Image courtesy of CNN
By Margaret Adams
The Met Gala, which is arguably the biggest night in fashion, took place on Monday, September 13 this past week and has taken over pop culture news. The event’s theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” resulting in many homages to American icons like Marilyn Monroe and, confusingly, Audrey Hepburn, who is European, as well as many dresses directly honoring distinctive parts of American culture, such as jeans and football.
The most eccentric and surprising look of the night went to Kim Kardashian, who walked the carpet in a black dress that covered every inch of skin, including her face. The t-shirt dress was made by Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, but the black face covering was an idea from Kanye West; the face covering is a staple of West’s, which he has been doing since 2013 with Yeezus.
The interpretation of her look cannot go without explanation. According to an anonymous source, her image and the silhouette of her body is a recognizable staple of American culture. She does not even need to show her face because her shape is as recognizable as apple pie, baseball, and the American flag.
“There’s no logo, no face, but everyone knows it’s her,” said the source. “Kanye gave her the courage to push creativity and people’s imagination through art. It’s the ultimate confidence.”
So, why is Kim Kardashain’s body an American treasure? What does that say about us?
One piece of knowledge that offers some answers is the fact that the sexualisation and objectification of Black women has a long history in the media.
“Are Black women the only women in the world that have prominent rear ends? No,” said Kierna Mayo, vice president of digital content for Ebony, in a phone interview with the Washington Post. “But have Black women’s bodies — their rear ends in particular — been fodder for commerce and conversation for hundreds of years in this country? Absolutely.”
In 2014, Jordyne Blaise wrote a Times article addressing Kim Kardashian’s appearance in Paper Magazine, and her similarities to Saartjie Baartman, a Black woman who worked at sideshow-like performances across the world in the early 19th century. The spectacle that piqued audiences’ interests was her body.
“Baartman’s nude body was exhibited to the public, and she sometimes played instruments and performed dances native to the Khoikhoi tribe of her origin,” wrote Blaise. “Baartman would be made available for private showings in the homes of the wealthy where at extra cost, patrons would be allowed to touch her.”
This comparison leads us to believe two possibilities: Kim Kardashian is using her Met Gala outfit to regain her own independence (a very American trait) by taking back the face that made her famous, or she is continuing to profit from minorities by stealing aesthetics that originated from them, like wider hips and smaller waists. While many believe that she is showing off her independence, I believe that she is continuing to profit from minorities; after all, Kim Kardashian has a history of stealing from and appropriating many cultures, especially the Black community.
Hafsa Lodi, a Muslim fashion writer, reviewed Kim Kardashian’s look as “distasteful.”
“When Muslim women choose to wear skin-covering abayas and burkas, they’re considered stifling and oppressive — the furthest thing from high fashion and glamorous,” wrote Lodi. “Burkas can provide wearers with anonymity, which is deemed a ‘threat to security’ in many areas of the Western world.”
The body that Kim and Kanye refer to as “American culture” is not her natural body; it is the work of many doctors who contributed to this idealized version of the female body, specifically the Black female body. Parts taken from a stereotypical ideal Black or brown body are put together to form what we are told is the product of “exercise” and “hard work.”
While she and Kanye maintain that her body is American culture, the true Western beauty standards are built off Black and brown female bodies, or what Black and brown female bodies “should” look like.
In the same way we live off the land that was not ours to take, our culture is made up of cultures that were not ours to take. In this way, Kim Kardashian and her profit from minority cultures is very American.