In a tweet from January 2019, Kris Jenner announced that her daughter Kendall Jenner was about to reveal something very “raw” and that we should all “prepare to be moved.” As the days unfolded and the Twitter hype bubbled, it was to widespread disappointment that this supposedly profound and personal story that Kendall would be so gracious so as to tell us was just the story of her teenage acne and her new sponsorship deal with Proactiv, a skincare brand. The model praised the brand for its life-altering work.
Twitter rightfully exploded with tweets mocking the inappropriately earnest tone through which the Jenners had built up their momentum. We were all under the pretence that for once the Jenners had something meaningful to say; something (literally) more skin-deep, given the mystery and seriousness of the tweets. Some even pointed out that Kendall has her own dermatologist and likely may have never used the products she so passionately gushes about.
The point here is not to bash the Kardashian/Jenner clan, as easy as it may be. Rather, it is to point to the new ways in which companies, brands and individuals have come to exploit sincerity and use our vulnerabilities to extract profit. Celebrities and the distance they used to occupy in the public sphere are no longer enough. With the rise of YouTube personalities and the Instafamous, we are increasingly exposed to, and desire a greater sense of, personality and “honesty” from those that occupy our feeds and screens.
We need someone who we can identify with. Be it through acne-related teenage years or body-image issues, those celebrities who shake off their perfect, put-together lives to tell us their raw and unfiltered truth profit off of our universal predicaments.
Whether it’s self-care videos from sponsored YouTubers or existing celebrities telling us about their struggles and how imperfect they are, popular culture has become inundated by the famous, A-list or not, and their “honest truth”- conveniently to the advantage of whatever contract they’ve signed.
Beyond these facades, it’s hard to know what’s real and sincere and what is a capitalist ploy or, more likely, another Kris Jenner idea. Are the stories we are being told complete and representative? If Proactiv helped Kendall Jenner in the extraordinary way she claims it did, will it similarly cure the self-esteem issues of many others?
Cynical as this all may be, there is nevertheless something kind of profound in the recent trend with famous people and their attempt to balance an image of individuality but relatability. It is a new form of personal branding. Turning away from the glamourous and effortless image of celebrities’ past, those famous in the west are now no longer on a pedestal, but are real humans just like me and you!
Through (overused) messages of how they, despite all their advantages in life, also hate Mondays, can’t survive without coffee and love In-N-Out; the quirky, relatable girl next door has become the newest money-maker.