*This piece is strictly opinion based*
The above photos are screenshots taken by me of Kylie Jenner’s photoshoot with Steven Klein for Interview Magazine. The full interview with Kylie Jenner, conducted by Interview Magazine‘s Senior Editor, Chris Wallace, is available here. For coherence and context, kindly read the interview, before proceeding with this article.
78-year-old Allen Jones is a British pop artist, known for his paintings, sculptures, and lithography. Jenner’s latest photoshoot with Steven Klein, is based on Jones’s 1969 sculptured piece titled, Chair.
According to Jones, “because these 3 sculptures of women are recognizably representational it is less obvious that the sculpture is not about being naturalistic. They are not so much about representing woman but the experience of woman, not an illusion.” The key word being ‘illusion.’ This idea of an illusion, a pre-conceived notion and belief of a certain way one should be, one can be, and one is. Whether that one is an individual, place, or thing. The idea of a woman, as Jones signified, being more of a doll-like character, used and within that use, sexualized and objectified, is one that is a real life experience for many, if not all, women. This has a relation to Jenner and is possibly why Klein chose Chair, as the inspiration for the photoshoot. The underlying problem I have, is that Jenner, although made to be who she is as a result of her surroundings and occupation, cannot compare her struggles, to that of the average woman. Especially, the average woman with a disability [referencing Jenner pictured in a wheelchair].
As explained by Jenner herself in the interview with Interview Magazine;
WALLACE: Well, here we are talking about how you’re experimenting to try to find yourself—and I don’t mean just you, I think we all are—and then here is this thing where you can’t really color too far outside of the lines, right? It’s like steering a really, really big ship. You can’t just make quick turns; there’s a whole process to what you’re posting. Do you feel limited by that, or is the platform itself totally worth it?
JENNER: I feel limited in some ways because I have such young fans. But I’m okay with that; I do everything I want to do.
Celebrities are consistently under the microscope – having every element of their lives, character, and especially their appearances, hacked at, judged, and recreated. We see this recreation done through such acts as meme-ing, photoshopping, and parodies. Jenner’s experience of growth under the microscope is no different from that of other child stars, though many view the life of a Kardashian, as one that is a choice. To an extent, their life is a choice. The Kardashians choose to have a television show that places them on the map 24/7, the Kardashians also choose to have media attention (often calling on the paparazzi themselves), and, the Kardashians choose to act in such rebellious ways, placing them on headlines [like this, this, and this]. Excluding their rebellious acts (not really rebellious but racist, ignorant, culturally appropriative, etc.), the Kardashians, like all celebrities, deserve the same level of respect you would give to your fellow being. This, of course, is rather utopic seeing as we rate celebrities and opinion leaders (arguably the same group) on a higher scale than we do our day-to-day beings. Jenner’s expression of feeling limited is one that we should pay attention to. But, yet again, we see Jenner, like her fellow Kardashians, appropriating the pain and struggle of another, to express her bourgeois/white tears. Back in 2011, the WHO reported “More than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability.” A disability, never as glamourized as we see by Klein/Jenner, and a disability, certainly, not comparable to the feeling of ‘limitation’ due to being a public figure. As Jenner is easily able to sit in that wheelchair, an act being done for profit and exposure, and then easily get up and walk around, retreating to her normal life, the other one billion demographic of the world, are unable to do so. The wheelchair being used by Jenner is not hers and she is able to leave its weight, behind. This enactment of an appropriation of pain to express the pseudo sentiments of the bourgeois is one that Jenner, and many like her, emphasize.
