It’s a Kimergency, y’all: Kim Kardashian has named a line of shapewear Kimono. Japanese kimonos are nothing like full-body fat flatteners. They’re imbued with cultural significance that Kardashian is ignoring for the purposes of a confusing pun. They’re no less than the sixth victim of Kim Kardashian’s kwest to kapitalize on kultures not her own. Naturally, people are pissed. You can watch the roast sizzle over at #KimOhNo, which is both a rallying cry for informed discussion about cultural appropriation and a better pun than Kim’s.
When Kardashian announced the line on Twitter this Tuesday, she wrote that Kimono is her “take on shapewear and on solutions for women that actually work.” (I wouldn’t describe girdling one’s haunches that way.) Almost immediately, the brand—and the fact the Kardashian has trademarked “Kimono”—sparked outrage, especially in Japan and among English speakers of Japanese descent. Though Kardashian has yet to acknowledge the backlash, she continues to tweet about the shapewear line, sunglasses, and concealer.
In her world, nothing is happening, and nothing will. Kardashian cultural appropriation scandals have been a mainstream talking point since at least 2014, when Khloé wore a Native American headdress to a Coachella-themed birthday party. Kim in particular has made headlines for the following: wearing cornrows (and calling them “boxer braids”), darkening her skin tone in promotional shots, dressing up as Aaliyah for Halloween, wearing Fulani braids (and calling them “Bo Derek braids”), and then wearing Fulani braids again.
Each time, many people came forward to express outrage, many others were outraged that people were outraged, and some people thoughtfully explained the problem: That the Kardashians were congratulated for wearing styles that originated with people of color, often the same styles that people of color are discriminated against for wearing. Personally, I find a white woman dressing up as Aaliyah to be borderline here, but Kardashian’s apology for it was truly cringeworthy: “We don’t see color in my home.” Her apologies have always been minimal and unsatisfying. If she was going to learn, she wouldn’t be a “Bo Derek braid” recidivist. But, like every other influencer’s, her periods of cancelation are brief. Next week, people will be clamoring for more KKW Beauty products, if indeed they ever stopped.
What’s encouraging about the response to Kimono is that anyone responds at all, and that people get a little better at productive discussion with each new gaffe. When regular people appropriate other cultures, their peer group often doesn’t include a member of the culture they’re appropriating. I dressed up as a Native American for Halloween when I was 8, and nobody in my mostly white suburban neighborhood told me that was wrong. The harm I was doing was abstract, felt by people who lived miles away and to whom I or my close relations had never spoken. Because Kim Kardashian’s platform is enormous and mostly digital, you can see the hurt right in front of you. It’s there, articulate and specific and real, on Twitter and in the comments section. Every Kim Kardashian cultural appropriation scandal is a teachable moment. Not for her, but for everyone who has ever Googled her name.
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