Kendall Jenner is sitting on a couch with sister Khloe Kardashian and friend Malika Haqq. “I’m really concerned,” she says smiling into the camera, in the direction of her sister Kim Kardashian West. “Like, I don’t think you’re eating.”
“What?!” Kardashian West can be heard saying from behind the camera, in a tone that can only be described as piercingly jubilant.
“Like, you look so skinny,” Jenner responds.
“Oh my god, thank you!” her sister exclaims.
For many women in our society, it’s an unfortunately familiar exchange. Being called “skinny” has long been seen as a compliment ― something to be celebrated. We say it in passing to our girlfriends. We might get a rush when someone says it about us.
Kardashian West shared the exchange via an Instagram story, and the posts become more problematic from there. The other women ponder what flavor oxygen she’s has been eating in celebration of how she looks (in lieu of food). Jenner proclaims that Kardashian West is as tiny as her (very tiny) purse. And then Khloe Kardashian points out how “anorexic” her sister’s waist looks.
These are not compliments. They are dangerous, irresponsible notions that should be unlearned.
Instead of sharing that message, the three sisters, who have nearly 200 million followers combined ― many of them young, impressionable women who (for some reason) continue to look up to these people as pillars of confidence and aspiration ― pushed forward the notion that thinness equates goodness.
It’s not just irresponsible, it’s pathetic. But it’s not surprising.
I have long been suspicious of the Kardashians’ status as body image heroes, and by the time Kardashian West came under fire for promoting an appetite suppressing lollipop in May 2018, the deal was sealed. I was disappointed, but not shocked that the entertainer ― who had published an essay on her website in 2016 about the importance of owning your curves and finding self-esteem in body positivity ― had appeared to abandon paying lip service to self-acceptance.
“As North gets older, she’ll start to be more aware of herself and her body,” she wrote in that essay. “Her attitude toward her body is directly related to my own, so it’s my responsibility to make sure she understands that positive body image comes from having a healthy self-esteem.”
I wonder how relishing in your sister saying you look “anorexic” is going to achieve that. In fact, members of the Kardashian-Jenner family ― who have gradually seemed to morph into the same funhouse version of what a desirable body is supposed to look like ― show little concern for the consequences their actions might have on any follower who might be dealing with body image issues (read: pretty much anyone with a pulse).
Pop culture has conversed endlessly about how smart and business-savvy the members of the Kardashian family are. They have, on each of their parts, built successful businesses and amassed impressive followings that theoretically allow them a platform for good.
But what they have in empire-building tendencies, they lack in compassion for other human beings and what they might be going through. It’s not funny to lament weighing 119 pounds, use “anorexic” in praise and joke about the “different flavors of oxygen.” It’s actually pretty sad.
I don’t give a shit about how these women speak to one another in the privacy of their own homes. But yesterday, Kardashian West displayed a complete disregard for her fans and followers, and this lack of care and self-awareness cannot be ignored.
Go ahead, talk all you want about how unbelievably skinny you are ― perpetuate your own insecurities from inside the walls of your own mansions. But do us all a favor and keep it off social media, where millions of people ― some who could very well be suffering or recovering from an eating disorder or disordered tendencies of their own ― have access to your words and can ruminate on them and self-loathe because of them.
Women will continue to prioritize thinness as long as the imagery looking back at them in the media promotes the message that thinness is best. For me, a small step toward that process of unlearning means unfollowing toxic people.
And I know a certain famous family that applies to. Sure, they won’t feel the implications of losing one measly follower each, but my self-care and self-worth aren’t about them.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.