What Khloé Kardashian *Isn’t* Saying About That Unedited Bikini Photo

She doesn't acknowledge her family's role in perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards

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Stacy Lee Kong

Apr 09 2021

9 mins read

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Part of me that genuinely feels bad for Khloé Kardashian. I don’t think it's hard to see that she’s deeply insecure about her appearance, and that everything about her life, from her family, to her job to her relationships, is designed to keep her feeling that way.

 

It’s a terrible situation, and the only possible outcome is exactly what happened this week, when an authorized, unedited photo of her in a bikini went viral—mostly, it must be said, due to her team’s attempts to delete it from the internet. Of course she couldn’t see that she looked great, or that her fans’ response to this real photo of her was overwhelmingly positive. And yes, that was pretty tragic.

 

But.

 

Sympathetic or not, her official comment on the situation is deeply problematic and we should probably talk about it.

 

A bit of backstory

On Monday, Page Six reported that Khloé's team was trying to erase a photo of the socialite taken poolside at a family gathering. I’m not clear where it was first posted, but it was soon all over Twitter and Reddit, mainly because people were talking about how Kardashian staffers had issued takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and sometimes even threatened litigation for copyright infringement.

 

Tracy Romulus, chief marketing officer for KKW Brands, released a statement saying, “the color edited photo was taken of Khloé during a private family gathering and posted to social media without permission by mistake by an assistant. Khloé looks beautiful but it is within the right of the copyright owner to not want an image not intended to be published taken down.”

 

Then, on Wednesday, Khloé directly commented on the situation, publishing an IG post that featured videos of herself and a heartfelt statement that spans four slides. It was clearly a bid to shift the narrative. And… it wasn’t great.

 

Khloé makes exactly one good point in her recent statement

 

The problem isn’t in what she says, exactly. Her statement starts with an admission that the original photo is “beautiful.” But then, she goes on to say that “as someone who has struggled with body image her whole life, when someone takes a photo of you that isn't flattering in bad lighting or doesn't capture your body the way it is after working so hard to get it to this point – and then shares it to the world – you should have every right to ask for it to not be shared – regardless of who you are.”

 

Which, yeah. That makes sense. Even if they live public lives, celebrities are allowed to have boundaries and to take photos that are not meant for public consumption. That's what happened here, and is what sets this situation apart from other famous examples of the Barba Streisand Effect. Streisand herself sued photographer Kenneth Adelman in 2003 over aerial photos he’d taken of her Malibu mansion—or, more accurately, of the California coastline where her mansion was located—which at the time of the lawsuit, only six or so people had accessed. Beyoncé’s publicist contacted Buzzfeed to take down “unflattering” photos of her 2013 Super Bowl halftime show performance, which is as public as you can get. And in both cases, it was pretty easy to roll my eyes at the star. It’s a bit harder to do that now, when Khloé thought she was in private and obviously felt real panic at the idea that people would see her body without the protection of good lighting and filters.

Still, even considering the invasion of her privacy, her team’s reaction feels over-the-top given the gravity of the situation—or rather, the lack thereof. (An only semi-related aside, it’s also truly depressing to realize how quickly Twitter acted when Khloé was upset about an unflattering photo, considering how difficult it is for marginalized folks to get the company to step in when they face abuse.)

 

But she neglects to mention that she’s complicit in the system she’s criticizing

The problem is with what she leaves out. “I’m not going to lie,” she writes. “It’s almost unbearable trying to live up to the impossible standards that the public have all set for me.”

 

Sorry, who set those standards for you, Khloé?

 

How are we supposed to take her emotional plea for compassion seriously when she blames some nebulous ‘public’ for popularizing unrealistic beauty standards, without ever acknowledging the way she and her sisters have pursued, promoted and profited from their “slim thick” physiques and manufactured ethnically ambiguous facial features? As Rachel Simon pointed out earlier this year, “the Kardashian appearance [features] highly tanned skin (sometimes questionably so), typically long dark hair, large breasts, a teeny-tiny waist and a sizable butt. Altogether, the look is instantly recognizable, next to impossible to replicate naturally and very, very popular.” How popular? Just look at the celebrities and influencers whose looks mimic the family’s aesthetic: Addison Rae, Amelia Hamlin, Ariana Grande, Bhad Bhabie, Bebe Rexha, James Charles, Rita Ora, not to mention all these people who I’ve never heard of.  

