Whether you love her or love to hate her, birthday girl Kim Kardashian's influence these days is undeniable: Her wedding photo is the most-liked photo on Instagram; when she covers a magazine, it has record—breaking sales; when she endorses a product, legions of fans snap it up (as evidenced by the massive success of her iPhone game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood). She, shrewdly, won't disclose actual figures, but it's rumored that a sponsored Tweet from Kim can cost upwards of $20K. That's $143 per character—if she even elects to use 140 characters, that is.
From business decisions, to style choices, to her relationship with her family, it turns out that modern women can learn quite a lot from Kim. And no one predicted this better than her fawning husband, Kanye, who told GQ this summer, "In order to win at life, you need some Kim K skills, period."
How to spin any situation into a powerful career move:
We're going to talk about this right away because it's the first dart Kim-haters love to throw: that 2007 sex tape. These days, sex tapes are viable marketing tools, their tantalizing powers eagerly employed by minor celebrities seeking another hit of fame. But Kim took the questionable business model and refracted it: Not only did she sue Vivid Entertainment for "leaking" her tape, but also she won $5 million in the settlement. Then, Kris Jenner, who'd been shopping ideas for a reality show based on the family, realized that she had a better chance of selling the show with Kim's name. As Amanda Scheiner McClain, author of Keeping Up The Kardashian Brand: Celebrity, Materialism, and Sexuality, explains, the Kardashians took advantage of the "low-level stuff that titillated and fascinated the American public." Lowbrow-brilliant=power move.
How to own your sexuality:
Lying under haters' claims that Kim is "only" famous because of the sex tape, there is a Puritan-tinged shock, and perhaps a bit of jealousy—not that Kim made the tape, but that she's succeeded in spite (and because) of it. Even without sex tapes, our Madonna/whore complex—that ugly American tic that sees women as either virgins or sluts—pushed young women from Britney Spears to Christina Aguilera to Miley Cyrus toward carefully orchestrated "coming out" phases, in which they shifted their image from innocent good girl to sexual, deflowered woman. We pressure them into publicly redefining themselves, because once they show signs of leaving the piety cage, we can't just let them walk free: We have to capture them in another.
But Kim is emblematic of a change in the cultural script: The Kim we've gotten to know through seven years of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, social media, television appearances, and interviews, isn't wild. She doesn't drink. She prioritizes monogamous relationships. She loves her child, husband, and family. Kim is a walking contradiction—a "sexy good girl," as McClain puts it. She can pose provocatively for Playboy, then go home to have dinner with her family. Kim's contradiction—her refusal to be seen as either 100% slut or 100% pure—is a far more accurate reflection of the complex sexual lives women today actually lead.
How to talk about women's bodies on their own terms:
On Twitter in February, Kim addressed tabloids bullying her about her pregnancy weight gain:
"Get a life! Using pics of me 15lbs skinner (before I had my baby) comparing to me now! … Anyone who has had a baby knows how hard it is to lose weight (especially the last bit of weight) & your body totally changes! Making fun of me pregnant & making fun of me trying to lose weight now shame on you. I'm not perfect but I will never conform to your skinny standards sorry! … Don't give young girls a complex!"
Again, Kim's body occupies a unique space: Her full-figured-yet-petite silhouette lives somewhere between perfection and reality. (And for what it's worth, she's still hard on herself: "I'm not gonna call it baby weight bc thats an excuse," she tweeted on August 5. "I just gained weight & that's it. why is it so much harder to lose after baby though!!") For all she's accomplished—using her body, yes, but also her brain–we still concentrate on her looks. But while her beauty helps her profit, she also uses it to spark an important dialogue about our culture's obsession with an idealized body shape.
How to be your own marketing team:
Along with her mother and manager, Kris Jenner, Kim is a marketing genius at her core. She said it herself in a 2011 interview with The Times UK: "If I had a great voice or was a great actress, that would be amazing. But I'm realistic: my skill and my talent is marketing." In her book, McClain analyzes Kim's Twitter and blog presence—which are cited as exemplary by marketing professionals everywhere. McClain writes, "What [Kim] has successfully engineered is a commodification of the public obsession with her, forging a connection between her image and whatever product she's trying to sell."
Kim's main and most successful enterprise is just existing as herself. She Tweets insignificant thoughts or details about her day, and thousands of her 20 million Twitter followers respond and retweet. Without any creative work to promote (aside from her reality show), Kim's use of social media is essentially the same as anyone with a will to be famous. As Grantland's Molly Lambert writes: "Kim is the overlap in the Venn diagram between Famous People Posting Selfies and People Who Are Famous For Posting Selfies." When we regular people post selfies, we cross our fingers, hoping friends will "like" our shameless narcissism. But when Kim posts one, that famous derriere facing the camera, she gets 1.1 million likes. She's playing the same social media game we are, but she's has a better platform and strategy. Hate the game, you know?
How to navigate a non-traditional career path:
As tech startups and app development increasingly become the trendy way to get rich, more people are eschewing traditional career paths in favor of do-it-yourself job creation, freelancing, or working from home. Kim's lifestyle and work preempted that changing professional landscape. As she explained back in a 2010 New York Times interview (arguably years before social media became the marketing technique of choice for personal branding), she knows her audience, and knows exactly how to reach them. So, here's where we say it: Try and keep up, would you?
Image via Getty