Last night in San Francisco, Kim Kardashian took part in Commonwealth Club’s progressive interview series Inforum, engaging in a live conversation ranging in topics from her new selfies book, Selfish, to the objectification of women.
People protested the event on the Facebook page of the public affairs forum, calling out the non-profit for promoting a celebrity they deigned to be too superficial for the speaker series — events in the coming days include Peace Corps volunteers evacuated from Guinea after the ebola crisis and a pair of Alzheimer’s researchers. People posted outraged messages like “Vote with your membership [sic] this is nuts!” and “Commonwealth Club, you just sold your soul!” Similarly, earlier this month, prickly radio listeners vowed to stop pledging their support for NPR’s Wait Wait. . .Don’t Tell Me! after the game show invited the reality star on air. But when you have 94 million social media followers, the Number One app in the Apple Store and hordes of young female fans in skyscraper heels lined up outside the Castro Theatre, you’re not gonna sweat through your bronzer about a programming backlash.
Kardashian hadn’t even heard about these Kontroversies in the first place. When her interviewer for the evening, retired judge and independent police auditor LaDoris Cordell, asked her point blank why there was such a furor surrounding her NPR and Inforum appearances, she seemed genuinely unaware that she’d created a stir. “I don’t really know — and I don’t care,” she said, to which the crowd cheered enthusiastically. By that point, she had already explained that she ignores bad press these days. “I used to look at every comment, everything,” she admitted. “My husband taught me not to care, to be confident.”
The thing is, Kardashian doesn’t speak to an audience that segments its serious news from its lifestyle obsessions with such rigid boundaries. She’s become an icon for a digitally connected demographic for which everything is fluid, including the lines between A-list celebrity and regular ol’ Keeping Up With the Kardashians viewer. Fans yelled out fervent proclamations of love and encouragement all night, occasionally turning the interview into a group conversation: When Kardashian couldn’t remember the name of her favorite San Francisco restaurant, an audience member shouted, “Cotogna!”
Cordell asked Kardashian to please break down how, exactly, she’s gotten so damn popular, and she answered, “My career is based on openness and honesty.” Translation: Whether her fans follow her endless selfie stream on Instagram, attempt virtual fame with her game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood or pay a VIP premium for a 10-second book signing with the Selfish author at the Castro Theatre, she makes them feel like the walls between them could vanish at any point. Kardashian talked about the different superfans with whom she’s connected IRL, including a young woman named Myleeza who went from randomly tweeting at her at a Kanye show to being the lucky recipient of an upcoming birthday visit from Kim herself. “I’m having dinner with her in August,” Kardashian explained. “I’m flying to New Orleans to see her. I love her energy. I love following her.”
Beyond her bubbly demeanor, Kardashian’s mega-stardom also stems from having ongoing conversations with the public about her (sorta) private insecurities. Case in point: This is a woman who is unafraid to talk up her Spanx habit. Multiple times. Although now that she has a little boy on the way, she said she’s switched to “pregnancy Spanx.” Not the kind that push the baby in, mind you, but the kind that “hide cellulite,” she explained.
On a more serious slant, the Spanx talk just underscored the body image issues Kardashian (who says she’ll photograph herself 30 times to find the right selfie) still battles due to cultural pressure to be a stick-skinny female. She revealed that she’s gone from being horrified by her curvy figure as a kid to taking more photos of that body and booty than any paparazzi. “I posted a photo of myself at age 14 where I was a C or D bra size,” she said. “I used to sit in the bathtub and pray that I would stop developing. At the time I was mortified.” (It didn’t help that her sister Kourtney relentlessly teased her about her figure.) Fast forward two decades and she’s breaking the Internet by flaunting her oiled up backside on a controversial cover for Paper magazine — a photo shoot she said helped her gain back some curves confidence after the birth of her daughter North.
The question of who controls images of celebrity women is a tricky one, and Cordell asked Kardashian if she believes the media objectifies women. “Absolutely,” she replied. “But if you have the power, you can take that power and put out there what you want people to look at.” She admitted that the hundreds of selfies collected in Selfish also objectify her body, but she added, “That’s not a bad thing. I took them, I like them, and there’s power in that.”