Photo by David Shankbone (Creative Commons).
Kim Kardashian West is known for breaking the Internet with nude photographs, for launching an entire empire off a leaked sex tape, and for expertly turning fame and fortune into more fame and fortune. But her most recent news was harrowing: She was bound up and locked in the bathroom of her hotel in Paris as men reportedly stole $10 million worth of jewelry.
The robbery alone is a horrific reminder of the daily violence women are forced to endure. Kardashian West reportedly feared she would be raped, pleaded with the men to consider that she was a mother with children to take care of, and eventually had her mouth taped shut because she was making noise. But what is also terrifying is the way many people seem to be blaming her for being robbed. It’s troubling that commenters on news articles about the crime suggest Kardashian West’s sexuality and “oversharing” are responsible for the robbery, some saying she had it coming for being so showy and sexual, others suggesting that the robbery is a publicity stunt that she facilitated.
A comment on a New York Times article covering the robbery says, “She was presumably tied up and gagged and they found her that way.” Another on an article on PAPER says, “Should had killed her We don’t need a cheap hoe any more.” These people are reveling in Kardashian West’s pain as if it is long-awaited retribution for terrible crimes she committed against each of them personally.
It is true, though not excusable, that comments on the internet are often hyperbolic hatred facilitated by anonymity and distance. But, in Kardashian West’s case, the criticism of her character—rather than of, say, the men who threatened the security guard at her hotel, tied her up, held her at gunpoint, and stole millions of dollars of jewelry from her—is not just coming from anonymous commenters. Fashion editors and journalists, people who supposedly have professional relationships with the Kardashians, have also weighed in, saying things like:
“She sat right across from me at the Givenchy show and there were guys coming up and taking photos of her and people taking pictures of her. It felt really kind of exposed. If there had been a shooting at a fashion show, I wouldn’t have been surprised because the whole situation felt sort of out of control.”
Karl Lagerfeld—the head designer of Chanel, one of the world’s top luxury brands known for its extravagant runway shows—ironically said of the incident, “You cannot display your wealth and then be surprised that some people want to share it with you.”
These kinds of comments make me wonder how Kardashian West’s outspoken sexuality plays a role in people not seeing her as a victim. Though she has one of the largest audiences of any celebrity before her (because, in part, anyone with a smartphone has a bigger audience than the people before them), Kardashian West is not the first person to aggressively pursue celebrity, nor is she the first to revel in wealth. Taylor Swift has curated a squad of thin, rich, blonde models and actresses who regularly post images of their larger-than-life escapades at her Rhode Island mansion. Posters with Andy Warhol quotes lauding the benefits of wealth will forever decorate the gift shops of every art museum and the rooms of artsy 15-year-olds across the nation.
Why is it, then, that Kardashian West’s iteration of fame is somehow seen as so uniquely vile that she seemingly deserves to be attacked and tied up, robbed of her possessions, fearing for her life? Kardashian West, who has expertly found ways to gain followers and make money off her own image in video games, emojis, and social media, is somehow hated for “being famous for doing nothing” while also blamed for manufacturing a brand dependent on overexposure.
What she has really done is show that the labor often expected of women for the benefit of others—wearing makeup, understanding and talking about emotions, cultivating beauty, growing and caring for a family—can captivate huge audiences and is worthy of compensation. In particular, Kardashian West photographs, draws, and publicly references her body and her sexuality, sharing intimacies that are expected to be looked upon by others but never explicitly referenced by her. Her sexuality, and how she has chosen to provide it as a supply for a very real demand, in the process accruing wealth and fame, is seen as a threat that leads to the kinds of hateful comments that fashion editors and internet trolls made after her robbery.
It is not just troubling, then, that even wealth and privilege do not fully protect women from being bound up and from fearing their bodily autonomy will be stolen from them. It is also troubling that response to this violence is that women who succeed because of, rather than in spite of, their bodies and their complexities have claimed power that is not theirs to claim.
And, it is important to note, it is not just Kardashian West’s sexuality that is a threat. Her inability to be categorized, her propensity to share—at times her body, but also literally everything about herself—was also widely critiqued after the robbery. Women who choose to expose themselves, who cry on camera, and who tell us about their bodily insecurities, while also loving sex and vowing to take nude selfies til they die, cannot be boiled down to “chill girl” or “manic pixie dream girl” or “cold-hearted bitch” by other people. Therefore, they are not supposed to make it onto magazine covers and high fashion events and household conversations. They are not supposed to take up space with their complexity and their desires, and if they do, they deserve any negative attention they might get.
This is how we are taught that “If you are female, and you are talking, you are at risk.” This is how we learn to feel guilty for being, wanting, showing too much, in ways that cannot be anticipated. In this imposed guilt, our own bodies are taken from us.