The Reinvention of Kim Kardashian

Angelo Franco

(See image source below.)



In the annals of American popular culture, few families have managed to imprint their indelible mark quite like the Kardashian-Jenner clan. From the debut of their reality television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians, they have not only captivated audiences with their exploits but have also managed to create a veritable media empire. The Kardashians have transcended the boundaries of mere celebrity, sparking conversations and controversy in equal measure as they redefined the notion of fame in the digital age. And whether we like it or not, regardless of whether we keep up with them or derisively turn away, their cultural impact cannot be denied. Their legacy, then, a tapestry woven with threads of entrepreneurship, social media prowess, and cultural impact, is an object of fascination and critique.


At the heart of the Kardashian phenomenon lies the reality show that propelled them into the public eye. Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK) premiered in 2007 on the E! network, and the world tilted ever so slightly on its axis. The show provided an “unfiltered” look into the opulent lives of a family that seemed as though they were born to be ogled. KUWTK launched the careers of its central cast members, propelling them into the stratosphere of stardom while simultaneously reshaping the reality TV genre. It was a masterclass in turning the mundane into the magnificent, transforming school runs and squabbles into the stuff of entertainment legend. The Kardashians carved out a new niche in the world of television, inspiring a bevy of imitators in their wake.


In the Kardashian universe, Kim is the undisputed queen, a savvy businesswoman who has built an empire on the foundations of her personal brand. But her meteoric rise to fame has been anything but smooth, with controversy nipping at her heels like a particularly tenacious paparazzo. From accusations of cultural appropriation to her forays into the world of criminal justice reform, Kim Kardashian's journey through the minefield of celebrity has been nothing short of fascinating.


Her tale begins, as many do, with a stroke of serendipity. In the mid-2000s, Kim Kardashian was but a fledgling socialite, orbiting the periphery of celebrity as the personal stylist and closet organizer for the likes of Paris Hilton and Brandy. Then, in 2007, a certain scandalous video featuring Kim and her then-boyfriend, Ray J, was leaked to the public, catapulting her into the dizzying world of tabloid headlines and watercooler conversations.



Now, it's important to note that the infamous tape was not solely responsible for Kim's meteoric rise. While it certainly provided a springboard for her ascent, it was her shrewd business acumen and indefatigable work ethos that truly propelled her to stardom. In a world where fame is often fleeting, Kim has managed to transform a moment of notoriety into a lasting and lucrative career. But conversely, the importance and weight of the video cannot be minimized. It is what drove the Kardashian name to nearly mainstream level, and shortly after its release, the seminal KUWTK premiered to change the culture.


The existence of the video, or rather the particulars of its content, is also important because as Kim's notoriety grew, her romantic liaisons with high-profile Black men, such as Reggie Bush and later, Kanye West, further fueled her ascent. The tabloids couldn't get enough of her love life, her every relationship dissected and analyzed by a public eager for a taste of the glamorous and the salacious. And as her popularity soared, so too did the speculation about her allure to these Black male suitors. Was it her exotic beauty, her curvaceous figure, or something more elusive that drew them in?


Certainly, as we examine the place that Kim Kardashian occupies within the sphere of Black culture, it is important to consider the broader context in which she operates. As a public figure, she is subject to a level of scrutiny that few of us could ever imagine, her every move dissected and analyzed by a ravenous horde of critics and commentators. Nevertheless, over the years, she has faced a barrage of criticism for her tendency to borrow from Black culture, whether it be through her fashion choices, hairstyles, or beauty trends. From cornrows to Fulani braids, Kim has dipped into the rich tapestry of Black cultural expression, often neglecting to give credit where credit is due.


