‘You inspire me to be hot and famous’: how Kim Kardashian became a teen idol

Kim Kardashian personifies Americas preoccupations with celebrities and social media and young girls cant get enough, writes Nancy Jo Sales in her new book American Girls

At the Barnes& Noble on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in May of 2015, Kim Kardashian was launching her latest book, Selfish, a collection of selfies and nudes.

It was more than 400 pages of Kim staring into the camera, pursing her lips, seeming sultry and suggestive. It was Kim, naked in a bedroom mirror, clutching her naked breasts, leaning naked over a bathroom sink, sticking her famous behind up in the air; Kim leaning naked over a bed in the grainy darknes, Kim in lingerie and bathing suits, lounging beside electric blue swimming pools, doing leg shots.

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, said a 13 -year-old girl waiting in the line snaking through the store.

There were pictures of Kim from 2006, when she was still an LA party girl and friend of Paris Hilton, to 2014, after she had become one of the most famous women in the world. In those eight years, which had insured the introduction of smartphones in 2007 and the global spread of social media through mobile technology, Kim had become social medias biggest superstar. In 2006, she had just 856 adherents on MySpace where she announced in her profile, Im a PRINCESS and youre not so there! and now, she had 61.5 million adherents on Instagram. She had 34 million adherents on Twitter , where she posted more selfies daily, the majority of members of which get tens of thousands of favorites and retweets.

I love her, said another daughter in the store.

A photo from 2006 of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. Then, she had just 856 adherents on MySpace. Today, she has 61.5 million adherents on Instagram

What was the meaning of Kim Kardashian? Why was she here, and why wouldnt she run? Why did anyone care about her, and how had she become so ubiquitous? Throughout the years of her ascendance, people had been trying to figure this out. Some seemed furious at her success, which in 2015 included Tv displays, endorsement bargains, makeup, fragrances, clothing lines, one of the most popular of all mobile apps in which a Kim avatar presented you how to become as famous as she and a net worth of $85 m. Still, she was called vain, shallow, frivolous, egotistical, materialistic, and many other more vulgar insults in endless media pieces and online rantings.

I have never heard more anger and discouragement than when we announced that the people you are about to see were on our list, Barbara Walters told viewers before airing a segment on the Kardashian family in her 10 Most Fascinating People show of 2011. You are all often described as famous for being famous, Walters leveled at sisters Kim, Khlo, Kourtney, and their mom Kris, who sat before her in sleek couture. You dont actually act, you dont dance, you dont sing, you dont have any forgive me any talent.

The Kardashians tried, in their mild way, but they couldnt quite seem to explain to Walters, who had come of age at a different period, that this was actually the phase talent didnt matter much in becoming famous anymore. Or perhaps what served as talent had transformed. It was now enough to know how to become famous strictly to the purposes of renown.

Shes amazing, said another daughter in Barnes& Noble.

The Kardashians, a family of American daughters, had come upon the scene, swept forward by the garment of Princess Kim, in a kind of perfect cultural storm: there was the fascination with renown that had always danced at the edges of American identity, and now, with the explosion of a celebrity news industry fueled by internet blogs and TMZ, had taken over the aspirational yearns of the young. A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 51% of 18-to-25 year olds said their most or second-most important life aim was to become famous. 64% said their first or second aim was to become rich.

A girl waiting in line for Kim said, I want her life.

There was reality television, which stoked a thirst for more and more intimate details of the lives of celebrities and newly minted reality demonstrate stars. And there was princess culture. For a generation of daughters raised on the Disney corporations multi-billion dollar line of princess products, the five sisters of Keeping Up With the Kardashians were real-life princesses who lived in a Calabasas, California, palace, unabashedly focused on the pursuit of beauty therapies, expensive fun and luxury brands. The latter is a national fixation spawned in the luxury revolution of the last thirty-something years, in which the majority of members of the wealth of the country traveled into the hands of a few, with the rest of the population seeming on longingly as the beneficiaries of a new Gilded Age flaunted their high-end stuff. And amusement media, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to Keeping Up With the Kardashians, provided them with ample opportunities to do just that.

For a generation of daughters raised on the Disney corporations multi-billion dollar line of princess products, the five sisters of Keeping Up With the Kardashians were real-life princesses who lived in a Calabasas, California, palace. Photograph: BFA/ REX/ Shutterstock

I get letters from little girls begging me to adopt them, Kim once told a reporter. The Kardashian lifestyle was the fulfillment of a new American dreaming which had been embraced by many girls and young women, unsurprisingly enough, at a time when everything around them supported it as an ideal: it was to be beautiful, famous, rich, have amazing clothes, suitcases and shoes and tens of millions of adherents on social media. It was to get tens or even hundreds of thousands of likes on all your selfies.

