Eat Shit, Kim Kardashian
A close-reading of Kim Kardashian's skincare line announcement in the New York Times.
“If you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might,” Kim Kardashian told the New York Times in a new promotional interview for her skincare line, SKKN by Kim. “I just might.”
This is a mental issue!! And I don’t say that lightly!
Beauty standards are associated with many, many legitimate mental disorders and illnesses: anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, facial dysmorphia, eating disorders, obsessive thoughts about appearance, self-harm, and even suicide. More broadly, though, the unrelenting pressure to embody the cultural beauty ideal — or at least compare yourself to it — causes a something I’m going to call Beauty Culture Brain.
Beauty Culture Brain is a warped way of viewing yourself and the wider world, influenced by the industry conditioning that infiltrates our psyches from the moment of birth, basically. (More on that conditioning here and here. I also recommend reading Beauty Sick by Dr. Renée Engeln.) Beauty Culture Brain is the absence of common sense in the presence of potential beauty. It’s what makes a customer leave a five-star review for an at-home acid peel that “burned like a motherf*cker.” It’s what makes a cosmetics company launch a campaign that “celebrates” fine lines to sell a serum that eliminates fine lines. It’s what makes Instagram beauty enthusiasts tell me to kill myself for critiquing the skincare products they’ve built their entire identity around. Beauty Culture Brain is what makes Kim Kardashian contemplate eating excrement in exchange for anti-aging benefits.
To illustrate my point, I present: a close-reading of the New York Times article, “Kim Kardashian’s New Skin Care Line Is Not for Quitters.” (All quotes in bold are from the Times; my critique underneath is directed at Kardashian.)
“I’ll try anything,” Kim Kardashian said last month during an interview in her enormous office here ... “If you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might. I just might.”
“I’ll try anything” is a prime example of Beauty Culture Brain, which tells you your beauty determines your worth — and therefore, in the pursuit of beauty, anything is worth the risk. Since Kardashian does have access to literally anything (surgeries, injectables, cutting-edge anti-aging technology), you can trust that 1) she’s using all of it, and that 2) skincare — this skincare line in particular, which is brand new and barely used — has very little to do with her appearance. I mean, if a billionaire would do anything, even eat poop, in order to look younger? I promise you the $95 face oil she’s peddling is not a meaningful part of her regimen.
But also, like… What a way to promote your luxury skincare brand!! “If you, too, would debase yourself by shoveling shit in your mouth just to avoid facing your innate humanity/mortality, you’ll love this serum.” Who does she think this is for? Who is she speaking to?? We’re only three sentences in and I’m spiraling, people.
Her nine-step system “might seem scary to some,” [Kardashian] said. “That’s why I’m here — to break it down, to be like, ‘They’re all necessary.’”
“Necessary” for what, though? These products are newly-formulated; Kardashian herself has hasn’t used them for very long, if she’s used them at all, so they’re definitely not “necessary” for emulating a Kardashian. The majority of skincare products damage the skin barrier and disrupt the skin microbiome, so this line isn’t necessary for skin health, either. Human skin survived and thrived for millennia before pre-bottled products came along! There is absolutely nothing necessary about a nine-step skincare system! (See: The Times’ 2019 article “All of Those Products Are Making Your Skin Worse.”)
“So many people want to act like they don’t care about how they look,” she said. “I’m not acting like it comes easier or it’s all natural. You just don’t wake up and use whatever. You wake up, you use ingredients. The P.R.P. facials, stem cell facials, lasers — all of that is work.”
I mean, I guess it’s cool for her to admit that keeping up with her standard of beauty is work? But why does the baseline standard of beauty require so much work? If beauty is work, who’s the boss? And how is beauty work compensated? These are the questions that we, as readers, need to ask ourselves before taking “work” advice from a celebrity who reaps the rewards of our aesthetic labor via product sales.
I explored some answers in my investigation of the Kardashian-Jenner companies for VICE, below.
Beauty standards have long served as tools for advancing capitalist values. Just look at the illogical ideals we chase: hairless bodies, wrinkle-free skin, sunless tans. All require full rejection of the human body via constant product intervention. And beauty standards have always been physical manifestations of systems of oppression. “Beauty isn’t actually what you look like,” writes sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom in Thick: And Other Essays. “Beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order.”
Much like the Kardashian-Jenners’ business standards demand outsized labor from their workers, their beauty standards require outsized aesthetic labor from their followers. Fans who adopt their aesthetic, purchase products from their beauty and clothing lines, and post to their own social media pages act as an army of (unpaid) marketers. The launch for Kylie’s $29 Lip Kit of 15,000 units sold out in minutes.