Critics argue that her actions perpetuate a long-standing tradition of white and non-Black celebrities profiting off the creativity and innovation of Black communities, while failing to acknowledge the historical context and significance of these cultural markers. This per se will be a remarkable and complex path for Kim K. to navigate as her children, all of whom are half-Black, grow up in the limelight. In fact, Kim has referred to her children’s Black identity to explain her own use of Black culture identifiers (she said that she wore Fulani braids because her daughter, who has naturally curly hair, wanted them to have matching hairstyles). Kim has already trademarked the names of her children in a variety of categories, including clothing, toys, cosmetics, and entertainment. This means that she has the exclusive right to use the names in connection with these goods and services, and so it begs the question: Will her half-Black children be afforded the same level of fame, fortune and, importantly, infallibility and favorability as their famous white mother? Or conversely, will Kim K. attempt to shield them from the difficulties of growing up that they will face simply by being biracial?


(See image source below.)


Kim, of course, is not a lone-wolf appropriator. Time and time again, we have seen white celebrities, from pop singers to reality TV stars, adopt elements of Black culture in their pursuit of fame and fortune. Whether it's Miley Cyrus twerking her way into the headlines or Kylie Jenner sporting a durag on Instagram, these instances of cultural borrowing have become as commonplace as they are controversial.


To begin with, we cannot discuss Kim Kardashian and controversy without touching on the infamous, and recurring, blackfishing scandals. For the uninitiated, "blackfishing" is a term used to describe the phenomenon of white and non-Black individuals altering their appearance to appear more racially ambiguous or Black. Kim has been accused of this on multiple occasions, her penchant for deeply bronzed skin and exaggerated curves sparking debates about racial identity and representation in the digital age. Many argue that her aesthetic choices not only reinforce harmful stereotypes but also contribute to the erasure of Black women's experiences and struggles.


Black culture, with its rich history and enduring influence, has long been a wellspring of inspiration for artists and entertainers from all walks of life. But when white celebrities cherry-pick elements of this culture to further their own careers, they risk reducing it to a mere prop, a fashionable accessory to be donned and discarded at will while the Black community often faces discrimination and marginalization for the same expression of their cultural identity. Which is to say that there is a troubling double standard at play here. While white celebrities can freely adopt elements of Black culture and reap the rewards of their "edgy" new image, Blacks are often subject to scrutiny, criticism, or even punishment for embracing their own cultural heritage. From schoolchildren being suspended for wearing their hair in natural styles to professionals being deemed "unprofessional" for donning traditional attire, the message is clear: Black culture is acceptable, but only when it is filtered through a white lens.


This is why it’s particularly interesting, and indeed, tricky, to understand the role that Black male desire played in Kim Kardashian's rise to fame and where she has gone from there. Tricky because her space within this culture is on complex intersections of race, sexuality, and power that underpin the dynamics of attraction.


(See image source below.)


Historically, the Black male gaze has often been both fetishized and demonized, a source of both fascination and fear for a culture grappling with its own racial anxieties. In a society that has long been fascinated by the “taboo,” the figure of the Black man has often been cast as a symbol of raw, unbridled desire -- a trope that has its roots in America's painful history of slavery and segregation. Within this context, Kim's relationships with Black men—from her early dalliance with Ray J to her high-profile marriages to Kris Humphries and Kanye West—can be seen as both a reflection of and a reaction to these longstanding cultural dynamics. In other words, Kim's relationships with Black men reflect both a subversion of traditional racial hierarchies and a reaffirmation of the exotic allure of the "other." This, of course, in addition to the often perpetuated idea that Black men prefer curvier women. In Kim’s case, the allure may be that the features typically favored in curvier Black women are now indiscriminately displayed on a Caucasian body.


