She knew by looking at me that I couldn't possibly be American, a Dominican-American woman said last night. Wasn't the first time: "You're not a twig—you're voluptuous like us," a Salvadorean-Ecuadorean girl crowed. Then there're the Kardashian sisters.
They continue to be heralded, Kim especially, as some sort of groundbreaking event in curve acceptance. CNN's take on the currently inescapable Kardashian bikini body covers includes Kim's recent Shape cover:
"I do think that overall, women are a little bit tired of the cookie cutter Hollywood ideal," said Shape Editor-in-Chief Valerie Latona. "The fact that these girls have curves and they're not perfect — Kim admits to having cellulite and she's curvy — it resonates with women."
Latona had her reservations at first because all three sisters promote diet pills. Oops! But she got over it fast. "People try different things to find the right balance for themselves, and she said she takes them because they help her sweet tooth. We don't endorse them, but people do try them. That's very real to me."
You know what people also try? Eating disorders. That's "very real" too. But I digress.
Celebrations of the Kardashians' bodies are often implicitly or explicitly tied into a perception of their ethnicity. This is something in which they actively participate: Whenever Kim is asked about her body, she tends to mention her being Armenian. (Technically, she is half-Armenian.) She told Harper's Bazaar,
"I don't get why everyone is always going on about my butt. I'm Armenian. It's normal. My butt is probably not as big as you might think, because I have small legs and a small waist, which makes it appear bigger."
Of course, Khloe was recently asked if she's pregnant, and she replied, "No, I'm just fat." As opposed to, you know, "I'm just half Armenian."
I was born in Israel, as were my parents; their parents were Jews from Morocco, Germany, and what's now Belarus. Foundation that matches my skin tone tends to be called things like "Angel" and "Pure" and can be found at the lightest, or second-lightest, on the spectrum. It is about impossible for me to find pants that don't gap at the waist, and it is even more difficult for me to walk down the street in most New York neighborhoods without my ass getting more attention than anything else about me, ever.
My sister, also not "a twig," gets told she's like Kim Kardashian all the time, and tans so dark, people often mistake her for being Puerto Rican or biracial. So what does that make us, exactly? It's basically only people who society calls "ethnic" who want to include us in a club to which they also belong, which I don't necessarily mind. Who am I to reject a move towards kinship, towards celebrating the body I happened to be given, however arbitrary the classifications can be? Meanwhile, white people, if they think of it at all, wouldn't notice that I was anything but white.
The Kim Kardashian phenomenon, of course, is an amnesiac replay of J-Lo in the 90s. There was the wave of kudos for being "curvy." There were the people who didn't think she was big at all. And there was the idea that non-whiteness, any sort of otherness, somehow explained or justified her slight deviation from the celebrity norm.
And there is a grain of something here — it's only black and Latina friends that have joked that they're jealous of my shape or that I'm putting them to shame, and it's hard not to draw conclusions from the demographics of the men who have approached me in all sorts of ways. It's an ambivalent sort of body-acceptance victory: I don't think that replacing one rigid norm — small waist, big ass, let's say, over straight-and-narrow with big boobs — with another is what we should be striving for. Not to mention what happens to the woman of color who doesn't fit into that "curvy" ideal.
But then again, let's recall that the issue of Harper's Bazaar that included a nude shot of Kim and proclaimed loudly on the cover that "CURVES ARE BACK!" also had Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover. (Even though hey, Gwyneth is half-Jewish! Does that make her "ethnic"?) The mainstream is still pushing a rather different story about the ideal body and how to achieve it — an altogether more familiar one. The "ethnic girls club" being moderately more inclusive, I'll stick with that one.