48-year-old Bjarne Melgaard, is a Norwegian artist known, mostly, for his rendition of Jones’ Chair. The images were originally posted on Buro 24/7, and since then were “taken out of context.” Things got especially bad when Russian socialite, art promoter, and editor of Garage magazine, Dasha Zhukova, posted an image of herself sitting on top of the sculptor (seen above). There, of course, are heartbreaking and offensive racial and gender implications from such an image. Zhukova later explained, “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an art work intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics…I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image.” The sentiments, although good at heart, are nowhere to be seen in terms of proof. The original interview that featured the image can be seen here [with the sculpture cut out]. After translating the page to English, it was clear to see that there was no mention in regards to the image, and no mention of race, racism, and its ties with gender. Zhukova did not bring the image’s deep rooted implications to light and so again, we see an appropriation of pain, to express pseudo sentiments, by the bourgeois. Additionally, it was only last year that this controversy happened, and irregardless of its relevance to Jenner’s pseudo pain(s), the elephant question must be asked. In her interview with Interview Magazine, why is there no true discussion of the photoshoot, its meaning, its relatability to Jenner’s life, and a discussion around Melgaard’s rendition. No surprise, Jenner, again, dismisses the opportunity to discuss real issues. So it begs yet another question. What on Earth is Jenner talking about in this interview, besides complaining that she gets too much attention?
THE BLAMING OF CONSUMERS FOR THE PAIN(S) OF THE UPPER CLASS
WALLACE: I’m sort of fascinated by the way your business works, because every part of your life seems to be fodder for the app or the social networks. Is there ever a time where the cameras aren’t rolling? Do you ever have private time, a private place for yourself that’s beyond the reach of work and Snapchat?
JENNER: Probably just my off days. I think it’s fine and I make it work. I like spending time with my friends. It really brings me back to the real world. I’ll be working a lot and traveling and come back and just, like, hang out with my friends. I feel like if I didn’t have these friends that I pretty much grew up with and have known from before I was as big as I am, I wouldn’t be as grounded and as normal. They hold on to a piece of me, and if I lost them, I feel like I’d lose a little bit of myself.
WALLACE: Do you have a secret interior world? Is there a whole side of you that we don’t know about?
JENNER: [laughs] There is absolutely a side of me that people don’t know. I’m not myself on Snapchat or Instagram. That’s totally not me. I’m way flashier on Instagram and Snapchat, because I feel like that’s what people want to see and that’s what I’ve always done, so I’m not going to stop. People want to see my cars and my purses. People love fashion. But that’s so not me.
WALLACE: And who is the real you? If you didn’t have to feed those timelines, what would you rather be doing?
JENNER: I would probably just never dress up. I would never wear makeup, because I honestly hate wearing makeup. Lately, I’ve just been so over it. I feel like I’m way too young to wear such heavy makeup all the time. It’s just bad for your skin, but I’m always doing photo shoots or red carpets and events, so I just obviously want to look good. And I don’t know, I like hiking. I used to do a lot of hiking when I wasn’t as busy. I had a lot of anxiety when I was younger, so I would just run to this hill path in the back of my mom’s house and listen to Jack Johnson. I would listen to Jack Johnson and stare at the sky until my anxiety went away. When I was 16, I was always outside. We always watched the sunset, the group that I was friends with.
Above are excerpts from the Jenner interview on Interview Magazine. Throughout the interview Jenner speaks on her love for experimenting with her looks. She states that she is young and is just trying to figure out who she really is. Something we all have and continue to do but, we do not all have millions of dollars at our disposal. I found myself resettling in my seat as I read that, cringing at what her younger fans are believing. The truth is, Jenner’s experience with experimentation, is vastly different from a normal individual’s idea of experimentation. A statement worth noting.
Additionally, Jenner speaks on this disconnection with the real world. Jenner speaks on feeling disconnected from what she defines as the ‘real’ world and it made me wonder what that meant to her. Living in Calabasas (a gated neighbourhood) surrounded predominantly by other higher/upper class individuals, and driving in a Mercedes, cannot really qualify as what is ‘real.’ Of course, what is real to me, depends on what my own lived experiences are. Speaking from my own perspective, the life of the rich, are not real. This is not bad, nor an insult, but merely a statement of fact. The ability to purchase in abundance and live in excess is not real because the majority of the world, does not live in such a manner. This way of living is created and crafted. This is why it shocks me to feel that Jenner seems to blame those who consume her lifestyle, herself, her image, and her products, for her need to retreat back to a normal life. She states that she dislikes wearing makeup but wants to look ‘good.’ She describes this pressure to be the absolute icon for materialism and it seems that she blames us, the consumers. A blame that is partially true.