Kim's appeal to Black men may also be rooted in her unabashed celebration of her own sensuality and the ways in which she deftly navigates the fine line between empowerment and objectification. In a world where women's bodies are often policed and controlled, Kim's unapologetic embrace of her sexuality can be read as a bold statement of autonomy and agency, one that resonates with a demographic that has historically been subject to similar forms of surveillance and control. This, of course, is not always a benefit extended to Black women (especially in curvier, larger bodies), whose similar displays of sexuality and self-empowerment are, instead, oftentimes ridiculed and criticized. Meanwhile, it is also essential to recognize that the notion of Black male desire as a driving force in Kim's ascent is, in many ways, a construct; a narrative perpetuated by a media-machine eager to capitalize on the titillating allure of the taboo. In this sense, the role of Black male desire in Kim's fame is as much a product of our collective imagination/indignation as it is a reflection of any objective reality.


We must also consider the ways in which Kim herself has played a role in shaping and perpetuating this narrative. By aligning herself with Black men and adopting elements of Black culture, Kim has managed to tap into the cultural cache of Blackness, harnessing the power of Black male desire to bolster her own appeal. This is perhaps most evident in the now-infamous aforementioned sex tape that catapulted her to stardom, a tape that featured her in intimate moments with her then-boyfriend, Black R&B singer Ray J.


Through her carefully curated public image, Kim has managed to both capitalize on and transcend the fascination with her romantic life, using it as a springboard for her many business ventures and philanthropic endeavors. In doing so, she has demonstrated an uncanny ability to harness the power of desire and transform it into a force for her own empowerment. And thus her engagement with Black male desire became more nuanced and multifaceted. From her collaborations with Black musicians like Kanye West to her carefully curated social media presence, she has consistently sought to position herself within the orbit of the Black male gaze, using it as a powerful tool to further her own endeavors.


(See image source below.)


Within this framework, Kim's relationship with Black male desire looks like a complex dance. Sure, perhaps by aligning herself with Black men and adopting elements of Black culture, she challenges conventional notions of race and desire, pushing back against the rigid binaries that have long defined the American cultural landscape. But when she uses Black culture as another steppingstone to fame, without acknowledging the complex history and ongoing struggles of the people from whom she is borrowing, Kim K. perpetuates harmful stereotypes and reinforces systems of power and privilege. In doing so, she then risks transforming from cultural curator into a culture vulture -- no matter how much she tells the world that she merely loves Black men. For surely, we have not forgotten that interview with George Lopez where Kim and Khloe said they wanted to take a DNA test to see which one of them was Blacker.


So an important aspect to consider now is the role of agency in the dance between Kim Kardashian and Black culture. To what extent has Kim actively sought to capitalize on this cultural force, and to what extent has she been shaped by it? This question is particularly salient in light of the criticism leveled against her for exploiting Black culture. And also because the tides of public opinion can be as unpredictable as a caffeinated toddler at a toy store and it has become clear that, as it is the case with every culture trend, Kim K.’s influence has begun to wane. As the sun begins to set on her reign as pop culture's undisputed queen, Kim appears to be embarking on a new quest: to reframe her legacy in a way that distances her from her entanglements with Black culture, from her romantic liaisons with high-profile Black men to her penchant for adopting elements of Black style.


In recent years, however, and by using that same agency, Kim has begun to pivot away from these associations, embarking on a journey of reinvention that appears to be aimed at leaving a different legacy in her wake.


One of the most visible manifestations of this shift can be seen in her evolving personal style. Gone are the days of cornrows, durags, and form-fitting bodysuits that seemed to pay homage to the aesthetics of Black femininity. Instead, Kim has embraced a more minimalist, high-fashion approach to her wardrobe, one that favors clean lines, monochromatic hues, and a touch of androgyny. This new look, some might argue, is a strategic attempt to distance herself from the accusations of appropriation that have dogged her in the past and to present herself as a more mainstream figure.


But Kim's metamorphosis is not limited to the superficial realm of fashion. In recent years, she has also made a concerted effort to rebrand herself as a champion of social justice, using her considerable platform to advocate for criminal justice reform and prison abolition. This newfound passion for activism has been met with both praise and skepticism, with some lauding her commitment to change while others have questioned the sincerity of her motives. These critics argue that the Kardashians' charitable endeavors are often overshadowed by their more self-serving pursuits, and that their activism sometimes seems more like a calculated public-relations move than an honest commitment to social change. Is this a genuine attempt to atone for past transgressions and make a positive impact on the world, or a calculated move to reposition herself in the public eye?


