This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
It seems frankly insane now to try and pinpoint when exactly Kim Kardashian’s face and body became as ubiquitous as the McDonalds logo, or a can of Coke.
It wasn’t in 2007, when the sex tape that she made with Ray J (because she was “horny, and [she] felt like it”) first leaked. Wikipedia, alluding to the sex tape, euphemistically describes Kim as “born 1980,” but “active from 2007”. Active indeed. It wasn’t in October that same year, when Keeping Up with the Kardashians first aired, or that December, when Kim posed for Playboy and asserted that she did it “with class” because of her “big ass”.
It wasn’t around the time of her brief appearance in Disaster Movie (2008), her commercial for Carl’s Jr. (2010), or her waxwork being unveiled at Madame Tussauds (2010). Although by the end of 2010, she was the third-richest reality star based in Hollywood, and by the next year Keeping Up with the Kardashians had been renewed for two more seasons, for a rumoured $50 million. It probably started to begin around the time of her naked-on-a-motorcycle coupling with Kanye West, in his video for Bound 2.
The truest answer would appear to be the year that Kim Kardashian got Instagram and, like all artists dream of doing, found her medium. She has since created a mobile game, a clothing line and an incredibly successful beauty line, and she has publicly endorsed waist trainers and tooth whiteners and insane, immoral diet-friendly lollipops. Today she is worth approximately $350 million dollars, and yet her best product is and always will be Kim Kardashian: her face and body, consistent enough to be a logo and slowly-evolving enough that with every passing year they look more and more perfect, less like ours. “We want there to be something more [to Kim Kardashian], some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age,” Brian Moylan wrote at Time in 2014, after her Break the Internet cover of PAPER did just that, “but there is not", he concluded. "Kim Kardashian's ass is nothing but an empty promise.”
But then isn’t sexual desire often based on empty promises?
A year after the Time article was published, Kim Kardashian marketed a book of her best selfies, which she gave the title -- proving that she was as cunning as a fox, as much as she was foxy -- Selfish.
"If, as Wikipedia states, Kim has been “active” since 2007, she has spent over a decade changing and refining the face and the body that we picture when someone says “Kim Kardashian,” making her a work-in-progress with a longer period of gestation than James Joyce’s Ulysses."
With all this in mind, it should be reasonable that what Kim Kardashian wants above all else is the free circulation of her image. She is her own advertising, her most valuable asset and investment: there are no Kardashian products without Kim, and there is no endorsement of the Kardashian lifestyle more convincing than her proudly fake and time-consuming hotness. (If, as Wikipedia states, Kim has been “active” since 2007, she has spent over a decade changing and refining the face and the body that we picture when someone says “Kim Kardashian”, making her a work-in-progress with a longer period of gestation than James Joyce’s Ulysses.)
When in 2017, the paparazzi started to object to the Kardashian family using paparazzi photographs of the Kardashian family online without paying for them, the reality stars understandably seemed shaken by the unexpectedness of this development. When the same paparazzi came after their fans, shutting down fan-sites, Kim especially freaked. It may have been a love of her devoted fans that made her furious; it was also, doubtless, the deletion of what had up until then been great publicity, the open distribution of… her. “I hate that the paparazzi agencies get all of the fan accounts shut down!” she tweeted in late August last year. “Ugh we have to think of something! Maybe start our own agency? And let all of the fans post whatever tf they want!!!!! Let me brainstorm w the fam!”
Kim is, whatever else you might think of her, an absolutely brilliant businesswoman, with a mind for making money like a beautiful steel trap. Six months later, she had landed on an ingenious way to deal with the embargo on her candid image. “Btw,” she shared last week, “since the paparazzi agencies won’t allow the fans to repost, all of my pics are taken by my own photog and you guys can always repost whatever you want. If I ever post from an agency I will tag them and I have permission. So those please don’t repost!” Kim Kardashian, a lifelong fan of Elizabeth Taylor, will no doubt have seen the parallels between her own decision to employ a personal photographer, and Taylor’s hiring of Gianni Bozzacchi for the same job at the tail-end of the 60s. Like Kardashian, what Taylor wanted was control, a way to crystallise her image in the public eye to her exact specifications. Unlike Kim Kardashian, Taylor did not have to contend with Instagram, Twitter, or the Daily Mail. But unlike Kim she was not only a raving beauty with a tidy line in fragrances, but a great actress too. Her appearance was part of the picture, yes, but it was not the whole thing, and it was neither as widely-disseminated nor as minutely-dissected as the image of a modern woman with a sex-tape and a 13-season reality show. It is difficult to know which is the strangest part of this particular, particularly-2019 story: the extremely public women being sued for reproducing their own candid images, or the idea that Kim Kardashian’s fans see her decision to work with her own photographer as altruistic, motivated only by love.
I would argue that Kardashian does not need to be motivated -- or at least just motivated -- by love, when she has an empire to run, and when her face and body is her currency. More so than Gigi Hadid, who has also been sued by the paparazzi for illegal use of her own image on her Instagram, Kim’s brand is totally synonymous with her personal style, her silhouette, and her ability to simply be Kim in the public eye. Her most lucrative job is still, despite the perfumes and the beauty products and the mobile games, existing to be seen; she is, despite having released her own range of Kimoji, practically a sentient emoji herself. (It might be the emoji for a hot girl, making cash.) “I’m an entrepreneur,” she has said. “’Ambitious’ is my middle name.” No lawsuit, it’s safe to assume, will ever come between our eyes, and the indelible and enviably-sculpted form of Kimberly’ Ambitious’ Kardashian.
In her own immortal words, “Maybe if you had a fucking business that you were passionate about then you would know what it takes to run a fucking business but you don't.”
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.