Kim Kardashian’s dual covers of the new issue of Paper magazine, with their mission to “Break the Internet,” and accompanying frontal nude photos inside, have put her exactly where she wants to be: on the world’s center stage, a position she’s managed to occupy in a unique way since her sex tape scandal in 2007.
Kardashian has never shied away from the spotlight, or her love of it; she even had stardom in mind as a 13-year-old. Rather than hate on her for her it, I can’t help but admire her devotion to it. She went from living in Paris Hilton’s shadow to becoming a household name and a brand that has netted her an estimated $45 million fortune, according to Wealth-X, a firm specializing in high net worth individuals.
Becoming the kind of star who attracts attention for doing anything and nothing at all isn’t easy in a 24-hour news cycle, where new reality stars are constantly being minted. Kardashian knows that, and is in it for the long haul. She’s willing to literally bare all, but also poke fun at herself by, say, getting her butt X-ray to convince us that her cheeks are real. She’s managed to transcend her sex tape origins to emerge as someone able to sell whatever version of herself she chooses, alternating seamlessly between romantic wife, doting mother, devoted sister and teetotaling but still fun party girl.
These photos arrive at a time when other female celebrities are fighting back against stolen nude images, and, in the case of Keira Knightley, Photoshopped images of female nudity. But Kardashian has no such concerns, which is refreshing in its own way. She is not trying to make a political statement about women and nudity or about race. Being famous and keeping herself and her family famous are her raison d’être, one she’s willing to go to almost any lengths for. After all, getting naked was her brainchild, according to Paper’s editorial director Mickey Boardman, and has kept her in the headlines for two days.
Kardashian plays with her sexuality, and the public’s fascination with her body, accordingly. She steps out in the kind of outfit most of us would never dare to, baring her breasts in a blazer while pushing a stroller. Part of why I’ve been hooked on Kim Kardashian is because she truly does not seem to care what others think of her, as long as we’re paying attention. And that’s what this shoot is all about.
Though we’ve seen Kardashian naked before, we haven’t seen her like this. She’s offering us an over-the-top vision of her post-baby body, one many have claimed has been Photoshopped, though makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic promises is the result of “just oil and great lighting.” Kardashian is forcing us to look at her, but there’s nothing subservient about her in these images. Instead she is staring back with a smile, in on the joke, gleeful not just to be taking off her clothes but to be the object of the camera’s eye. Nudity is bringing her power, not taking it away.
Photographer Jean-Paul Goude’s images of one of the most-photographed women in the world are meant to stop us in our tracks, to look, and look again. It’s pure fantasy, and I’m okay with that, because I consider the entire Kardashian empire a fantasy. Kardashian, and her entire clan, are playing the fame game flawlessly.
As Amanda Fortini writes in Paper, “She’s not performing, that is — at least not visibly. She is being, and being is her act. Her appeal derives from her uncanny consistency, as does that of her show.” To read one Kim Kardashian profile is to have pretty much read them all. Even those skeptical of or disturbed by her success find themselves captivated, admitting, at the very least, that she’s a marketing genius. This latest publicity coup has only cemented her power. Even corporations like Nissan and Southwest hitched a ride on the #BreaktheInternet hashtag. Not to mention the storm of think pieces the photos launched.
No, Kardashian isn’t out to change the world, though she has undoubtedly changed the nature of what it means to be a celebrity. I don’t care whether the images have been altered or not. These are glamour photos, meant to showcase a superstar, not a set of instructions to follow at home. That’s why Chelsea Handler’s mocking them with her own bare ass fell flat. “Real” is not what we expect from Kardashian, nor what we would probably want. We follow Kardashian because she does things we wouldn’t do, like wear outrageously cleavage-baring tops in public or throw a kidchella birthday party for a one-year-old. Plus, even though she clearly takes the business of being herself seriously, she can also laugh at herself and at others laughing along with her.
Unlike the chorus of voices wondering why Kardashian doesn’t do more than pose for still and rolling cameras, I am perfectly fine letting myself be entranced by her ability to keep upping the ante. I don’t need to know the “real” Kim to find the reality Kim worth keeping up with.
Rachel Kramer Bussel is a New Jersey-based writer on sex, dating, books and pop culture. She teaches erotic writing workshops, pens the Let’s Get It On column for Philadelphia City Paper and is the editor of over 50 erotica anthologies such as Hungry for More and The Big Book of Submission.