Kim Kardashian West Is ‘Legally Blonde’ Come to Life
Kim Kardashian West’s latest role is far from the glittery mantles she took up in the past, and people resent that.
Kimberly Noel Kardashian West has worn many hats. Starting off as an assistant to socialite Paris Hilton, then shooting to fame as part of a leaked sex tape, becoming a rising reality TV star, make-up mogul and fashion line designer, the face of one of the most famous families in the world and now married to the enfant terrible of rap, Kanye West, with whom she has four children – Kardashian West’s journey has been nothing short of an impressive, ambitious and powerful rise to the top of an industry that makes every effort to undercut your success.
Her latest role, however, is a far cry from the glittery mantles she has taken up in the past – Kardashian West is currently studying law, has already managed to secure the release of prisoners and reportedly has plans to open her own law firm.
Celebrity Culture and Activism
To understand the surprising path that the star has chosen, it becomes important to examine the way activism and celebrity culture have been cautiously twirling in circles around each other till now. Celebrities have often started charities and publicly supported causes (read: Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental efforts and Emma Watson at the UN), spoken out about their beliefs and advocated for change on social media and in interviews. Likewise, in Amal and George Clooney, we seem to have an almost perfect synthesis of the two fields coming together.
What makes Kardashian West’s journey more radical is the juxtaposition of her unashamed sexuality and air-headed image (‘dumb blonde’ stereotypes come to mind, apt perhaps due to the lady’s many forays into light hair colour territory), with her unexpectedly serious, formalized step into the legal sphere. The glamorous world she comes from is in stark contrast to how most people picture lawyers and court procedures, and she is causing a cognitive dissonance in people who subscribe to these stereotypes.
The Reese Witherspoon-starring Legally Blonde portrayed the character of Elle Woods as the silly, dumb sorority girl who ends up going to Harvard Law School and clinching a case due to her knowledge of hair perming. In a strange coincidence (or a calculated move), Kardashian West dressed as Elle Woods for Halloween last year.
The sexist discrimination Elle faces in the film, due to her personality, her poor grasp of legalese and her lack of self-consciousness about the same, is similar to what Kardashian West is facing right now; how can someone be conventionally beautiful, feminine, a novice at law, and also NOT be ashamed of it?
The Sexism Factor
In 2018, Kardashian West campaigned for, and subsequently secured, a pardon for Alice Marie Johnson who was serving a life sentence for cocaine smuggling. The case received much media coverage, with Kardashian West being subject to mockery and criticism, that hyped up her celebrity status and urged her to ‘stay in her lane’.
The criticism was sexist, often abusive, and aimed to constrain her to what, as per the public, was her forte – fashion, showbiz and celebrity. Much was made of what the public saw as yet another attention-grabbing tactic, and yet Kardashian West chose not to respond negatively to the hate she received. She continued to educate herself about the legal system, side-by-side campaigning for stricter gun control, seamlessly including her increased activism into her public image.
In a clear display of the double standards that pervade society, her husband Kanye West has never faced such derision, despite his repeated meetings with Trump, the ‘Kanye for President’ phase, and his openly controversial comments. While he has been criticized, the criticism is limited to his political views, and does not objectify or dehumanize him in any way – somehow Kanye is allowed to be politically active because he is entitled to his opinions, but his wife Kim is simply not supposed to have any stake in institutional processes, because her profession and her unashamed sexuality automatically mean that she is stupid and not well-informed
Are They ‘Fake Woke’?
This sexism was also on clear display when singer Taylor Swift (Kardashian West’s arch enemy, but that is another story), broke her political silence and urged people to vote for a Democratic Party candidate. She followed it up with talking more about human rights, economic equality, sexism in the industry and LGBTQ+ rights. Similar to what Kardashian West faced, Swift too was met with swift (sorry) backlash, with people urging her to remain apolitical.
This comes after a long stream of criticism on her NOT speaking out at all, with people also feeling that public personas need to use their traction to stand up for issues. Her soon-to-be-released documentary, Miss Americana, focuses on the political awakening she experienced, and the trailer of the film has been met with sexist criticism, even saying that Swift is faking being ‘woke’ in order to appeal to audiences.
Similarly, actresses Deepika Padukone and Swara Bhaskar, who have raised their voices against government policies in India, have been bombarded with threats of their films being boycotted, and have been made the target of disparaging comments about their intelligence and appearance.
The problem is the double standard. When male celebrities speak up, their opinions are criticized; but when female celebrities speak up, like Kardashian West, their appearance, their intellect and their entire body of work are used against them in a vendetta to keep them silent, only to be seen and not heard.
Kardashian West cannot be said to be a complete stranger to the legal system. Her father, Robert Kardashian, was a top lawyer and part of OJ Simpson’s legal team in one of the most sensational cases in the US, now the subject of a television series as well.
Her closest brush with law and crime, a turning point in her public life, came on 3 October 2016, when she was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris hotel, an experience she later described as one of the most traumatic incidents she has gone through. Scrubbing her social media clean, Kardashian West disappeared from the public eye, leaving a gaping hole in a world where she was once the center of attention. A slow, guarded return to the internet finally came, after many months of radio silence, and even then it was a faded, toned-down version of her over-the-top sharing from before. While she has recently returned to the frequency and tone of the pre-robbery days, she has also increasingly widened her scope of reach to politics and activism.
The Justice Project
Subverting the trope of a starlet who will do anything for her fifteen minutes of fame, in 2019, tabloid website TMZ broke the news that Kardashian West had in fact quietly helped many more inmates gain clemency. She joined law school, often speaking out about the struggles of balancing her family, multi-million dollar businesses and her studies. Her upcoming Oxygen documentary, Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, will cover the journey of her first year of law school, and has been so far promoted in an atypically subtle, understated manner. The trailer, though reasonably melodramatic and with its fair share of editing and sound effects, has an underlying feeling of honesty, as the incarcerated people Kardashian West seeks to help reveal their stories, their regrets and their hopes.
Kim Kardashian West Will Save The World
For avid watchers of the family drama, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, her decision to go to law school is a full circle from a scene (now a meme) where Kardashian West was the target of her mother’s ire. "Kim, would you stop taking pictures of yourself? Your sister's going to jail," had been the now-iconic comment from Kris Jenner.
The flippant, self-obsessed Kardashian West of yore, who could pose for selfies without worrying about her arrested sister, has been replaced by a focused, solemn woman who cares about the people deemed criminals and put into jail, and who wants them to have a second shot at life.
What led to Kardashian West’s joining the field she now describes as her ‘calling’? “It can be exhausting, frustrating, but I know that we can make a difference, and so all the criticism in the world will not deter me from what I want to do," Kardashian West told reporters at the Television Critics Association on 18 January. "I’m raising four black children that could face a situation like any of the people that I help," she said. "Just to know I can make a difference in my children’s lives and (others) by helping fix a broken system, that’s so motivating for me," as reported by USA Today.
Kim Kardashian West has become the unlikely, improbable role model who has taken tangible steps to move out from the celebrity world of social media activism and be an actual part of the institutional mechanisms to push for change.
What, Like It's Hard?
Detractors will always raise questions, she has implied, but she will continue doing what she has taken up. It makes for a compelling narrative, at a time when movements across the globe are asking for the people with traction and social capital to speak up and become more involved, to break out of the privileged bubbles of celebrity and stand for what they believe in. And as inexplicable, inconceivable and even ridiculous any prospects of her success might seem right now, Kardashian West has long had a knack of beating the odds and always, always coming out top, in a glamorous, seeming effortless way.
As Elle Woods famously said, when she got into Harvard Law, “what, like it's hard?”
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