Kylie Jenner invites Kardashians to talk about beauty standards. That’s big.
The Kardashians have served as the benchmark for beauty and body image for most of the past decade. Will they finally have a real discussion about the unrealistic ideals they’ve perpetuated?
Kylie Jenner’s comments in the first trailer for The Kardashians season 3 promise some discussion from the famous family: “We all need to have a deeper conversation about the standards of beauty that we set,” she says. I don’t want my daughter to do the things I did.”
“I wish I hadn’t touched anything to begin with,” she adds, seemingly acknowledging past cosmetic procedures.
Jenner’s voicing of regret for her role in setting unrealistic beauty standards is a step in the right direction, say body image experts. But will it be too little too late coming from a famous family that has left countless viewers at home feeling like the beauty finish line is constantly being pushed back?
The Kardashians’ complicated place in setting body standards
Body image standards existed before the Kardashians and they will exist after them. Like it or not, experts say the images they present to the world have a powerful impact on how others think they should look.
From a biological perspective, according to University of Houston sociology professor Samantha Kwan, traits like large breasts, clear skin, and slim waists are always considered ideals because they go hand-in-hand with beliefs in fertility and health. But what counts as “beautiful” is constantly changing, in part because it’s a “social construction.”
“The world has found a way to commodify beauty. People like new things,” adds Body Confidence Coach Tiffany Ima. “So after a while people are like, ‘Okay, this body is kind of trending. Let’s go ahead and change what we think is beautiful.” … If your body isn’t in fashion at the time, you’re going to want to look like it’s the standard.
Many have observed that this standard is currently shifting. Jenner’s famous big lips have shrunk. Kim Kardashian revealed that she quickly lost 16 pounds last year to fit in Marilyn Monroe’s dress for the Met Gala. The New York Post headlined this fall, “Bye-bye Booty: Heroin chic is back.” And stars like Adele, Rebel Wilson and Mindy Kaling who are losing weight have garnered massive public interest.
“It’s actually not achievable because it’s not affordable,” says Ima, adding that the problem with people trying to look like the Kardashians is that most never will. The amount of money they have means they have access to trainers, surgeries and procedures that the average person cannot afford. But many will try anyway, only to wake up one day to find that the ideal of beauty they invested time, money and effort into has suddenly been wiped out in favor of the next.
The influence of the Kardashian empire is further complicated by the fact that they have been accused of adopting beauty styles and body features from black women, usually without giving them credit. And now those features are being dropped in favor of more white-centric features.
“People like to see black features on non-black bodies,” says Ima. “For black women, it’s the only time in history that our body types have been ‘in’, so to speak. But then it also puts extra pressure on black women who don’t look like it.”
Are Kylie Jenner’s Comments Too Little Too Late?
Jenner’s comments in the new Kardashians trailer were brief but appear to mark a growing shift in the famous family, which recognizes their role in setting unattainable standards. (Khloé Kardashian admitted in 2021 that she had a nose job, but urged the public not to comment on her body.)
“Having one of the world’s biggest influencers adopting and promoting a new standard on body diversity is an important step towards real structural change,” says Kwan. “When beauty standards are created in part by mainstream media, these ideals can shift as prominent mainstream media influencers candidly challenge narrow ideals of beauty, embrace body diversity, and celebrate women as whole beings that transcend their looks.”
Those who have had cosmetic surgery may regret their choice for a number of reasons, says Kwan, who co-authored the book Under the Knife, based on interviews with women who have had the procedures.
“Some wished for surgery that yielded better aesthetic results, while others regret not being able to embrace their own unique beauty,” says Kwan. “Some expressed self-loathing and an ongoing struggle for self-love and forgiveness. However, they all had one thing in common: they all wished for a change in the current beauty culture, which places so much emphasis on their looks.”
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