Kim Kardashian looks different these days. Her platinum waves, lighter tan, and possible cosmetic surgery reductions have publications speculating about “the end of the BBL era.”
For the 2022 Met Gala, she underwent an intensive diet to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s iconic 1962 gown. In early September, she posed in front of an American flag for Interview magazine’s “American Dream” issue.
Kim’s business dealings have undergone a makeover too: on September 7, Kim announced she is starting SKYY Partners, a private equity firm. In doing so, she joins several celebrities breaking into private equity such as Serena Williams, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Kim has previously established herself as an entrepreneur with high–value companies such as SKIMS shapewear, which was valued at over 3 billion dollars this year.
However, SKYY partners reflect Kim’s departure from the typical industries influencers are associated with—clothing and beauty—in favor of something far more exclusive. CNN Business writer Allison Morrow explains that many celebrities are attracted to the world of private equity because “like most things with ‘private’ in the name, this corner of the finance world is reserved for elite institutional investors or people with verrrrry deep pockets.”
It’s rational to ask, “So what? Kim can’t change how she looks?” and wonder how personal appearance and business ventures are related. But it’s unrealistic to believe that this personal rebranding is as innocuous as it may appear. For an influencer like Kim, image and branding is everything. People buy influencer–owned products and brand partnerships because they want to experience the lifestyle they see on their feeds. Kim’s shift to whiter beauty standards is an effort to be taken “more seriously”—an essential shift as SKYY Partners launches.
Kim, like the rest of the Kardashian clan, has long been accused of appropriating Black culture for her own gain. For example, she attempted to refashion Fulani braids as “Bo Derek” braids in 2018 and was accused of blackfishing in an ad for KKW Beauty a year earlier. Even as recently as February 2022, some thought that Kim’s Vogue cover shared a few too many similarities to other looks from Black women such as Beyonce and Naomi Campbell.
In the past few months, however, Kim has dropped many of the Black aesthetics that she had previously co–opted and claimed as her own. Instagram creator @darkest.hue posted about Kim’s changing aesthetic in July to her over 120,000 followers. In addition to pointing out physical changes, she noted three strategic image changes from Kim: “Playing white savior to Black people, publicly dating a quirky white man [Pete Davidson], and distancing herself from baby mama stigma.”
Other stars have made a similar career move: borrowing from Black culture, then abandoning it when it no longer serves them. Awkwafina took a similar route when she began her career as a rapper and comedian, often using prolific AAVE and a blaccent, such as for her character Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians. After starring in the critically–acclaimed film The Farewell, Awkwafina’s public persona shifted from the comedic to one of a more “serious” actress. Once she became a Golden Globes winner and Critic’s Choice nominee, people were quick to point out the way her blaccent faded away.
Though Awkwafina has claimed that she simply grew up around Blackness in Queens, her neighborhood of Forest Hills was 2.2 percent Black in 2000, dropping to 2 percent as of 2019. AAVE likely wasn’t a large part of her upbringing; it was something she used and then discarded to acquire fame. It’s not wrong for non–Black people to connect with Black music and culture, but it’s always mystifying to witness the switch–up from non–Black creatives.
Kim Kardashian (and Awkwafina) deciding to stop co–opting Blackness should be a good thing, and it is. However, it’s also a striking example of how easily Blackness is something to be performed and imitated by non–Black people for social capital, while Black people struggle to gain the same respect. Black women will never be able to change their hair color or the way they speak to step out of Blackness when convenient to their careers. As the classic saying goes, “everyone wants to be Black, until it’s time to be Black.” Now that it suits her goals, it seems that Kim has finally decided time’s up.