Beyond makeup, actual body modification is on the rise. The use of cosmetic injectables, like filler and Botox, has grown to record rates over the past decade, with patients regularly referencing images of the Kardashian-Jenner sisters as inspiration. Anthony Youn, a Michigan-based plastic surgeon, noted “a Kardashianization of the younger people, who are especially looking to make similar changes as to what the Kardashians have had done” to the Daily Beast. Kim Kardashian’s infamous ass helped popularize the Brazilian butt lift, or BBL, a controversial procedure that one 2017 study found to have a mortality rate of one in 3,000.
The normalization of cosmetic surgery, illusory makeup, and altered photos raises the baseline standard of beauty for all—a form of aesthetic inflation, if you will. It makes it harder for women and girls to opt out of spending their time, money, and energy on aesthetic labor without facing financial and social consequences.
Studies show that, besides the possible physical harms of surgeries, injectables, and even topical products, the mental health consequences of beauty culture parallel those of capitalism, which can alienate workers from communities and beset them with financial and emotional instability. It contributes to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, as well as body dysmorphia and disordered eating. Still, we buy into the beauty myth—the idea that embodying an aesthetic ideal will bring success and happiness—for the same reason we buy into the myth of meritocracy: Hope for transformation obscures the reality of harm.
Kim Kardashian told Variety that “nobody wants to work these days,” but seven years after stepping away from the apps, I see evidence of work all around me. I see the hours that every over-tanned, overfiltered, Kardashian-inspired influencer funnels into their appearance in the hopes of striking it rich on Instagram. I see the money my own best friends invest into their filler-enhanced lips in the hopes of finally feeling beautiful.
In an aesthetic analog of the American dream, it’s those who are already in power that profit. The rest of us keep running on empty.
To develop her formulas, she worked with Joanna Czech, an aesthetician and celebrity facialist who has her own skin care line. Ms. Czech, who has more than 35 years of experience, advised on a skin care vocabulary (they don’t use the term “anti-aging”).
HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK SHE WON’T USE THE TERM “ANTI-AGING” BUT SHE WILL PUBLICLY ANNOUNCE THAT SHE’D EAT POOP IF IT KEPT HER FROM AGING?!???!??! That’s so so so much worse in terms of reinforcing anti-aging ideology!!!
I shouldn’t be surprised, though. This extreme manifestation of Beauty Culture Brain is straight out of the beauty industry’s faux-positivity playbook. Brands and publications have largely swapped “anti-aging” for phrases like “pro-aging” and “aging gracefully” and “preventative aging” and “non-aging” — which might sound better, but ultimately sell the same old anti-aging products. A wrinkle cream by any other name still demonizes wrinkles. A load of youth-preserving shit by any other name is still a load of shit.
…a $95 face oil, which, when mixed with the face cream, will give you, she said, “the glow of a lifetime.” She wants to prove it.
I just think it’s very funny that in the pictures accompanying this “glow of a lifetime” quote, Kardashian looks like a dead, dead-eyed doll with seriously dead ends. There is no life here! (Which is a pretty apt metaphor for beauty culture, actually. As I wrote in my farewell column for HelloGiggles, “To earn that life, time, and money through beauty, you sacrifice your life, time, and money to beauty.”)
Asked about the controversy surrounding her significant weight loss to fit into her Met Gala dress, the same sheer, bedazzled gown Marilyn Monroe wore in 1962 when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, Ms. Kardashian said: “To me it was like, ‘OK, Christian Bale can do it for a movie role and that is acceptable.’ Even Renée Zellweger gained weight for a role. It’s all the same to me. I wasn’t saying, ‘Hey everyone, why don’t you go lose this weight in a short period of time?’” In her mind, it was about commitment, like that of a boxer who needs to make weight for a bout.
NOOOOO! No, no, no, nope. Image-crafting is Kardashian’s job, yes, but her product isn’t art. It isn't a movie. Her product is literally unattainable beauty standards, which she then sells to others — via her SKIMS shape wear, SKKN skincare, KKW Beauty makeup, and ads for diet lollipops — to make a living. THAT IS HER JOB!! Convincing others to adopt her oppressive idea of beauty! Convincing others to die for a Brazilian Butt Lift! This is in no way comparable to Renée Zellweger or Christian Bale or Joaquin Phoenix or whoever. The effect her behavior has on her audience is very different from the effect Christian Bale’s behavior has on his audience. No one is getting a life-threatening BBL to emulate The Machinist, Kim!!!
Kardashian may not be eating shit just yet, but she certainly is spewing it. And thanks to a collective case of Beauty Culture Brain, the world keeps gobbling it up.