 

It’s not just the Kardashians, obviously. In 2019, Jia Tolentino wrote about the “single, cyborgian face” that had by that point taken over Instagram; the platform, as well as apps like Face Tune, hold some of the blame for perpetuating this specific aesthetic. Still, you can’t understate the family’s influence here. They unapologetically use personal chefs and trainers, plastic surgery, lighting, filters, camera angles and copious amounts of retouching to craft a highly stylized and specific aesthetic, then build empires around it. Literally. From SKIMS to Good American to Kylie Beauty, their businesses—which don’t just net Kim, Khloé and Kylie money, but also status—exist to help people approximate their beauty, even though they know there are no undergarments or eyeshadow palettes that can actually do that. (This is not to mention Khloé's fatphobic reality show, or the endorsement deals for waist training bands, which are bullshit, and flat-tummy tea, which is straight-up snake oil.)


That’s also why some parts of her statement are so infuriating:

“In truth, the pressure, constant ridicule and judgement my entire life to be perfect and to meet other’s standards of how I should look has been too much to bear.”

“This is an example of how I been conditioned to feel, that I am not beautiful enough by just being me.”

“It’s not for anyone to decide or judge what is acceptable or not anymore.”

 

This is the type of controlled disclosure that the famous fam excels at. No one can argue with the idea that judging someone’s appearance hurts them, and it’s legitimately horrifying to see someone feel terrible in their own body because of an arbitrary standard that is even less realistic than previous unrealistic beauty standards. But these sentences don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they're disingenuous and downright manipulative attempts to garner sympathy without acknowledging her own role in encouraging an image-obsessed culture.

 

Khloé's unedited video doesn’t send the message she thinks it does

 

In case it wasn’t already clear that Khloé is trying to have it both ways, she continues to perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards in the same post she uses to... call out unrealistic beauty standards. Before you even get to her statement, you have to scroll through videos and photos that exist solely to prove that her body actually looks ‘better’ than it did in the unedited photo. In one, she’s wearing nude underwear and covering her breasts with one arm. Her abs are clearly defined, she has a thigh-gap and when she jumps to ‘prove’ the video is unfiltered, nothing really jiggles. In another video, she’s wearing low-slung track pants that show off her flat stomach and snatched waist. She is literally glorifying thinness and disseminating the same false message that she’s supposedly trying to fight: that some bodies are better than others.

At one point in her statement, she says, “I love a good filter, good lighting and an edit here and there. The same way I throw on some make-up, get my nails done, or wear a pair of heels to present myself to the world in the way I want to be seen and it’s exactly what I will continue to do unapologetically.” This sounds downright feminist and aligns with Good American's body-positive tagline, "Representing body acceptance." But she's actually doing no such thing. The scope of image-making she’s engaging in goes well beyond “an edit here and there”—some internet commenters believe the nude underwear video glitched, a sign that she used a filter. Even if she’s not, though, there are tons of ways she could have shaped what we see, many of them physically (if you’ve spent any time at all in online fitness communities, you know you can make your abs pop through dehydration) and/or existentially (she so clearly hates her body, you guys) unhealthy.

 

But here's the worst part: It didn’t have to be this way. Imagine how powerful it would have been if Khloé had actually acknowledged the role she and her family play in spreading these harmful ideas? Instead, she weaponizes the language of self-love to make people feel guilty for sharing a photo that actually upholds her stated values better than anything she posts herself. In doing so, she’s choosing to uphold the same system that makes her—and countless other people—hate themselves. And that’s the real tragedy here.

 

And Did You Hear About…

 

This touching thread by Twitter user @jenniferfraser about the time she met DMX on a flight to San Diego.

 

Two (2) must-read pieces from The Hollywood Reporter this week: a profile of Ray Fisher that makes some pretty stunning accusations about the way Warner Bros. treated Regé-Jean Page and Gal Gadot, and a long overdue takedown of famously abusive producer Scott Rudin.

 

This infuriating interview with comedian Jamie Kennedy about how he ended up in a controversial pro-abortion movie.

 

Vox reporter Rebecca Jennings’ really thoughtful take on the return of low-rise pants (😑), which is really about how trends work and why the revival of Y2K fashion isn’t going to ignore everything that has happened since then (😌).

 

Self-help guru Rachel Hollis’ latest controversy. (This is also great analysis on why it matters.)

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