Last year, the Kardashian-Jenner family announced that after 20 seasons, their namesake reality TV show, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (KUWTK), would come to an end in 2021. In honor of such an iconic series, I'd like to reflect on the legacy of KUWTK and what the family has meant to me.
Even if you've never watched a second of the show, you know exactly who this family is. Headed by "momager" Kris, and composed of children Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and Rob, as well as Caitlyn Jenner, and their kids Kendall and Kylie, the family has dominated reality television for the last 20 seasons.
They have, of course, received their fair share of hate –– from being superficial to being famous for no reason –– and I’m not here to argue that; however, every Kardashian/Jenner fan has their own love story. They have their own reasoning, favorite sister, favorite spin-off series, etc. and while I love all their personalities and get excited about each new baby brought into the world, my favorite sister is Kim. She's passionate about social justice, incredibly driven, and a savvy businesswoman. I love the feminist example she sets: like men, women can be strong and sexy.
Me when I recreated Kim K's iconic Paper Magazine cover
That being said, I do understand that they’re not for everyone. In fact, I find that the majority of people I talk to don’t like them at all. And typically, it’s not just a, “Oh, I don’t really care for them.” It’s usually, “UGH, I HATE them! They’re vapid, famous for nothing, attention-seekers.” Which is a fair assessment. They do all care VERY much about their appearance, often ‘caught’ in full makeup and heels outside a 7-11. Buuuuuut … you saw that picture, didn’t you? So as thirsty as they are, whether you love them or hate them, you can’t avoid them.
Opinions aside, the Kardashians deserve some credit because they have, objectively, done plenty of good in the last decade. And you should care about the impact they’ve made because, in the last 14 years, not only have they changed television, social media, fashion, beauty, and business ... they've impacted YOU too.
It’s also important to recognize the media’s impact on their public perception. As women, and women who do what they want, they have received far more criticism than their male counterparts. Even more so as women who have had children out of wedlock, had interracial marriages, and openly supported LGBTQ rights.
While I reminisce, I hope to change your perception of the Kardashian/Jenner family and encourage you to use media literacy when forming future opinions on celebrities. Specifically, I will discuss the accomplishments that the media hasn’t covered on the Kardashians/Jenner family, their impact in creating cultural change, and a forever legacy.
Let’s start with what the media doesn’t say about "Keeping up with the Kardashians."
The first is the continuous portrayal of strong family values. In the media, Kourtney’s ex, Scott Disick has been portrayed as an awful father and careless drunk. They criticize Kourtney’s choice to stay with him for so long, but they don't talk about the larger issues here that the show has covered: the dangers of drug/alcohol addiction and how a family should be there for someone going through such a difficult time.
Secondly, the show has been honest in its portrayal of “real” life struggles. According to the CDC, 12% of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant and 6% are infertile –– so when someone who seems to have everything opens up about going through the same thing, that can make all the difference. Kim and Khloe both documented their fertility treatments, as well as the emotional turmoil they faced throughout trying to get pregnant.
Lastly, every woman in the family is a business mogul –– from kylie cosmetics, Kourtney’s Poosh, Kim’s Skims, Khloe’s Good American, to Kendall’s 818 Tequila, and of course, Momager Kris' many business ventures. They represent what it means to be 21st-century female leaders. Male leaders outnumber female leaders 4 to 1 according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review. It’s important to recognize how far they’ve come, and when you hear negative talk about Kylie Jenner on the cover of Forbes, that is a double standard to our self-made, small loan of a million dollars former president Donald Trump.
Creating Cultural Change
At a time when 15% of American families are interracial, according to the 2010 census, most TV shows and movies still portray families of a singular race. Perhaps, that's where reality TV can make all the difference. According to a 30-year-old study on television portrayals from Jeremiah J. Garretson, media representation does have an immense impact on social tolerance and perception. In addition to interracial marriages of their own, the Kardashians have always provided positive representation of successful Black men and women on their show –– from Khloe’s best friend Malika Haqq to their numerous musician and athlete friends.
The Kardashians have also been outspoken about body positivity. Today you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who wouldn't swap out Kim Kardashian's body for her own, but that wouldn't always have been the case. For much of the past 30 years, stick-thin has been the aspirational body type. Plastic surgery and makeup aside, they have emphasized being strong over skinny as well as loving yourself for who you are.
The Kardashian/Jenner family has built an incredible legacy for themselves. These stars may not necessarily be who you care about, but they have plenty of power –– and in many ways, they've used that to bring forth important issues in a whole new way.
According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly 2.2 million adults were held in America's prisons and jails at the end of 2016. In May of 2018, Kim Kardashian met with President Trump to petition for a woman named Alice Johnson’s release from a life sentence. Her crime was a nonviolent first offense and Trump commuted her sentence the following month. Kim is able to work across the political aisle and although it may seem small, she has made a difference in the lives of individuals.
Secondly, the family has been very supportive of Caitlyn Jenner's coming out and advocating for transgender rights. Yes, it would have been a big deal for any former Olympian to come out as transgender no matter what, but couple that with Caitlyn Jenner doing it on the heels of a very public divorce in a family that documents every waking moment of their lives, and it's a whole new ballgame. The support of each of her family members has gone a long way to show the public exactly how to react to this kind of change.
Lastly, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and Rob grew up with an Armenian father, Robert Kardashian, who was outspoken about their family history, including the Armenian genocide. Kim’s advocacy for this issue was a major push to have the Armenian genocide officially recognized by the United States Government.
Me as Kim ~again~ for a #girlboss costume party
Despite the controversies and reputation for being talentless, undeserving, and moronic, no one can deny that they have ultimately left an immense impact on our society.
Love them or hate them, I hope you can appreciate the way the Kardashians have used their stardom for good. I sure have and, Bible, I'll miss them when they're gone.