The newest Forbes rich list has named Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. Now just 21, Kylie had made her first million before she could even legally drink to her achievements, and has since racked up a 10-figure fortune by flogging her highly successful makeup line.
But the backlash against Jenner’s “self-made” status has been fierce, causing Forbes to state they define a “self-made” rich lister as someone who has built a company or established a fortune on their own – technically true in Jenner’s case.
After all, we exist in a world where as many as half of US voters believe their president, the son of a rich real estate business owner, is a self-made man. Our vitriol against Jenner therefore speaks volumes about the way we perceive young women in the public eye compared to their male counterparts. Although her business has generated a seismic sum, can we really call a member of one of the world’s most well-known families self-made?
When I heard Kylie was launching her first lip kit a few years ago, I was sceptical. Celebrities of the Instagram age are notoriously quick to lend their name to a new product, often of questionable quality, and the kits came with an aspirational price tag. Yet a few months after the release I was busily scouring eBay for an unopened kit at a knock-off price and was pleasantly surprised. When it comes to makeup, it seems Jenner knows her stuff.
But whilst Kylie Jenner was launching a bestselling business in a matter of months, others her age were facing a much more sobering prospect. Social mobility has been declining in the UK and US at an alarming rate since the 1980s, and being truly self-made has become an increasingly elusive goal. While the dream of making our millions once seemed within reach, it is now increasingly available to only a fortunate few – often those who have access to family money.
Instead, those hoping to start up their own projects are much more likely to join the vastly growing number of us who are forced to work a second job alongside a full-time career. Millennials increasingly complain of burnout as they juggle the stresses of trying to succeed at a time of stagnating wages, rocketing house prices and an endemic inability to out-earn their parents.
Jenner’s decision to plug her fame and fortune into entrepreneurial efforts is an admirable one. It would have been all too easy for the reality star to stick to selling detox teas and making club appearances for the rest of her career. But she has certainly not built her business from nothing. She had vast sums of family money that she could put into pioneering the perfect product. She had a ready-made base of avid social media followers – a marketer’s wet dream in a world where personal brand is everything. She had the security of a ready-made career and a healthy bank account in case she failed. In short, she had resources most millennials could only dream of.
We are experiencing a seemingly insurmountable inequality of not just our means but of our opportunities, an imbalance which is becoming increasingly pervasive over time. And if Jenner has had one thing, it is opportunity by the bucketload.
In light of this, labelling Jenner self-made seems ignorant at best and insulting at worst.
But instead of directing our anger at Jenner, we should be focusing on the inherent unfairness of a system that makes being truly self-made a near impossible ambition. The issue of whether Jenner’s self-made status is fair is a negligible one. What her inclusion in the rich list actually signifies is how unachievable being self-made has become.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies