Kim Kardashian and the Myth of the Self-Made Billionaire

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Kim Kardashian and the Myth of the Self-Made Billionaire



Kim Kardashian and the Myth of the Self-Made Billionaire

Kardashian—who inherited a rumored $100 million trust fund, shared with her siblings—gave some financial advice this week. “I have the best advice for women and business,” she said in an interview in Variety. “Get your fucking ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.” 

Gather ’round, everyone! Kimberly “Sued by Her House Cleaners and Maintenance Workers for Alleged Wage Theft” Kardashian has something to say about making money. (“These workers were hired and paid through a third-party vendor,” a spokesperson said at the time.) Kardashian, who grew up in Beverly Hills and went to a high school that has a current annual tuition of over $39,000, thinks we should quit our whining and try a little thing called hard work. 

Look—if this sounds bitter, maybe it's because I believe the people Kardashian is trying to school are also likely the ones who have been defending her for years. The people who found themselves at a party or dinner with some dad or uncle or boyfriend, arguing back against sexist, creepy insinuations that Kardashian is famous only because of her body or that she's a bimbo. “She's actually really smart,” I can hear us insisting. “She built an empire!”  

The public backlash against Kardashian's comment has been swift. Writer Jessica DeFino tweeted, “I was an editor on the Kardashian apps in 2015 in L.A., worked days nights & weekends, could only afford groceries from the 99 Cents Only Store, called out ‘sick’ more than once bc I couldn’t put gas in my car to get to the office, & was reprimanded for freelancing on the side.” Others brought up the 2018 job postings for unpaid internships at Jenner Communications; the job description included errand running and gift wrapping, and stated, “Must have a car.” 

Kardashian's comments have been branded “tone deaf” and “controversial" on social platforms and in the media. Like anything else in Kardashianland, it's possible they were a highly calculated move on her part to control her own headlines. But if you trace back Kardashian's comments about her financial history, you can see that she has spent years and years building a narrative that she came from relatively modest privilege, that her strict parents gave her no financial help, and that she has worked for everything she has.

Consider the interview Kardashian did with Wealthsimple just last month. “My parents didn’t give me financial help when I was starting out. Nothing,” she said. “I got a job when I was 16. It was at a clothing store. I had crashed my car, and before I got another car, my dad made me sign a contract that if I hit the car, I was responsible for taking care of it. I had no money, so I had to go get a job, pay for it.” (Where did a 16-year-old with no financial help get a car? Kardashian was given a brand new BMW for her birthday.)

“I didn’t have a credit card when all my friends had credit cards,” she also told Wealthsimple. “So I would put it on [my dad's] credit card, and he would always make me sign something that I would have to pay him back. So I guess that’s debt.” These two anecdotes—the harrowing story of getting a part-time retail job as a teenager, and the story about using her dad as a human credit card—are ones she has shared before. In 2015 she repeated them during a Variety interview in which she also shared a story about how she would buy multiple pairs of designer shoes on eBay with her dad's money, and then pay him back after reselling them at a higher markup. 

This is a cute story, but it is also one about a teenager whose dad is willing to front her thousands of dollars. That's the real theme of Kardashian's financial past: admirable financial instincts, with a multimillion-dollar family safety net. The thing is, Kim Kardashian's estimated net worth is $1.8 billion. There is no such thing as “earning” a billion dollars when you have inherited money—in Kardashian and her siblings' case, an estimated $100 million trust. Not when the national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Not when Skims products are reportedly manufactured in places like Turkey and China, where companies can avoid American labor laws. 

Many of the Kardashian-Jenners have used the same strategy as Kim—spreading stories of their seemingly humble beginnings. Kris Jenner has said that she was so penniless after her divorce with Robert Kardashian and before her marriage to Caitlyn Jenner that she couldn't even “buy a tomato.” Kendall Jenner has insisted that her family actually made it more difficult to break into modeling. Kylie Jenner famously sparked a similar debate to Kim’s when she was labeled a “self-made” billionaire at 19. 

“The devil works hard but Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian work harder,” as the popular joke goes. They clearly do work hard. And part of that work has been keeping up the narrative that their hard work alone has generated billions of dollars. In doing so, it creates the idea that they fully deserve it. That income inequality, poverty, and just plain career struggles simply mean we're not working as hard as they are.