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Kim’s army: the new Barbie?

Posted in Beauty

serena-williams-portraitThe thought occurred to me yesterday that I don’t spend enough time around young people, at least not that segment of youth between 20 and 30. Not that I can think of any reasons why I should: an effort to stay relevant? The thought occurred as I found myself catering the wedding of a young couple, at a beautiful house by the ocean in Malibu, in an unusual sweltering heat, the sort of heat that hits Southern California only a handful of days a year, when the breeze goes into hiding and, if you are trapped in a chef’s coat, standing under a palm tree, preparing appetizers, you risk going mad from dehydration and sunstroke.

An Italian colleague, in her mid-40s, who moved to California only a few months ago, remarked under her breath at the spectacular beauty of the youth in attendance. That is when I raised my head from the 200th bruschetta I had been smearing with pesto and took a look.

If the highbrow fashion magazines are to be believed, a new crop of models deemed to be “unconventional beauties”, is taking hold. That might be concealed speak for “we have to market diversity if we want to stop the streak of criticism” but the faces peering out of Vogue and many couture ads this Fall are indeed outside the conventional mold, some even plain by fashion standards.

Celine is opting for a toned down beauty
Celine is opting for a toned down beauty

Alas, the message hasn’t trickled down to the mass-market fashion consumed by the majority of 20-somethings in America today. The bridal party at the wedding in question seemed to have been assembled on the same factory line, each girl absolutely indistinguishable from the next: the same mid-back length hair in a deep chestnut hue, styled in soft waves; the same copper skin, compliments of spray tan salons; the same make-up, a prime example in contouring and foundation application; the same thick fake eyelashes; all of them teetering and walking uncomfortably on 10” heels. The bride, the maid of honor and every other female in attendance were hard to tell apart, all products of the Kim Kardashian beauty factory.

They were attractive, in a cellulose sort of way, but without an ounce of individuality. My eye was drawn to the only two women who stood out from the crowd: a young blonde of perhaps 25, six feet tall, with straight hair and blue eyes, wearing a short blue tunic, flats and little make up; and the mother of the bride, a petite Japanese lady with hair pulled up in an exquisite bun and wearing a dress that could only be described as a deconstructed kimono, with a flat panel in front that both enhanced her figure and made her look taller. Everybody else was a visual blur.

Still beautiful but not prettified: the mark of Prada
Still beautiful but not prettified: the mark of Prada

One of youth’s hardest task is achieving individuality: blending in is a security blanket and, these days, blending in is made easier by YouTube make-up tutorials and readily available surgical interventions. It takes guts to rock an aquiline nose, a flat butt, unassuming cheeks. I realized that, if women my age obsess over wrinkles and overdo Botox and fillers, thus creating a generation of ageless expressionless fifty something, young girls inhabit a similar conundrum: an obsession to conform to beauty standards, not just dictated by Photoshop, but by what they feel is one of the most photographed women of our time, one who has made it her business to influence through over sharing: Kim Kardashian.

From a marketing standpoint, I cannot help but admire the Kardashians. What a brilliant coup. From a cultural one, how sad.

Still sleepy the morning after the wedding, I woke up to a beautiful photo of Serena Williams on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine. Besides being an impressive athlete and a model of excellence, Serena Williams is also a beautiful woman. But her beauty is not celebrated: on the contrary, countless times she has been vilified, on and off the court, for being too muscular, unfeminine, all the way down to racist epithets best left in the gutter. Yet, she is beautiful because she looks like Serena: confident and comfortable and devil-may-care.

The only true marks of beauty which most of us were too stupid to embrace when wrinkles were still a few decades away. I would like to think it’s never too late.

 

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9 Comments

  1. You totally hit the nail on the head here. I literally had a similar thought today while roaming through my Pinterest feed looking at fashion shots for my internship. I began questioning my own style and how much it was actually me and how much it was popular culture and trend-based. While I’m probably guilty of this, it challenged how I thought and to try and stay true to me as much as I can. It’s interesting too because I actually look very young for my age (I’ve literally been told I don’t look old enough to own a credit card and I’m 24– haha!) which is amplified by the fact I wear little make up. So thank you for your insight and always taking an empowering stance on femininity, and I completely agree on your sentiments towards Kim K and Serena. Serena was one of my role models growing up and playing tennis competitively (rather than someone like Sharapova).
    Best, Kassie

    September 4, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      This comment made my day. If I could influence just one girl half my age to embark on the path of non conformism, I will be a happy camper. I was always my own self-contained self contained style guru, with various degrees of succes, but then again, other than magazines, there wasn’t much to compare and share when I was growing up. If you want to read a great blog on fashion from the perspective of a former couture designer and now educator at the Fashion Institute of New York, check out http://www.jackiemallon.com

      September 5, 2015
      |Reply
  2. I think one reason Kim is/became popular is because she looks nothing like fashion models. While she was beautiful (before she started messing around with her face, now she’s too L.A. plastic) she was curvy, short, and dark. Like the majority of her younger fans. Fans could relate to her in a way they could not to Paris Hilton who was more Barbie like, despite the fact that Kim also grew up wealthy.

    As far as people clutching their pearls when Kim was on the cover of VOGUE I thought it made perfect sense. She is American culture. The culture hasn’t been high brow or even appreciated high brow in decades. The days of artists like Jackson Pollock being on the cover of mainstream magazines (he was on the cover of TIME) are long over.

    Trump is leading in the polls. That’s America.

    September 1, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Kim is definitely American culture (with a lower c), in line with the race to the lowest common denominator taking place pretty much everywhere (“veline” anyone?). Whether girls could relate to her looks (although, she was pretty skinny before she started enhancing her butt) might be a valid point – she was far from the unattainabe waspy blonde – but what baffles me is the lack of individuality. When you walk around Rome, do girls all look the same? Please tell me it isn’t so.

      September 1, 2015
      |Reply
  3. “From a marketing standpoint, I cannot help but admire the Kardashians. What a brilliant coup. From a cultural one, how sad” Couldn’t have said it any better.

    September 1, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Thank you. Although you and I might be entrenched in the minority.

      September 1, 2015
      |Reply
  4. Oh where to begin… I see this involuntary conformism every day with my fashion students. It has become almost impossible to bypass the obvious standards of beauty to find the alternative and quirky and interesting which great fashion design should address. When Riccardo Tisci hitched his wagon to Kim Kardashian and Karl Lagerfeld put Kendall Jenner on Chanel’s runway, I dismayed. Opportunists both of them, Hubert and Coco would be spinning in their graves, but as a fashion educator I had to wonder where do we/I go from here?!
    Still wondering…

    August 31, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      At least, on your teaching soapbox, you are in a position to influence. Maybe not the masses but if you even get through to three or six in every class, what an achievement. And I bet your students will be grateful to you twenty years from now.
      I find Kendall Jenner extremely bland, with even less of a point of view than her bigger sisters.

      September 1, 2015
      |Reply

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