(See image source below.)


Regardless of the motivations behind Kim's Great White Pivot (trademark pending, possibly), it may be worth considering the broader context in which her reinvention is taking place. In a world that is increasingly conscious of issues surrounding race and representation, it's not surprising that Kim, like many other public figures, would seek to distance herself from her more problematic associations with Black culture. This desire to reframe her legacy may be driven, at least in part, by a recognition that her past actions are no longer tenable in the current cultural climate, and that a new approach is needed to maintain her relevance and respectability. Moreover, as her fame begins to wane, Kim may be looking to secure a lasting legacy that transcends the world of celebrity and positions her as a more serious, substantive figure. By embracing causes such as criminal justice reform, she may be hoping to carve out a new niche for herself as an advocate and influencer, one that will endure long after the spotlight has faded.


Yet, as we consider the many facets of Kim Kardashian's journey to redefine her legacy, we must also acknowledge the inherent complexities and contradictions that lie at the heart of her transformation. Kim must navigate the fine line between reinvention and erasure, between acknowledging her past and attempting to rewrite her own narrative. How can she forge a new identity that both respects and transcends her history, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of revisionism and denial?


I’m afraid that we, as it is often the case, also have work to do. We must grapple with the implications of her actions for the broader discourse surrounding race, representation, and celebrity. When the lines between appropriation and appreciation are often blurred, what can we learn from Kim's journey about the perils and possibilities of cultural exchange? Can her metamorphosis serve as a cautionary tale, a reminder of the importance of self-awareness, and the need for constant evolution in the pursuit of authenticity and growth? Further, we must confront the question of agency and responsibility in the world of celebrity. To what extent are Kim's actions driven by her own desires and beliefs, and to what extent are they the product of a media-machine that rewards controversy and spectacle over substance? As consumers of pop culture, we must acknowledge our own complicity in the narratives we consume and perpetuate, and strive to demand more from our entertainment idols.


But one thing remains certain: Kim Kardashian’s legacy will not be easily erased. Whether we admire her or admonish her, there is no denying that Kim K. has forever altered the landscape of popular culture, leaving an indelible impression that will continue to ripple through the generations to come. In the meantime, we watch with bated breath as Kim continues her journey through the treacherous terrain of fame, her every misstep a reminder of the precarious nature of celebrity and the power of controversy to both create and destroy. Like rubberneckers at the scene of a particularly captivating car crash, we remain transfixed by the spectacle of Kim Kardashian.


It’s at least clear that Kim’s story is as much a reflection of our own cultural anxieties as it is a tale of individual actions and consequences. She is both a product and a purveyor of the controversies that surround her, a living embodiment of the power dynamics and identity struggles that define our age. She is a harbinger of the future, a symbol of the ways in which fame and celebrity have been irrevocably altered by the digital revolution. She is a symbol of our collective fascination with wealth, beauty, and celebrity, as well as an admonition of the perils and pitfalls that accompany life in the spotlight.


Kim Kardashian's legacy, like a pair of perfectly highlighted cheekbones, is a study in contrasts, a testament to the complexities of fame, power, and representation in the age of social media. And as we continue to grapple with these issues, her story can hopefully serve as a cautionary tale: The power of scandal can both captivate and divide.


Author Bio:

This is an opinion piece by Angelo Franco. Franco is the chief features writer for Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:

--Danilo Laurio (, Creative Commons)

--Eva Rinaldi (Flickr, Creative Commons)

--Rodrigo Ferrari (, Creative Commons)

--Hotrock Pictures (, Creative Commons)

--Hayu (, Creative Commons)


not popular
See Image Sources listed below
Bottom Slider: 
In Slider