Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala dress shows she’s a terrible role model to women

What message is the A-lister sending to young girls? It’s 2024 – should we really be showing off waists small enough to fit your hand around; women reduced to grimacing, gurning versions of themselves who can’t eat, speak or do anything but stand there and be admired?

Katie Edwards
Thursday 09 May 2024 09:52 BST
Watch what the Kardashians wore to the Met Gala

“Your waist is crazy!” shouted one of the photographers during the melee that accompanied Kim Kardashian’s appearance on the red carpet of this year’s Met Gala. I think that spoke for most us.

But should we be so surprised? Perhaps the sight of Kardashian, 43, barely able to walk up the stairs – let alone breathe – at the glittering A-list event is altogether expected, considering she is a billionaire whose brand is based around a distortion of ideal femininity, verging on the grotesque. She’s certainly pushed boundaries at previous events.

To my mind, though, this is her most shocking look yet. Only... not in the way she might have hoped.

In a silver John Galliano corset-style dress that cinched her waist to an impossible degree, Kardashian took fashion to the extreme – and then pushed it (and herself) right over the edge. I found it painful to watch the footage of her struggling to smile – it looked like she might pass out at any moment.

It’s not her first rodeo – for more than a decade, Kardashian has served up controversial looks; many of which appear anatomically impossible. You might remember that back in 2019, the Skims shapewear founder brought designer Thierry Mugler out of retirement to create the rib-crackingly restrictive “wet dress” outfit, which she later said had left temporary marks on her body and admitted: “I have never felt pain like that in my life.”

The nude latex dress, inspired by Raquel Welch’s see-through shirt in the 1957 film Boy On A Dolphin, once again featured a barely there waist and carved Kardashian’s body into a spectacular (and spectacularly unnatural) hourglass shape. The outfit became the most talked about costume of the evening. But what is it doing for women?

I would argue that Kardashian has a responsibility, here. Yes, she shows grit, daring and tenacity – she’s clearly not averse to suffering for fashion or publicity (she had to be trained to sit in the Mugler dress and was unable to go to the toilet) – but what message is this sending to other women and young girls? It’s 2024 – should we really be showing off waists small enough to fit your hand around; women reduced to grimacing, gurning versions of themselves who can’t eat, speak or do anything but stand there and be admired? Isn’t a body “ideal” as small as this, in fact, dangerous?

Recordings of last night’s red-carpet appearance show Kardashian looking distinctly uncomfortable. The still shots from the evening may be glamorous, but the reality looks painful. Her waist has been pulled in so tight that her vital organs look like they have been displaced. In some clips from the evening, she looks genuinely ill. Kardashian’s body must have felt like raw meat after last night’s event. Never has a hoodie and joggers seemed so appealing.

Now, I’m not being puritanical; like many women, I’ve sacrificed comfort for fashion on a night out and felt a surge of delicious relief at the end of the event when I remove the outfit and tend to my sore, blistered feet.

But a deep dive into the outfit she wore gives me the kind of shivers I don’t get from the memories of a pair of uncomfortable stilettos. In the “making of” photographs of the corset dress, which was a custom creation from Mansion Margiela Artisanal, Galliano’s moodboards show the bruises left on models’ flesh by the lacing.

I could only think of those photos when I watched two assistants help Kardashian hobble up the red-carpet stairs. She might be one of the world’s most famous, most photographed and most influential women, but she looked frail and vulnerable. Her extreme wealth may have bought her an extreme waist – but to what end? Whose interests are being served when the most successful women on the planet still have to starve themselves of food – and oxygen – to get the most flattering shot?

And what does the choice of a corset say to women today? It’s an outdated and complex cultural symbol of idealised femininity, prone to simplified analyses of “emancipation” vs “oppression”; arguably, a little like Kardashian herself.

Like her corset, you could argue the reality TV star represents both empowerment and control: she’s constructing her own version of femininity, yes – but she’s also constructing feminine ideals for the rest of us. When Kardashian refashions her body, she also refashions ours. Her impossible proportions, inevitably, dictate society’s.

In some ways, Kardashian’s Met Gala 2024 outfit was a perfect representation of the event’s theme: “The Garden of Time”. Inspired by JG Ballard’s 1962 short story by the same name, it tells of the rich hiding in opulence, vainly attempting to halt the relentless approach of the poor who riot outside. The wealthy couple in Ballard’s bleak tale manage to slow the clock, but they can’t stop it. And so, they stay static, in one place, barely able to breathe.

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