It's been 10 years since Keeping Up With The Kardashians first aired on TV. This week, we examine how the world's most famous family has entertained us, angered us, and made an indisputable impact on our culture.
Over the last few years, Kylie Jenner has become a vessel for America's collective fears about young female sexuality, plastic surgery, and celebrity culture in general. Somehow, the 20-year-old Keeping Up With The Kardashians star has been blamed for whatever ills people perceive in society at large, whether or not those problems are actually, well, problems. What does it matter if high school freshman are bypassing the awkward blue eye shadow and pink lip gloss phase most of us went through in favor of a perfect contour and matte lipstick? I say more power to them.
While this Kylie hysteria feels like a recent dilemma, Sunday night's KUWTK 10-year anniversary special reminded us that viewers have actually been slut-shaming the youngest Kardashian-Jenner daughter for a decade. And, this hyper-critical focus on Kylie began with the very first episode of KUWTK.
The Ryan Seacrest-hosted special was built around certain KUWTK vignettes, from Scott Disick and Kourtney Kardashian’s impossible to understand relationship to the baffling Kardashian family lexicon of "bible" and "okurrrrrr." But, one of the most surprisingly emotional segments was Kylie reliving the fateful premiere episode scene where she danced on a stripper pole at age 9. In the 2007 moment, Kim Kardashian and Pussycat Dolls creator Robin Antin are in Kris Jenner’s bedroom trying to to figure out a possible exercise routine with the sexy tool. In strides Kylie, announcing, "Look what I can do," and busting a few hip-popping movies for Robin. Then, she hops on the pole, swirling around it in heels and flipping over with amazingly good ability for for a 9-year-old. Obviously, Kylie is showing off to get attention and accolades from the woman who literally made the Pussycat Dolls.
It’s important to note what year this was happening in. It was 2007, at the height of Pussycat Doll mania. The burlesque-inspired group's 2006 hits "Beep," "Wait A Minute," and the very, very sexually straightforward "Buttons" were still buzzing on the radio. The paparazzi were continuously trying to get disgusting upskirt photos of Britney Spears in the middle of her very public breakdown. The Girls Gone Wild franchise was everywhere. And, Kylie’s big sister Kim had just gone through her own sex tape scandal. Female sexuality was a major driver in pop culture that year, so, to Kylie, dancing around a stripper pole wasn’t something to be deeply embarrassed about — and it definitely wasn’t about seducing men. There weren’t even any men in the room. It was simply all in good fun, something that was normal at the time.
While no one’s recommending child pole dancing classes, this could have been a teachable moment for Kylie’s parents and a chance for compassion from the Keeping Up With The Kardashians viewers. Instead, Kylie received immediate slut-shaming in all directions. While Kim and Robin marvel at Kylie’s unexpected prowess, the young girl’s other parent, now known as Caitlyn Jenner, saunters in and declares, "I just don’t think it’s appropriate." Kim can't believe her stepfather is genuinely upset about Kylie's playful hijinks, incredulously asking, "Are you serious?" But, Caitlyn is, responding, "No, it’s not funny." The former Olympian’s face telegraphs their actual anger, which essentially comes off as "female sexuality is bad, never do this again." When Caitlyn literally picks Kylie up and drags her out of the room, the kid still excitedly waves to the camera giggling, "Bye!"
Again, the 9-year-old is obviously hamming it up for the cameras that have just entered her life. She’s not trying to turn any men watching on. At 9 years old, it’s unlikely she even realizes there may be men watching her family’s televised home movies. It would have been nice to see Caitlyn explain to Kylie why she shouldn’t be writhing around a stripper pole just yet — that’s something for adults, and she’s far from adulthood at age 9 — rather than simply judging her and pulling her out of the room.
The reaction from the public to Kylie’s innocent stripper pole romp is equally upsetting. One recap at the time was titled, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians: Girls Gone Too Wild?" At the bottom of the story, a poll questioned what should “happen” to Kylie and her sister Kendall Jenner, who jokingly acted out the ridiculous antics of Girls Gone Wild in the subsequent episode. Two of the options on that poll were the girls should be "punished" or "taken" by protective services. All together, those two answers got 38% of the vote; that's over one-third of the audience.
These days, Kylie still seems a little traumatized by the aggressive reaction to her reality TV debut. During the segment looking back at the scene, Ryan Seacrest and Kris remembered there was "outrage" over Kylie’s pole dancing. Kylie agreed, saying, “It was a big thing. It was a huge thing. I remember.” While that's all Kylie said to Seacrest, she recently revealed to E! News she credits the harmless moment as her "most embarrassing" KUWTK memory. "The stripper pole was so embarrassing. I wish it never happened," she admitted. The only reason the scene could make Kylie feel "embarrassed" is because of how the world at large reacted to it. If everyone laughed it off, there would be no reason to feel 10 years of shame.
Although the dragging of Kylie Jenner began a decade ago, it continues today. Over the last week, the young reality star was roundly mocked over her rumored pregnancy with new boyfriend Travis Scott. A lot of that hate comes from slut-shaming the cosmetics mogul by asking if she even meant to get pregnant. But, why is it our business what's going on in Kylie's uterus or why it may or may not be carrying the newest member of the sprawling Kardashian-Jenner family? Since it doesn't sound like Kylie will stop being shamed any time soon, let's hope the drama at least dies down by the inevitable Keeping Up With The Kardashians 20-year anniversary special.
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