Earlier this month, actress LisaRaye McCoy credited the Kardashians with changing the acceptable bodily shape in America. She stated:
“The Kardashian’s have single-handedly changed the woman’s body shape that is acceptable right now”
For clarity, McCoy’s words did not function as a compliment to the Kardashians. This fact proves far less noteworthy than the underserving credit McCoy affords the Kardashians with her statement. I chose to address this statement because McCoy is not the only black celebrity who articulated this perspective. Additionally, the Kardashian fame does illuminate a significant societal truth regarding shape and the American gaze.
The Kardashians attained popularity just before the close of the first decade of the millennium. Though it was Kim Kardashian’s sex tape that garnered her initial traction, much of the Kardashian popularity came from their bodies. Their bodies deviated from popular images like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson whose appeal inundated the 90s and 2000s.
Instead, the Kardashians, ethnic-white women from California, have a shape that maintains centrality in what hegemonic culture considers low art. Their popularity proved a part of a weird time where the world censured rising black stars for having inauthentic bodies but relished in the “natural beauty” of ethnic whiteness. This racist gaze conveys white influence as depicting the white woman as beautifying attributes that continue to constitute ugliness, deformity, or cause for castigation in correspondance to black women.
Pairing curves with white skin, however, afforded a nuance only consummated when paired with selective amnesia. The Kardashian klan implored the public to forget that round derrieres existed as beautiful before the Kardashians. Their dark hair, dark eyes, and surgically enhanced faces and bodies, lauded cultural attributes that engendered a trail of mimicry, illuminates the invisibility afforded to black women who possess these traits naturally, not from the nurture of science.
McKoy’s words illuminate this invisibility.
Considering this topic makes me think back to an episode of Clueless where Stacy Dash’s character faces public ridicule after her boyfriend announces her one “flaw” in front of a predominantly white crowd. This physical flaw is Dash’s curvy backside, a physical feature that counters her otherwise slender frame. Dash’s physique mirrors an appearance many black women have, an appearance that enables curves on a slim figure. This physique, therefore, functions as a “flaw” because of its inaccessibility to the majority.
The majority, and by majority I mean the white collective, maintain priority in past and present beauty standards. This fact betrays McCoy’s statement as not only exhibiting the selective amnesia necessary for Kardashian relevance but as viewing thing their “feat” as autonomous from the exclusivity it maintains.
The Kardashians did not change the body shape for American culture; rather, they epitomize those shaped by the blackness, notably the black female body. Centuries ago, when white assailants sailed to the Americas and abducted the prepossessing presence that is the black woman, the European aesthetic was forever changed.
Whites guise this influence with societal meditations shaped by the white gaze. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll test remains a pillar that the white world references to delineated white effect on black people. Yet when it comes to Elvis’ appeal, Betty Boop’s allure, or Kylie Jenner’s lips the hegemonic world goes silent, refusing to acknowledge whites as cultural consumers who mimic black influence.
Had white colonizers failed to encounter black beauty along the shores of Africa centuries ago—western beauty, as it functions today, would not exist. Similarly, if there were no black women, the Kardashians would have no appeal, nor would the beauty industry. If there were no black women, the KKK clan would not be so endowed on creating a eugenics version of the black woman in their unions with black men, but that is a topic for another post.
A closer look at profitable American industries, easily substantiates black influence. The beauty industry began to provide color for the colorless woman. Similarly, plastic surgeons attain prestige and fortune in providing shape to the small lips, narrow hips, and slim backsides common to the African adjacent woman. Thus, the black woman, the original statue of liberty, personifies the womb that birthed the American aesthetic.
By this, I speak to America’s social reproduced theft of the culture the black woman births and keeps. Whether Britney Spears’ dance moves, Christina Aguilera’s soul-influenced vocals, Todd Chrisley’s persona, or Kim Kardashians behind, blackness remains the wind that enables the forces of white hegemonic culture to take flight.
Moreover, the black woman embodies the imperial imprint. For this reason, the Kardashians and their appropriative intentions, must remain regarded as products of black the black female womb. There is great power vested in black femininity, a power relinquished in crediting the Kardashians as enlightening the world to which they not only failed to invent, but that which invented them.
Therefore, discussions regarding who or what shaped America betray the Kardashians as bearing no significance. However, while these discussions are not about the Kardashians, they remain anchored in black women whose names and faces animate the gaps in history, names and faces that must remain the foundation for our story. It is in remembering she who shaped America that we, as black women, hone our true power as their heirs.