After being repeatedly assured that Kendall Jenner was “devastated” by the backlash over that now notorious Pepsi ad, we see the model return to the realms of controversy this week as she fronts the 10th anniversary issue of Vogue India.
Many have questioned the decision to put a white woman on the cover of this seminal publication of an Indian magazine. It reflects and further enforces the white standards of beauty that already permeate Indian culture, the argument goes, and betrays one of the more oblique legacies of colonialism. One only has to look at the sales (or, in fact, the existence) of “skin whitening” products in the country to grasp the insidious effects of such a preference for paleness. In other words, a white woman on the copy of an important edition of an Indian magazine is a much bigger deal than you might think it is.
Of course, this culture has not escaped the notice of Vogue India’s editors, who are as much victims of as they are accomplices to such problematic standards. The blame for such a disappointing front cover of the anniversary issue has largely, and understandably, been laid at their door.
It is tempting to conclude that, in light of this, the most we can accuse Jenner of is another error of judgement. After all, she’s only 21, and as a fellow 21-year-old I can confirm that poor decision making is pretty much par for the course. I am lucky enough that my lapses in judgement tend to take place in the privacy of club toilets, all-you-can-eat buffets, or badly publicised karaoke nights. I totally understand the vast capacity of people at my age, or indeed any age, to royally mess up.
But there’s no denying that Jenner and her family, the extended Kardashians, often revel in controversy – and benefit from it. From Khloe Kardashian’s appearance in that contentious Protein World advertisement and Kendall’s Pepsi faux pas to Kylie Jenner’s choice to revert back to cornrows even after being slammed for appropriating black culture, the Jenner-Kardashians have only ever seen their brands and their media outreach expanded by each controversy they involve themselves in. Why, then, would they ever seek to avoid them?
The way fame works nowadays is so much to do with offence: if you wander into a controversy that offends a lot of people, you drive clicks and tweets and encourage your fan base to rally for you in defence of your ill-thought-out actions. People who realise this end up involving themselves in projects that they might otherwise have steered clear of, or do things that they might otherwise have realised were morally questionable: think PewDiePie and DaddyoFive.
The repeated rhetoric about such celebrities being innocent victims, well-meaning but ignorant, is beginning to falter in the face of the undeniable fact that the publicity garnered can only further their careers. Put simply, until we give Kendall Jenner a real (read: financial) reason to educate herself on issues of inequality, I doubt she’ll bother. And as the Instagram followers multiply, so will the controversial and offensive missteps which end up perpetuating prejudice in our society.Reuse content