Thursday 22 August 2019

The bottom line is that Kim Kardashian is a woman of substance

Kim Kardashian has stolen the headlines again but her critics still can't give her credit, writes Sophie Donaldson

MERCY ME: Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump in the Oval Office
MERCY ME: Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump in the Oval Office
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Last Monday night, celebrated names descended on the Brooklyn Museum in New York for an event colloquially known as the Fashion Oscars. The Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards is the most prestigious back-slapping, air-kissing awards ceremony in the industry. It bestows honours such as Womenswear Designer of the Year (Raf Simons for Calvin Klein), Accessory Designer of the Year (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) and Fashion Icon (Naomi Campbell).

This year, a new award was created: the Influencer Award. The accolade (that could turn out to be a one-off, according to the CFDA's president Steven Kolb) wasn't what prompted murmurings of discontent in the wider fashion industry. Rather, it was who the award was given to. It seems that no matter how many trends she shapes, how many fans and followers she attracts and the ever-growing scale of her many businesses, people are still unwilling to accept that Kim Kardashian West wields any influence over the population at large, least of all the fashion industry.

Despite the vacuous façade, there is little doubt she is all too aware of her detractors. While accepting her award, Kardashian quipped she was "kind of shocked that I'm winning a fashion award when I'm naked most of the time".

While the audience gave an appreciative chuckle, the wider reaction wasn't quite so jocular. After model Winnie Harlow posted a celebratory Instagram tribute in which she described Kardashian as "inspiring women around the world to be themselves unapologetically", Vogue cover girl Adwoa Aboah demanded to know "in what world has she inspired women to be themselves? She is no icon nor an Influencer".

That was on Tuesday, but by Wednesday, Aboah may well have been tempted to eat her words. A few days before the CFDA Awards, Kardashian took a surprise visit to the White House where she met President Trump. Their meeting was intended to raise the issue of prison reform, specifically highlighting the case of 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, who had been serving a life sentence without parole since 1996 for a non-violent drugs-related crime.

While scrolling through her Twitter feed, Kardashian happened upon a viral video in which Johnson tearfully spoke about her situation. For the past seven months, Kardashian has paid Johnson's legal fees while using her platform to highlight what is widely considered to be an extreme punishment for the crime committed. After "reaching out" to Ivanka Trump, Kardashian was put in touch with her husband, Jared Kushner, and negotiated a trip to the White House to plead for clemency on behalf of Johnson.

The New York Times reported that Obama commuted the sentences of 1,715 prisoners while in office, while the Trump administration has reversed policies put in place by Obama to encourage lenient sentencing for non-violent drug offences. Trump has only turned his attention to "a few high-profile cases" and it would seem that his penchant for fame and flash couldn't resist the most high profile of cases, not to mention the photo opportunity.

After Tweeting a photo of himself and Kardashian in the Oval Office (Kardashian looking serious in a black blazer, Trump grinning hungrily at the camera) he got down to business. Within the week, Johnson's sentence was commuted and she was released last Wednesday.

The rather extraordinary result offers a sliver of hope for the 3,000 prisoners in American prisons serving similarly harsh sentences for non-violent crimes. At the same time, it paints a dysfunctional picture of a democratic government whose dastardly policies apply not to all, just to the unlucky few. For Ann Marie Johnson, who turned 63 on the day she was released, Kardashian's influence on her own life is immeasurable.

If any other self-made businesswoman achieved what Kardashian did last week, there would have been endless accolades. She would have slayed, been labelled as a queen and a boss, for not only earning recognition from the industry she has worked hard to enter but also inciting real social and political change. And yet, we can't seem to get past that bottom.

Yes, she has legions of fans that have made her so famous, but equally, there will always be a cavalcade of voices who seem determined to have her remembered only for the questionable choices she made as a young woman.

Not that she seems to mind. Speaking to CNN, she said that just because she had achieved a result for Johnson, "it doesn't mean we are going to stop here."

Whether she will continue to advocate for prison reform is not yet clear, but perhaps she might go one step further. Kim K for 2020? It could be just the thing to convince the people she has both style and substance.

Sunday Independent

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