I’ve always wondered about the fascination with Kim Kardashian. The magazines, the blogs, the reality shows, the girl is everywhere. I know a large part of it is due to entertainment-industry maneuvering (her mom Kris and Ryan Seacreast make a pretty penny off her fame), but it’s nothing if not fueled by an appetite from fans and haters alike. And she gets a lot attention from black women — some of whom seem to have a real problem with her existence.
For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why. She shot to fame much in the same way Paris Hilton did — appearing on red carpets, then on a sex tape, and then on reality TV. But I don’t recall Paris getting as much attention from black bloggers and tweeters as much as Kardashian does now. They are, in effect, cut from the same reality-TV-era cloth. So why are we obsessed with her?
My theory: Because she has a booty. Paris Hilton was skinny and blonde. Kim, on the other hand, is not. And maybe that makes her threatening to some black women. While I don’t think she means it to be this way, Kardashian reaps the benefits of having traits commonly attributed to black women — the dark features, the full lips, and of course, the curvy body — without incurring the perceived liability of actually being a black woman.
And if that’s the problem women have with her, then it’s understood. Black women constantly endure the onslaught of messages that say they’re either too sexy, or not sexy at all. They’re told they’re lips are too big, their hair, too textured, and their bodies too vulgar to show off with pride. And it’s not just popular media that sends these messages. Ask a few women how many times they’ve been told by friends, family and men they’ve dated that they’re “pretty for a black girl,” and you have the makings of a full-on desirability complex.
And when you throw in a non-black woman who carries all those features and wins not ridicule, but fans, fame and endorsement deals because of them? Well, then you have a powder keg.
The frustration with Kardashian came bubbling out, ironically, over something that didn’t even directly involve her — when her then-boyfriend Reggie Bush graced the cover of Essence magazine last year. He was the face of the magazine’s “Black Men, Love, and Relationships” issue. Essence thought it was giving its readers a treat (let’s face it, a shirtless Reggie Bush is a treat), but suddenly found itself in the center of an online controversy, with readers demanding to know why a black man who dated one famous non-black girl was given the cover of a magazine for black women. The comments ranged from disappointed to downright hateful, with women calling Kardashian a “whore” and worse.
A new CW show gave more fuel to my theory on Wednesday night. On H8R (pronounced “hater”), host Mario Lopez introduces so-called haters to the reality stars they despise the most. Kim Kardashian was introduced to Deena, a shapely 32-year-old black woman in Los Angeles. In a video explaining her hatred of Kardashian, Deena says: “That a** is not real. This” — Deena shows off her backside — “is real. She can never be me.”
Deena continues: “Nobody’s acknowledging us at all. You know where all the [expletive] you got, you know where that came from. It comes from us.”
Now, there will be those who say none of this should matter to women, and that women, black, white or other, shouldn’t base their sense of worth on comparative desirability. And on a cerebral level, I agree. But on visceral level, most of us still want to be considered attractive.
As one friend who’s working on her PhD put it: “Even the idea of wanting to be considered pretty irks me, but that’s probably my desire to not admit that it’s something important to me.” The same friend, who does have a physique to rival Kim’s, continued: “I have a gut reaction to her that has more to do with me being reduced to ass and tits by most dudes — doable, but not dateable. I have a ‘Mother Africa’ booty which is only awesome and date-worthy — if I weren’t actually part-African.”
So yes, it is frustrating to see a woman lauded for attributes you’ve had your whole life, but for which you’ve been marginalized and derided. She’s making millions in part by flaunting her curves, while many sistas are simply trying to wear their favorite dresses without being called a “ho.”
She’s deemed stylish and beautiful, while some of us are struggling to remember the last time we received a genuine compliment instead of an overt come-on. It’s maddening. Society’s perception of beauty and desirability still skews toward certain types of women, leaving others wondering why their own unique beauty is only acknowledged with qualifiers.
But even then, Kim Kardashian is not the one to blame for that.