How The Kardashians Helped Me Feel Beautiful When No-One Else Did

I saw Kourtney Kardashian on the beach while on holiday in Egypt – where I’m from – this summer. Sitting on the sand, I looked to my right and saw a herd of girls sprinting down the beach, iPhones clutched tightly in outstretched hands, racing to get a picture of one of the Kardashians.
That night, while at a beach bar, I might well have mistaken Kourtney for any other Egyptian girl. It was quite a nice feeling. That one of the most famous women in the world, lauded for her looks, might look anything like me and my friends.
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Growing up pre-Kardashian, that was definitely not the case. Yes, we had J-Lo and that "Waiting For Tonight" video, but beauty ideals still very much dictated that to be "conventionally" attractive you should really be super skinny, blonde, and white with blue eyes. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Aniston, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss – those were the kinds of women all over the magazines and mainstream media. Suffice to say, with my big bum and thighs, brown hair, tanned skin and dark eyes, I couldn’t even try.

I watched my mum spend years upon years dieting and trying out all sorts of crazy and weird techniques to try and reduce her naturally voluptuous behind.

Thing is, when people say things like this – that they don’t feel adequately represented in the media – what they’re really saying is they kind of feel like they don’t exist, don’t belong. It’s kind of saying: “These are all the things society has agreed are desirable and normal and if you don’t fit into these categories, it means you’re undesirable, and you’re not normal.” It’s kind of a shitty feeling, and trickles down to create all sorts of insecurities.
I watched my mum spend years upon years dieting and trying out all sorts of crazy and weird techniques to try and reduce her naturally voluptuous behind – the #bootygoals that the likes of Primark now facilitate with their padded underwear. Arguably a little too young to join her on her quest to be super skinny, I wore oversized clothing and bowed my shoulders, taking up as little space as possible and making sure to never get in the way of the popular girls at school, the ones who adhered to beauty ideals and had a queue of boys trailing in their wake. After all, how dare I take up space in this world where I was ‘other’?
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Moving to Egypt for a year when I turned 13, as well as getting older and realising that actually there’s a lot more to life than just what you look like, contributed to me ditching the oversized clothing and rocking what I had (mostly) with pride. But when the half-Armenian Kardashians first emerged onto our screens, 10 years ago this week, complete with ample bottoms, baby hair and bushy eyebrows, for the first time, I felt seen.
Speaking to Access Hollywood last year, Demi Lovato said the same, crediting the Kardashians for helping her feel more confident about her body: “[They] completely revolutionised what our generation's view of [the] perception of what beautiful is and I really think that they had a huge impact on that. You can think whatever you want about the Kardashians, but they really did help tons of women feel comfortable in their own skin…”

As with everything else, it was brilliant and empowering and groundbreaking, until it wasn't.

For the last 10 years, with every upload of a photo to their combined 400 million-plus Instagram followers, every flick of their hair or twist of their waists, Kim and her sisters have pushed the culture and the aesthetics of beauty further and further away from the standard fashion model look.
As with everything else, it was brilliant and empowering and groundbreaking, until it wasn't.
In recent years, the Kardashians have been subject to all sorts of criticism for promoting unrealistic beauty ideals and influencing younger women getting plastic surgery. Jennifer Pamplona, a 24-year-old model, recently spent AUD240,000 trying to look like Kim K, removing four ribs, injecting 500cc of padding into her butt as well as all sorts of fillers into her face. Scroll through Instagram these days and everyone looks kind of the same: contoured face, plump lips, tight waist and popped-out booty.
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And while there's still some way to go in terms of the world and the mainstream media accurately representing women, men and non-binary individuals, for a while the Kardashians helped usher in some hope – that they and others like them would be remembered as leaders in this new era where we are encouraged to embrace our natural curves, natural skin tone, our ‘ethnic’ features. Except now, arguably, even the Kardashians can’t keep up with themselves. Those bushy brows and the baby hair that made me feel seen have now been lasered off. Other cosmetic procedures abound and Kim has often body-shamed herself on social media, adding hashtags like #SkinnyDays and #OnTheTreadmillRightNow to her Instagram uploads. They have become caricatures of the ideal they ushered in.
But while the Kardashians and the world have, over the last decade, evolved far beyond what anyone could ever have imagined, it's important not to forget that originally, these women, along with the likes of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj, allowed girls like me to find beauty and confidence in our own unique concoctions.
Because ultimately we all want to feel "seen". We want to feel like we exist, like we belong, like we don’t need to bow our shoulders and shrink into the corners of the room to allow space for those with the faces and bodies that used to exclusively populate billboards and television shows. So that's why it mattered when, 10 years ago, a group of women stuck two fingers up at what society deemed desirable and said, “I don’t care what you think because this is me and I’m going to flaunt it. Oh, and here are the selfies to prove it.” It's a line we should all aspire to, to a certain extent. It's certainly better than the opposite.
So happy 10th anniversary to the Kardashians. May you forever love yourselves and, in doing so, encourage the rest of us to love (and photograph) the hell out of ourselves, too.
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