I want to take a selfie with her, a girl in Barnes& Noble said excitedly.

Behind the Kardashians lifestyle, there was a mom, but it wasnt Kim; it was Kris Jenner, Kims own mother and tireless director, who took 10% of all her daughters incomes. My undertaking is to take their own families 15 minutes of renown and turn it into 30, Kris once proclaimed. That her familys 15 minutes had begun with a leaked sex videotape of her daughter and the singer Ray J didnt seem to give her intermission; in fact, it was just after the release of the videotape that Kris started shopping her familys reality demonstrate, a move she likened to turning lemons into lemonade. The scandal that Paris Hilton had already suffered wasnt much of a scandal anymore. Porn superstars were writing best-selling volumes and appearing on Oprah. For the biggest, darkest cloud in the perfect storm that brought Kim Kardashian rising out of the ocean of wannabe celebrities like Venus on a flip telephone was the widespread intake and normalization of online porn. In 2014, PornHub reported in its Year In Review Kim was No 8 in the top 10 most searched porn superstars in the world.

The Kardashian lifestyle was the fulfillment of a new American dreaming: to be beautiful, famous, rich, have amazing clothes, suitcases and shoes and tens of millions of adherents on social media. Photograph: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/ French Select/ Getty Images

Kim, youre doing amazing, sweetie, Kris said in an iconic moment on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, in which Kim, naked except for jewelry and heels, is on her knees, arching her back and pose as a photographer snaps scenes as does Kris, with a little personal camera.

The moment is striking in its the representatives from another component of the cultural tempest that delivered us Kim: the hypersexualization of American girls and women.

Shes hot, said a boy waiting in line to see her.

Is Kim Kardashian a feminist role model? asked Jezebel in 2013. The website answered no and noooooooooooooooo. But already the worm of popular opinion was starting to turn. Kim was being touted as a businesswoman. She was being called powerful and didnt attaining power, any kind of power, by any means, make a woman a feminist? So blogs and think pieces argued. Was it Kims marriage to a powerful music industry player and self-described creative genius, Kanye West, or their joint appearance on the cover of Vogue in 2014 a nod from establishment media moving Kim on to the -Alist that began to mute her haters? Or was it that Kims true talent, her ability at employing social media the real secret of her success, all along was eventually being recognized for the power it commanded?

Something about Kim is very appealing to digital aborigines, Wall Street Journal tech columnist Kara Swisher told Rolling Stone in 2015. Yes; and that something was becoming very clear: Kim used the technological tools now available to almost everyone to get what everyone wanted. What shed been doing relentlessly since the introduction of smartphones and before , now everybody was doing employing social media to self-promote, to craft an idealized online ego; and girls coming of age in the second decade of the 21 st century were employing it to present a sexualized self.

My little cousin, shes 13, and she posts such inappropriate scenes on Instagram and boys post sexual comments, and shes like, Thank you. Its child porn, and everyones looking at it on their iPhones in the cafeteria, said a 17 -year-old girl in New York.

Presiding over the pornification of American life was Princess Kim, whod been crowned the Selfie Queen. Posting selfies, once thought to be embarrassingly narcissistic, was now as common as brushing ones teeth or putting on makeup, the subject of many of the selfies in Kims new book.

For the last and loudest thunderclap in this perfect storm, the precipitous rise of narcissism in the American subconsciou charted in studies since the 70 s, and accelerated by social media, according to some psychologists was glamorized in the image of a dewy, contoured Kim staring into her iPhone screen.

Slate called Selfish a masterpiece. The Atlantic, in a review entitled, You Win, Kim Kardashian, gushed: In proclaiming herself, against all common sense, as art, she mocks and dares and provokes. She rejects what went before. And with her candor about who she is and what it takes to stimulate her that way, she might also, against all odds, move us forward. Whatever that might mean.

At the Barnes& Noble in Manhattan, Kim, then 34, wore a tight, high-necked white lace dress, and glistening with products. She sat behind a table signing volumes for her hundreds of awaiting fans.

Youve inspired me to be hot and famous, a teenage daughter told her, blushing.

Aw, said Kim. I love you.

Though there had been a ban on selfies at the signing, Kim stood up and took a selfie with the girl. They posed together, staring into the girls smartphone, pursing their lips.

You are a role model for my daughters, said someones mother.

Excerpted from American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales. Copyright 2016 by Nancy Jo Sales. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduction or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher .

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