presentation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, she has become increasingly more famous in the last couple years, and her personal brand is thriving. However, by opening her self up to the public through her reality show and public persona, Kim has also made herself susceptible to more intense media scrutiny. This became especially apparent during her pregnancy, when various media outlets and “haters” continuously called her out for gaining too much weight. Although Kim has been a paparazzi magnet for years, it seemed to reach a peak during her pregnant months, with cameras following her every move. Even though the constant attention didn’t stop her at the time, it clearly took a toll on her.
After giving birth to her daughter North, Kim stayed almost entirely out of the public eye for weeks. She was never photographed or seen outside her house, and her social media activity was very sporadic. Of course part of that was due to the fact that she had a newborn to take care of, but many speculated that she was “in hiding” to avoid further attention. As a widely known celebrity whose looks were a large part of her public image, it was probably very difficult for her to endure the criticism about her body during her pregnancy. The pregnancy and consequent changes in her body became a detriment to Kim’s notorious heterosexy image, and that posed a potential threat to her brand. Although pregnancy is a very feminine experience, it is not something that can or should be sexualized. This was especially true for Kim, who relied quite heavily on her trim body and revealing clothes to portray a heterosexy appearance.
Recently, however, Kim made an attempt to resurrect this self-image by posting a seductive picture of herself, post-baby, clad only in a white cutout swimsuit. The picture was very clearly an attempt to show the world that even after getting pregnant and gaining some weight, she was still a very attractive, sexual woman. Kim even explained the motivation herself on an interview with talk show host Jay Leno, saying that the picture was her “middle finger to the world” for calling her fat and making fun of her weight. Yet the motivation goes a little deeper than that, I think. In taking that “selfie” Kim was trying to prove her sexiness and show people that she is still attractive.