The internet promptly spluttered into life, with comments ranging from ‘we know that isn’t the real you’ to one follower’s response to Khloe’s caption: “location, under bitches skiiiinnn” with “only thing under your skin is a surgeon.” It was the photo that launched a million memes at her expense, one jokingly implying that her cheating ex Tristan Thompson had said ‘I think we should see other people’ and she had responded by dutifully transforming into someone else. (The more convenient option during lockdown, I would expect.)
Last week Khloe Kardashian posted a photograph of herself on Instagram and the internet collectively lost its sh**.
Why? Because, had it not been for her handle floating above the image, and the ubiquitous gelatinous sheen that covers a Kardashian-filtered insta snap, we would not have known it was her.
The photo provoked such an extreme reaction, that one US gossip mag headline actually asked; “Who is Khloe Kardashian trying to fool?”
To which I offer a question of my own: Why do we care?
The ‘scandal’ around Khloe’s latest picture is just the latest merry-go-round we experience when a celebrity has work done. We are appalled, we recoil in judgement and fascination. We bring in plastic surgeons to dissect said celebrity’s face on TV and in tabloids, often associated with the caveat ‘I’ve never met her, but…’ We line up before and after snaps, smugly patting ourselves on the back when we’ve caught them out in a lie, we click endlessly through these, somehow mesmerised like they are freaks in an old-school carnival show.
The implication behind our fury to this, is that she is lying – presenting a false version of herself that we are only too quick to point out we have not been fooled by. The second, uncomfortable implication here is that surgery is de facto frowned upon. We judge her for concealing her surgery and yet we also judge her for having it; for tampering with herself.
But there are, of course, some legitimate reasons to be angry.
The proliferation of injectables, fillers, tweakments and more extensive surgeries among celebrities – most of which is unacknowledged by the celebrity, contributes to a false narrative about beauty in the public eye. It feels unattainable, because it so often is – when constant nips, tucks and fixes are out of reach for so many people; or when they don’t comprehend that a person may not naturally age/fall out of bed looking like that.
The Kardashians are often the lightning rod for this conversation; a family that, one assumes, would begin to melt if you got too close to them with a candle. Their transformation has been well documented; Kylie’s lips, Khloe’s face, Kim’s– well, maybe everything. They are one of the most observed families in the world, they must feel an unnatural pressure to look good, one that has pushed them to look, well, unnatural. It’s understandable.
But then, they are one of the most observed families in the world. Let’s take this in: how many of the millions of people who view them everyday, are young girls in eating-disorder clinics, those who self-harm, those suffering from body dysmorphia, or simply anyone suffering from low self esteem, who feels their appearance is lesser than, because they cannot make it look like theirs.
Their collective contribution to impossible beauty standards is sizeable. The amount of accountability they must take for the part they play in surgery spikes and lip fillers among teens, is what leads many people to feel that they should ‘come clean’ and admit that the bodies they inhabit, they have crafted that way. That yes, it’s all smoke and mirrors (and a vast cosmetic surgery budget.)
In an age of curated, but direct access to celebrities – particularly reality stars – we often falsely feel that we own then; that they owe us the truth about their appearance. When it comes to the consequences of the Kardashians ‘curated’ bodies and the seismic reach they have, maybe they do – maybe that would be a public service.
Yet I cannot help but feel uncomfortable at how much we care about this when, in reality, what a person chooses to do to their lips, bum, eyes or boobs is – quite frankly – none of our business. It baffles me that so many women can be ‘pro-choice’ when it comes to the controversial issue of abortion, and yet be so quick to damn a woman who has chosen to pump up her lips.
Does the concept of ‘my body, my choice’ not stretch to vanity?
That is the crux of this. Because beyond what ridiculous slight we feel at being ‘duped’ by a celebrity’s face- there is the awkward reality that we judge a woman for investing in her vanity at the same time as we make her appearance her primary currency.
So why do we care when a celebrity changes their face? We care because it cements the fact we are a culture that trades in, and demands, impossible beauty from its female stars. A celebrity capitulating to this, depresses some and enrages others. We want to goad them into admitting work as if the work is a criminal act. In many ways it is, because it serves as a confession that they were not ‘pretty’ before, and when you are a female celebrity, pretty is what matters.
Maybe that’s why we care, maybe that is why we are bothered. Because it exposes the uneasy truism about how we view women in the public eye: Be beautiful or we shall damn you, make yourself beautiful and we shall damn you even more.