The consumers are at fault so much as that we tell celebrities what we want through what we consume. When celebrities fail to meet our standards, we often neglect them. Although, arguably, in most recent times, we prefer alternative celebrities who are socially aware and educated. Nevertheless, we have our standards and demand they be met. But, these standards are subconsciously placed by the media and advertisements. We are not the game makers and although we partake slightly in the game’s design, we do not have a monopoly on what you do, say, and appear to be. Jenner has every right and possibility to be who she truly is, adopting an aesthetic like that of Lorde or Lupita Nyong’o. The ability and choice to be who you are is one that is being praised currently. Just as the ability and choice to be socially conscious, racially aware, and respectful of other cultures, is.
AN ANALYSIS OF KLEIN X JENNER
A Step By Step Analysis
Keeping in mind that these images are inspired by Allen Jones and the lived experiences of women, and that I am offering my own analysis on these images, we can proceed.
At first this image might appear to be one putting Jenner in the power position. We see her pictured above the white male with her heels firmly pressed against the mat and the male’s palms to the mat. Speaking on the juxtaposition of Jenner’s heels versus the males hands, Jenner’s heels are firmly placed on the mat but the male’s hands appear to be barely gripping the mat. Although on hands and knees, dressed in a suit and sunglasses [sunglasses shielding any expression of emotion, adding a sense of mystery and uncertainty], the male appears to effortlessly hold Jenner. In need of his support to lean on, we still see the dichotomy between the male and female where the female still requires the help of a male, to remain standing. If this were the Bechdel Test, I would think this failed. On the flip side, we also see the dehumanization of the male as Jenner appears to literally be riding him like a horse. Like riding on a saddle, Jenner’s hands are placed on the back of the male to keep her upright and not falling off. Another possible hint at the female needing the male to remain standing and upright. In this case, she is seated, unlike the firmness of standing. But, back to the male. The male is her ride to and from her destination. Feminism, often can be mistaken in mainstream culture to mean the debasing of men. Jennifer Lopez used a similar rhetoric in her music video for I Luh Ya Papi. Although we seek to be treated equally as men, the debasing and dehumanizing of men is not the solution to equality. A clear example can be explained through the most recent movie from The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part Two. If you have seen it, you will understand what I mean.
Then, on to the shape of Jenner. Often in advertising, we see parts of the bodies of women hacked at and left alone. Jean Kilbourne very eloquently explains this. We see, both highlighted in the background, and highlighted on Jenner herself, the outline of her body, the shape of her body, especially her breasts and abs, being thrust forward. Illuminating as though this is the most desired piece of the image. As if we must chase this piece and part of the image, like we chase gold and all things that shine. Lest we forget how bourgeois Jenner’s hairstyle is. We see the ideal of the Nordic woman, yet again, put on the front line. We see the trimming of women’s bodies and features [using cheek tape on Jenner’s cheeks], to trim down women themselves. Now, there is nothing wrong with makeup. The issue is the reoccurring theme within this idealization, of a linear form of beauty that cuts down and dehumanizes women.
Jenner’s facial expression can also be called into question. Jenner appears to be unsure, or not even aware of, what she is doing. As with the undertone in her interview where she explains that the Jenner we see is not who she really is and she is just ‘experimenting.’ Setting aside my previous analysis, the costume design, hair, and makeup, [especially the tape] is just another expression of that experimentation and also a nod towards Jones’s original design.
As you can see, there is a lot to be said and understood from just this image. Very fascinating really.
The infantilization of women, as well as the sexualization of food, is a reoccurring problem in media and advertising. Infantilization is basically when you take a woman and give her child like features in order to add an element of innocence and youth to her, and as a result, sexualizing children. This was also seen in Selena Gomez’s photo shoot for V Magazine this year.
Aspects of infantilization would be a bigger head than the body (child like), big eyes, partaking in child like activities, child like accessories, etc. Jenner appears with the ice-cream cone. I would view this as a form on infantilization, portrayed amongst her latex assortment and hair. Women are meant to be experienced but a virgin, and sexy but innocent. An embodiment that is utterly impossible. Again, we see with Jenner, her breasts being highlighted. The continuation of the appraisal of the body parts of women, but not the women themselves.
