In September 2019 Kim Kardashian launched her fashion venture SKIMS. Described as a ‘solutions-oriented’ brand, the SKIMS collections include shapewear, underwear and, more recently, loungewear, and the brand is currently valued at $1.6 Million.
According to Kim, ‘Diversity and Inclusivity are in the brand’s DNA’ with products available in a wide range of skins tones and sizes. And across SKIMS’ advertising the emphasis on ‘body positivity is evident, from its use of ‘plus size’ models and women of colour to its ‘fits everybody’ collection. Yet, as this paper explores, the notion of body positivity seems somewhat at odds with SKIMS ‘solutionswear’, which aims to sculpt, contour, control and slim women’s bodies in some places, and enhance curves and fullness in others.
As several academics note (e.g. Sastre, 2014, Wissenger, 2016) Kim Kardashian has been pivotal in cultivating a new body ideal, which is largely unrealistic and unachievable for ordinary women without extreme dieting or exercise, or some form of restrictive shapewear or surgery. In fact, Kim’s media interviews seem to suggest that even for her, the exaggerated hourglass shape she has promoted is impossible to maintain without unique ‘shapewear’, and hence she developed SKIMS. Consequently, this paper suggests, that though the brand may make different body shapes and skin tones more visible across its various platforms, Kim Kardashian and the beauty ideal she embodies are at the centre of SKIMS imagery and product. Thus, although it may present as diverse and inclusive, SKIMS demonstrates the problematic nature of body positivity, as it encourages surveillance and control of women’s body, and draws women into beauty comparisons, which largely elevates and reinforce Kim’s unrealistic body ideal in the process.
Dr Katherine Appleford has been a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Kingston University London since 2013, and had previous taught Cultural and Historical Studies at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London.
Her research considers women’s everyday fashion practices and tastes and beauty and body ideals, exploring the ways in which these are shaped by class, gender and race. Her monograph, ‘Classifying Fashion, Fashioning Class’ (2020, Routledge) examines the role class plays in British women’s fashion choices, highlighting important intersections perceptions of public and private space, performances of femininity and motherhood, and understandings and evaluations of class and taste. More recently, her research has explored the role of celebrity and social media in shifting discourses around ‘curves’, fatness, and body positivity, focusing particularly on the notion of ‘slim-thick’.
Her work has featured on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed, Resonance FM’s Modulations, in Forbes Magazine and Vice.