Forbes magazine’s most recent issue features a close up of Kylie Jenner’s face along with the title, “America’s Women Billionaires.” The list is comprehensive, but all anyone can talk about is Jenner’s spot on it. In addition to snagging the cover image, Jenner is also boasted about with the cover blurb: “At 21, she’s set to be the youngest-ever self-made billionaire. Welcome to the era of extreme fame leverage.”

Jenner’s fortune comes from her cosmetics company, Kylie Cosmetics. The line touts her famous lip kits as well as other makeup products, and is valued at around $800 million, with her total fortune at $900 million. Since the brand’s launch two years ago, Jenner has sold $630 million worth of makeup. The vast majority of the money the company makes goes straight into Jenner’s pocket; she even gets free advertising by posting videos of herself wearing her products for her massive social media following.

Backlash over Jenner’s position as the world’s youngest self-made (almost) billionaire — she’s about to knock Mark Zuckerberg down a peg to the *second* youngest — was swift and ferocious.

Many took to Twitter to voice their complaints over the unfair advantage given to Jenner by her superstar family.

@lola_adewuya argued that:

Or if you want to get technical about it like Twitter user @PedestrianPoet:

The women of The View debated Jenner’s claim to self-made billionaire crown on their talk show. “If you’re born on third base and you hit a home run, you’re not really self made,” Sunny Hostin argued. “She’s just not unaided.”

Even’s Twitter account got in on the action:

Used in a sentence: Forbes says that Kylie Jenner is a self-made woman.”

So, it seems what people are mostly taking umbrage with is the word choice. Can someone be “self-made” if they started from a place of extreme wealth and opportunity? Would Jenner have become such a massive success story if she had truly started from the bottom? “Self-made” conjures up tales of the American dream, the thought that any penniless person can make it if they just have the drive, the ambition, the right idea.

Jenner certainly isn’t what comes to mind when you think of the American dream, but that doesn’t make her achievements any less impressive.

A spokeswoman for Forbes spoke to that point in a statement to CNN. She “fully acknowledges that within the term ‘self-made’ there are many who are more self-made than others… Yes, Kylie comes from a wealthy family and she got a visibility boost from her family but she owns her company and is valued based on earnings she has personally received and on the value of the company she founded.”

If you readjust the context a bit, it is remarkable to think that a 20-year-old woman could make such a massive fortune, in just a couple of years, off of what was basically a start-up.

Writer Profile

Cameron Andersen

New York University
Cultural Anthropology and Gender & Sexuality

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