Back in 2013, when I was working at a now-defunct women’s fashion news website, I began to notice the sudden uptick in famous women calling themselves feminists. We, the editorial team, would have regular meetings to discuss goings-on in the fashion industry and suddenly, that spring, the F word was everywhere. More than fringing, more than futuristic, definitely more than fur. To be relevant in fashion five years ago, a celebrity – a model or a designer or an actor or a whoever – had to declare themselves a feminist.
Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman had been published in 2011 – and the smart, funny, forthright and accessible feminism it espoused encouraged hundreds of thousands of women to start calling themselves feminists. As early as 2012, BuzzFeed was rounding up celebrities who did not call themselves feminists – in August of that year, it published 6 Famous Women Who Say They’re Not Feminists, pointing the finger at a varied bunch, including Melissa Leo, Björk and Demi Moore. By the end of 2012, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had delivered her hugely influential We Should All Be Feminists Ted Talk – and by early spring 2013, Beyoncé had sampled it on ***Flawless.
I remember being in a meeting discussing the supermodel Cara Delevingne. “She’s spoken out about her feminism,” I said. My boss raised a cynical eyebrow. “What’s she been doing?” she asked. “Volunteering at her local women’s refuge?”
It will be interesting to see whether we, the women of the internet, will stop tying ourselves in knots to congratulate women on being feminists for any little thing
Around this time, Kim Kardashian was newly in fashion, too. She had been mega-famous for a while – the reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians had been running since 2007 – but in 2012, she began dating Kanye West and the pair set their ambitions on the fashion industry, positioning themselves as a fashion power couple, outfitted by Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy. By April 2014, they were on the cover of American Vogue.
It was a bit of an upset for some in the fashion industry, who considered her almost below fashion but Kim had been anointed by Anna Wintour herself – and it so it was official. As soon as she was declared fashionable, the questions about her feminism arose.
And while Kim kept her public guessing– she wrote in 2016 that she was not a feminist; in 2017 she told Harpers Bazaar Arabia that she was “a feminist in her soul”; in 2018, she released a feminist emoji set to celebrate International Women’s Day – plenty of us were more than happy to declare her a feminist. Kim earned her own money! Kim refused to be slut-shamed over nude pictures! Kim said the word vagina on TV! Therefore, Kim was a feminist.
This week, though, Kim promoted an “appetite-suppressant lollipop” on her Instagram, sharing an image of her sucking a lollipop to her 111 million followers with a caption that read: “#ad You guys… @flattummyco just dropped a new product. They’re Appetite Suppressant Lollipops and they’re literally unreal. They’re giving the first 500 people on their website 15% OFF so if you want to get your hands on some… you need to do it quick! #suckit.” She had previously used her platform to hawk weight-loss teas but there was something about the lollipop, lurid and sexualised, that caught the attention – and ire – of the internet. Her irresponsible suggestion that fans starve themselves, that they forgo food in favour of a sickly chemical sweet, was quickly rounded on.
In The Independent, Vix Meldrew wrote a piece titled: “I once followed and supported Kim Kardashian – but after her promotion of appetite suppressants, I can't pretend she's a feminist any longer”.
It will be interesting to see whether Kardashian will be affected by the controversy. And whether we, the women of the internet, will stop tying ourselves in knots to congratulate women on being feminists for any little thing.
Back in 2013, my colleagues and I worried that by becoming a trend, feminism could fall out of fashion in the future. Actually, its public image has gone from strength and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, feminism was declared 2017 Word Of The Year by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But it’s not worth much if the word doesn’t mean anything beyond “being a woman”. There will always be an argument about whether feminism should be social or individualistic – should feminists seek to overthrown the entire patriarchal system or should they work on securing individual gains?
Either way, though, feminism should feel charged, dangerous – and I don’t mean in a sickly appetitite-supressing lolly way.