The sexualization of food is also seen here. As Jean Kilbourne mentions in her documentary, Killing Us Softly 4, we are “encouraged to feel passion for products but not partners.” Advertisements show models drooling over the sight of food, personifying food, making sexual gestures and moans at the thought, sight, taste, and feel, of food. Most of the time, it is with junk food. We see an overconsumption of food as well as the promotion to partake in an over consumption of food. This is done by models who, for the most part, cannot partake in the over consumption of junk food.
This would tie into pornography and the sad belief (and reality) that sex sells. As Kilbourne mentions in KUS4, the increasing sexualization of children, this allowance of the sexualization without education on sex, this juvenile approach to sex, and trivialization of sex, tells those who view it that sex is the only thing that matters and that sex only belongs to the young and beautiful. Additionally, it makes those who partake or view this hyper-sexualization within our culture believe that it leads to inevitable success. In the case of Jenner having grown up in such a dominated culture of media, entertainment, and sexualization within this culture, it told her from a young age that her sexualization, and that of her sisters, has rewards. In turn, she took on an internal sense of sexualization.
The flip side of this argument would be that she is now 18-years-old and is allowed to do with her body what she wishes. But, we have been seeing similar images prior to this. It is interesting to analyze Hollywood’s obsession with the magic number 18.
Here is an image I find particularly interesting. Both Jenner’s hands and feet, are being bound by materials. A possible relation to how Jenner’s feels towards materialism, but also a nod at consumer habits, especially towards women. Why especially towards women? The shoes. Women are thought to be obsessed with materials and especially, shoes. A sad stereotype. Or good [depending on who you are]. Jenner’s eye line is also interesting. Tying to materialism, her eyes appear focused on the shoes in front of her with desire. She appears to be confused about her desire for the shoes in front of her.
We see skin being the concept of desire as well. The ability to touch. All parts of Jenner’s body are covered except her stomach and her ass as she is bent over and appears to be pinned against the box. This unsettling and unstable appearance of women in advertising is not new. Women are placed in positions of weakness and bent over or put in awkward positions [rarely ever power positions]. Being bent over as she is, Jenner is in a vulnerable state.
CONCLUSION: WHAT IS THE KYLIE JENNER COMPLEX?
There are other photos I could analyze but these three were my main focuses. My conclusions are that:
(1) Kylie Jenner is a smart girl. I do not think turning eighteen means you are a woman. I do not think turning eighteen should be reason for hyper-sexualization.
(2) Kylie Jenner is under a lot of pressure and stress but should rely the blame on her consumers but rather her management and in part herself and those around her. Why do you feel the need to be what you are? I would hope that the presence of Lorde and Lupita, Angelina Jolie and Kendrick, J Cole and Viola Davis, would teach (or inspire) Jenner, to be more of her true self.
(3) Kylie Jenner also needs to partake in the learning of the issues (social, political, and economical) occurring worldwide. The respect of other cultures is important also. We see a dominant theme of sex within these photos but as an eighteen-year-old “adult,” being an adult does not stop at your appearance of desirability. What do you know? Who do you help? What do you stand for? Who do you respect? Do you only respect what you know or do you seek information on what you do not know?
The Kylie Jenner complex is the obsession Hollywood has, with the sexualization of young women, and then the internalized sexualization young women partake in. This enactment of self sexualization and objectification (different from sexual liberation), is done by young women like Jenner because they are taught that this is a form of revenue and a key to success. The Kylie Jenner complex is this pressure placed on young women, especially young women in the spotlight, to continuously conform and recreate themselves, at any means and any consequence, necessary. The Kylie Jenner complex is growing up entirely under the bourgeois lifestyle and microscope and being so out of touch with reality, that you are able to compare your bourgeois struggles or ‘limitation’ to that of people who are disabled and battling a real limitation. The Kylie Jenner complex, is white privilege.
Thank you for reading.