It was the bikini shot heard around the world, and Khloe Kardashian’s attempt to take down an unedited photo brought more attention to the image she projects.
A poolside photo of the reality star began to circulate last week but also quickly started to disappear after Kardashian exerted copyright powers to have it removed from posts across the internet. Kardashian, 36, addressed her desire to remove the photo in a post Thursday, expressing “unbearable” body image issues.
“You never quite get used to being judged and pulled apart and told how unattractive one is, but I will say, if you hear anything enough then you start to believe it,” Kardashian said. “This is an example of how I have been conditioned to feel, that I am not beautiful enough just being me.”
But for someone from a family that profits off an idealized image of women — promoting flat-tummy teas, appetite suppressant lollipops and selling shapewear and collagen supplements — Kardashian’s critics said she missed a chance for personal accountability.
It was genuinely refreshing to see an unedited image of Kardashian, but her insistence on erasing it from the internet sent the message that a natural body is shameful, Meg Kardasz, 25, said.
Kardasz, who lives in the United Kingdom, believes that by altering her appearance in the images she posts, Kardashian only contributed to a dangerous cycle.
“She shouldn’t be subjected to those criticisms — nobody should, whether you’re famous or not, nobody should be subjected to those words in that criticism and that pressure,” Kardasz said. “But at the end of the day, she does need to hold herself accountable for the images that she puts out. She has a control to change the narrative.”
Beyond the Kardashians, celebrities and influencers should be more transparent in what they post, Kardasz said. Most people don’t have the privilege of on-call nutritionists, private chefs, plastic surgeons and personal trainers to help them conform to the beauty standards being displayed.
“They try and portray it as, ‘oh well I’m just naturally like this,’ but there’s so much going on behind the scenes that they don’t talk about,” Kardasz said. “And at the end of the day, no real person is ever going to be able to achieve that because we can’t dedicate the time and money that they do to that purpose.”
Natalie Peikoff, a psychotherapist who specializes in body image and eating disorders, says body image struggles have increased during the pandemic. The “comparison game” has been at an all-time high as people remain isolated, connecting through social media and video calls.
How can people not be affected by highly edited, curated images while consuming them on social media at an alarming rate, Peikoff said.
“We can be so image-literate … know in our right, logical mind that that is not realistic, while also still being affected by it because, of course, we are,” Peikoff said. “We live in this world that idealizes smaller bodies, and it also treats people in smaller bodies, better than it treats people in larger bodies.”
Everyone is a victim of diet culture and the way fatphobia has become ingrained in society, Peikoff said. Kardashian has spent more than a decade trying to conform to the idealized image she was held to, only to have the criticism move to pushing her to be more natural, Peikoff said.
“Of course she’s trying to avoid the shame that she’s felt, and so that’s where I have this … compassion for her and I feel sad for her, right,” Peikoff said, “But then I also think that she has this position of power where she can sort of say, “Wow, I’m going to be honest about what it’s like to live in my body, and I’m going to show up in it and I’m going to say, Yeah it’s flawed nand yeah I’m bigger than my sisters, and guess what? That’s OK.’”
Vianne Kelly, 23, of San Pedro, California, did feel bad for Kardashian, acknowledging that life in the spotlight made her a constant target, but also felt that the reality star’s privilege made it difficult to understand her critics.
“If it was like my ideal perfect world, I would have seen more of a like, ‘I hear you all … or I see and understand that we shouldn’t shame our natural bodies,’” Kelly said. “These are the bodies we have, they are beautiful.”
Kelly responded to Kardashian’s statement on Twitter, saying that Kardashian had failed to take accountability for all the ways she edits herself and that her behavior works to “stigmatize natural beauty.”
Kardashian still has room to change and grow, Kelly says. In a world where there’s a lot of stigma around mental health and privilege, she understood Kardashian’s defensiveness.
“I hear you that this is the you you want us to see, but we know what a natural body looks like, we know what a natural face looks like,” Kelly said. “And it’s fine to put on makeup, it’s fine to look how you want, it’s just the transparency aspect really does matter.”