Khloé Kardashian nearly broke the internet when a photo of her in a bikini recently surfaced. But, unlike the perfectly airbrushed photo of her older sister, Kim Kardashian, that truly made the ether explode back in 2014, the recent photo of Khloé was unedited, unfiltered and unapproved by her, which led to efforts by the family to have it completely wiped. Instead of embracing any publicity or headlines that came from the rare photo — and those who celebrated it — Khloé worked to quickly condemn the attention with a statement about her body insecurities and pressure to keep up with an impossible beauty standard.
"In truth, the pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and to meet other's standards of how I should look has been too much to bear," the 36-year-old wrote in a statement on Instagram, alongside videos flaunting her supposedly unfiltered physique. "It's almost unbearable trying to live up to the impossible standards that the public have all set for me."
Still, people pointed out that Khloé herself had a major role in creating that beauty standard, alongside her sisters who all helped to make perfect curves, bodacious backsides and flat tummies an ideal. As Virgie Tovar, host of the Rebel Eaters Club podcast and author of You Have the Right to Remain Fat and The Self Love Revolution, Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, points out, that ideal is impossible to achieve and keep up with — even for those who have perpetuated it.
"The entire point of an ideal is that it can't really be achieved and maintained. For example, even if you do become the current beauty ideal, you will at some point absolutely age and be faced with the loss of that ideal position," she tells Yahoo Life. "Because beauty ideals rely heavily on exclusivity and hierarchy, if it were attainable on any noteworthy scale it would automatically stop being an ideal."
Tovar went on to explain that these beauty standards are not only unattainable but also "completely make-believe," although they predictably rely on relevant cultural values like whiteness and capitalism. In Khloé's case, capitalism has played an obvious role as the youngest Kardashian sister profited off of the growing body positivity movement with the 2016 launch of her clothing brand Good American just one year before the debut of her show Revenge Body. On the one hand, the denim brand preaches "body acceptance" and has successfully answered demand for inclusive denim. But her simultaneous weight loss journey marketed as a revenge tactic for profit's sake was contradictory.
"The notion of the revenge body is so harmful and toxic to women. It's a popular, super sexist trope. I even used to fantasize about having a 'revenge body.' At the end of the day, it reinforces the dehumanizing idea that women's bodies exist for other people to judge and desire. That's not what our bodies are for," Tovar says. "'Revenge bodies' and body acceptance are completely incompatible."
Still, as the hierarchy of beauty standards upheld the notion that Khloé was inferior to her slimmer sisters with messaging that reinforced her role as "the fat sister" or "the ugly sister," she managed to simultaneously exist in both the space of body acceptance and body modification while being rewarded for both via money made by Good American's inclusive marketing and product, and increased attention toward Khloé's evolving figure. Even she found the line difficult to toe as she posted a photo of her thin midsection and toned butt, drawing attention to her stretch marks with the caption "I love my stripes."
In the comments, Khloé received both praise for her beauty and criticism for her privileged display of body positivity. "That's the thing about beauty standards," Tovar says. "They turn people into both victims and perpetrators. It's a conundrum: no one actually really wins."
Jameela Jamil, an actress and advocate of body neutrality, took to Twitter to explain the "vicious cycle," maintaining that Khloé was "bulled into this mind state," and ultimately conditioned to hate her natural body after years of altering it.
This is extremely upsetting. This is the kind of hysteria that comes from 10+ years of being made fun of by the media and by the world about your body. This is why I hate photo editing, because it makes you hate and fear your real face and body, and makes your fans hate theirs. https://t.co/5YS1jYlU5O
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) April 7, 2021
Tovar further explained, "Even if you are the ideal, you have to spend a lot of time and energy to keep fighting to stay there. I think this is what Khloe is saying: she feels overwhelmed by the impossible standard she has had a part in creating. I imagine that not even she feels she can meet the idealized version of herself she and her team have been able to create with photoshop, filters and angles, etc."
Khloé echoed the sentiment in her statement on Instagram.
"You never quite get used to being judged and pulled apart and told how unattractive one is, but I will say, if you hear anything enough then you start [to] believe it," she wrote. "This is an example of how I have been conditioned to feel, that I am not beautiful enough just being me."
And while that feeling may be relatable to many, Khloé's claim of using "a good filter, good lighting and an edit here and there" didn't satisfy most people who expected her to come clean about photo and video alterations, surgical enhancements and dangerous marketing of diet products that don't work.
"What’s incredibly frustrating is that yes I’m sure you worked really hard to get into shape by dieting and working out … but don’t you dare say that you have never had a procedure done to alter your body shape in any way. Your hips and butt are not natural and none of your sisters are. So yes little girls look up to you and even grown women look up to you and think God I wish I could have that body but they simply can’t buy forward it. Not not work hard enough… But they cannot afford it," one person commented on Khloé's post.
"Don’t you think posting more unedited not so perfect pictures might make other women feel better about [their] bodies instead of airbrushing and blurring every imperfection," another questioned.
Even Jamil acknowledged the seemingly missed opportunity.
This is what I was saying. She was bullied into this mind state. But now is also a really good time to admit to surgeries, thinning photographs and videos, and to stop being part of the culture that makes girls like her hate herself. No more diet products. No more “revenge body.” https://t.co/KghUckybbZ
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) April 8, 2021
Still, that acknowledgment and expression of true body acceptance that people are seemingly relying on Khloé to present cannot be forced.
"This is the society we’re building. We focus so much on bodies and then when people are uncomfortable in their body, we’re like, ‘That’s ridiculous!’" Hunter McGrady, plus-size model, designer and advocate tells Yahoo Life. "Yes, this could have been a learning lesson, 100 percent. But I also think that everybody has their own body love journey."
"We all have the right to not like a photo of ourselves or not want it circulating - even Khloé Kardashian," Tovar adds, noting that the ultimate lesson is the futility of the standards that society as a whole has chosen to uphold. "The discomfort with the photo could point to some of the very things that make beauty ideals so toxic for individuals: you can't ever just exist or have fun; you always, always have to be focused on controlling how others see you."
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