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Kylie Jenner attends the Acne Studios Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 in Paris, France.Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Are the Kardashians finally taking accountability for toxic beauty ideals?

In a new trailer for The Kardashians, Kylie Jenner says she wishes she had never ‘touched’ her face, and addresses the harmful and impossible beauty standards her family sets

Last night, the trailer dropped for the latest season of The Kardashians, and there was a moment that – if authentic – could be the start of some meaningful conversations around beauty standards, body image and the role that celebrities and influencers play in our self-esteem.

The moment in question comes when Kylie Jenner is shown in a discussion with her sisters. “All of us just need to have a bigger conversation about the beauty standards that we are setting,” she is shown telling them. The scene then changes to her talking to longtime friend Anastasia Karanikolaou, admitting that she doesn’t want her daughter Stormi to do the things that she did, and that she regrets changing her face. “I wish I had never touched anything to begin with,” she concludes.

Trailers are, of course, designed to grab people’s attention, and no doubt the entire series is engineered to set up situations that will get us talking. So we will have to wait until the episode airs and watch the full conversations before we know if this is a genuine attempt by the family, or at least by Kylie, to reckon with the impact that they have had on people‘s self-esteem, particularly young women.

Having said that, this isn’t the first time that Kylie has appeared to address the issue. In a cover interview for HommeGirls this month, she said that becoming a mother has made her love herself more. “I see my features in my daughter… my daughter looks like me. I get to see my beauty in her, and it’s made me love myself more for sure,” she says, adding that the beauty advice she would give Stormi is that she is perfect the way she is.

This is by no means groundbreaking, and is very much cloaked in the language of self-empowerment that the beauty and wellness industries tend to use to sell us products. But it could point to a shift in perspective that we haven’t seen before from Kylie or the rest of the family, who have never contended with, or taken responsibility for, the negative impact they have had on beauty culture.

We all know that the Kardashian-Jenners have influenced the way we look – so much so that we’ve almost stopped interrogating it. Their trademark aesthetic is so ubiquitous that everyone knows what it means to describe a make-up look or body type as “Kardashian-esque”. That’s not to say the features that they’ve been celebrated for are natural or innate to them – the whole family has cherry-picked and co-opted much of their aesthetic from marginalised communities, including Black women and drag queens. But it’s undeniable that the Kardashians, particularly Kim and Kylie, have been the single biggest influences on beauty in the last decade.

When Kylie announced she got lip fillers in 2015, internet searches for the term increased by 3,233 per cent; there was a 70 per cent rise in enquiries for lip filler within 24 hours, and a nine per cent increase in lip enhancements among 13- to 19-year-olds alone. Two years later, she released the three lip kits that would launch her now billion-dollar make-up empire. The second most followed woman on Instagram with 388 million followers, every make-up look Kylie posts is seen and emulated around the world. 

Meanwhile, Kim spearheaded one of the archetypal beauty looks of the 2010s – the ultra-glam, full-face, highlight-and-contour Instagram face and the slim-thick curves often achieved by cosmetic procedures like BBLs. And in the 2020s, she has seemingly helped to usher in a new era that has seen a “return to thinness”. Of course, Kim isn’t wholly responsible for this cultural shift, but we can’t deny that at the same time she shifted her look – reportedly removing her BBL and taking Ozempic to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress – the world did too.

The family has profited hugely from their influence – alongside Kylie Cosmetics, the Kardashian beauty empire has included KKW Beauty, SKKN, perfumes, supplements and detox tea partnerships. They have also contributed to creating a beauty tax that is higher than ever, thanks to the role they have played in popularising cosmetic procedures like injectables and surgeries. The result, over the last decade, is a self-esteem crisis where eating disorders are skyrocketing and mental health issues, such as dysmorphia or depression, are on the rise. And through all this, the Kardashian-Jenners have addressed their own insecurities and the pressures they are under to adhere to a beauty standard – but have never acknowledged their own role in pushing these pressures onto the rest of us.

In an interview with Andy Cohen last year, Kim, Kourtney and Kendall denied that they promote unattainable beauty standards, while in the HommeGirls interview, Kylie said: “I had my one lip insecurity thing, so I got lip filler, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.” What is left unsaid is how she then went on to make millions of dollars from young women who feel insecure about their own lips – how she turned from captive to jailer.

Khloé in particular likes to paint herself as the victim of beauty standards, and has never once admitted, maybe even to herself, that she has now become the villain who is upholding and perpetuating the ideals that she felt so harmed by in the past. In 2021, Khloé spoke out about the toll that years of criticism of her body and appearance have taken on her self-esteem. “It’s almost unbearable trying to live up to the impossible standards that the public has set for me,” she said before going on to defend her right to photoshop, edit and use filters on her social media posts.

It’s not clear from the trailer what has prompted Kylie to start discussions with her family about the way they use their influence and the impact it has on others. Much of what she has said so far has centred around Stormi and the hopes she has, as a mother, for her own daughter. So it’s likely that has played a significant role in the shift in perspective. And maybe this will all come to nothing when these episodes air, and the hint of self-awareness and reckoning that we glimpsed in the trailer will be the extent to which the Kardashians take accountability for their actions.

But if the time ever comes when they do truly decide to interrogate the beauty standards that they are setting, they have the opportunity to have some very meaningful conversations and make a real impact. The beauty system is rigged against us all, but the Kardashians have the influence and the platforms to take the pain they have suffered and channel it into changing the system rather than upholding it. The first step, for them, is to admit they are the problem.

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