But, why would anyone have expected otherwise?
The couple is unquestionably one of the world's most famous. One of them is a musician whose multiplatinum albums have earned an ungodly number of Grammys; the other was once the world's highest earning reality-TV star. Both West and Kardashian have collaborated with major fashion retailers on capsule collections. And, Kanye is even tight with Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, next to whom he frequently sits at runway shows.
The pair, then, has serious pop-culture relevance and is style-conscious (whether or not the two are actually stylish is for others to decide). Thus, the duo is qualified for the cover of a fashion magazine. So, why is there so much opposition?
If you ask me, it has a lot to do with the Kim-related gossip-blog discourse sounding a hell of a lot like the prelude to Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back." To refresh your memory:
Oh my god, Becky. Look at her butt. It is sooo big. She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends. But, you know, who understands those rap guys? They only talk to her because she looks like a total prostitute, 'kay? I mean, her butt, is just sooo big.
The way the blogosphere talks about Kim (and her impressive derrière) isn't too far from those lyrics. It's not uncommon for her name to appear in the same sentence with words like "trashy" or "talentless" because she became a household name after she appeared in a sex tape. (I'd argue that proves her talent as an entrepreneur and brand manager.)
I believe, however, that classism, crypto-racism, and slut-shaming are hidden behind such descriptors. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that being beautiful and incredibly famous is apparently not enough for some Vogue readers, who ostensibly want true "talent" in their cover models?
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While I recognize the bitter irony of defending two incredibly rich celebrities in this respect, the problem, as I see it, is distinctly one of classism.
To wit, Sarah Michelle Gellar reportedly sold her Bel Air mansion last fall because she didn't want to live near Kim and Kanye's "tacky nouveau riche McMansion," according to a National Enquirer source. Take that with the requisite rock of salt, but it still speaks with the same language used to attack Kim's credibility as a Vogue cover model. She might have money, this argument goes, but not the je ne sais quoi that separates Beverly Hills royalty from Beverly hillbillies.
The Kardashian family, descended from Armenian immigrants, has often been cast in that light; it is surely one of parvenus, our far-less-lovable reality-TV Clampetts for the new millennium. (The New York Times called Keeping Up with the Kardashians a show about "some desperate women climbing to the margins of fame.") But, apparently lacking Ellie May's charm, Kim is relegated instead to being just a rap guy's "talentless" girlfriend.
Be that as it may, it still shouldn't disqualify her. Vogue does have a history of putting people on its cover with fewer claims to fame than Kim Kardashian — what is 2009 cover model Anna Jagodzińska known for besides professionally wearing expensive clothes? — and people who are very much not known for fashion sense, such as Hope Solo and Tina Fey.
Vogue readers are used to getting their celebrity covers delivered in a certain format: Except for a few notable anomalies, the cover models are pretty, skinny, and white. Think of some models as éclairs — beautiful, light, and possibly hollow. (Not you, Tina Fey!) To select readers, however, Kim Kardashian is a Betty Crocker tub of cake frosting — low-brow, headache-inducing, ineffably fake-seeming. Readers might not want to mix up their fine pastries and their guilty pleasures, but they'll still suck it down as earnestly as Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her.
That's why Vogue's numbers are just fine and dandy. The mag knows that, at the end of the day, readers will still eat it up.