Kylie Jenner

The Empire of Kylie Jenner Shows the Complexity of the American Dream

While she already had millions of dollars and name recognition from the get-go, the 'self-made' mogul reveals the anxiety behind the idea of success for millennials and Gen Z.

When Kylie Jenner comes to mind, one might imagine her social media feed in its gilded and imperial form. Comments from loyal followers laud the young mogul; “Please, let me be you!” and “Queen Kylie” are only blips in the sea of replies that follow each of her posts.

Her entry into the realm of marketing and business, while admirable in terms of numbers, greatly confuses the idea of what defines success in the working world. In the U.S., millions of young college graduates and entrepreneurs attempt a similar route to building a career from the ground up, but under disparate economic circumstances.

Lauren Padelford, general manager of Shopify Plus, admitted in an interview that “no other influencer has ever gotten to the volume or had the rabid fans and consistency that Kylie has had for the last two and a half years.”

However, Jenner herself is not to blame for this disproportion of wealth. Our economic structures of power prove that at the end of the day, the insatiable grind of capitalism exists to ensure that the rich get richer. Landing great jobs used to be a question of qualification, but Jenner, unknowingly, is an example that affluence is the true golden ticket.

The Empire Rises

Young women occupied lab tables around the classroom, methodically refreshing webpages on their smartphones. The lunch bell rang 20 minutes prior, but no one stirred from their seats. Instead, they resorted to carefully looking away from their screens to pick at their lunches or occasionally glanced at one another to offer a reassuring nod.

This choreography took place the afternoon Kylie Jenner dropped her first wave of Kylie Lip Kits, now renamed Kylie Cosmetics. Nearly five years ago, I and thousands of others likely could not predict the empire Jenner, only 18 at the time, was just beginning.

When the stock sold out in less than 60 seconds, it envisaged the cultural and monetary value Kylie Cosmetics carries today. Not only did the brand gain Instagram popularity with 24.2 million followers, but the company proved itself a powerhouse as well.

Each member of the Kardashian-Jenner family has solidified her role in American consumerism: Kendall found her place in modeling, Kim put out a smartphone game and Kris has claimed her throne as the ultimate “momager.” Kylie Jenner’s entry into the beauty industry suggests a realization that commodifying her own name just made sense.

Is Jenner Self-made or old money?

In March 2019, Forbes, widely known for its annual rankings of America’s most successful, published a cover story titled, “At 21, Kylie Jenner Becomes The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever.”

Describing her achievement as “self-made” transforms the cover story into what might as well be a faux pas. Even before her explosive success under the cosmetics label, Jenner’s net worth presumably rested in the millions already, so to consider her an audacious self-starter is more than an overstatement. It is a misleading interpretation of how young millennials should view their own victories.

Nevertheless, Jenner does not confuse this understanding single-handedly. Rather, it is the way in which the cultural conversation and the media approach the subject.

Although aspiring self-starters consistently revere the likes of Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg and Howard Schultz, Jenner categorically divorces herself from such a lineup due to her ties to the Kardashian-Jenner empire.

One can easily assume that our nation’s top earners operate their companies with conviction, but a recent scandal on Jenner’s end suggests that even the young and rich must fight to stay on top.

Why should the other ninety-nine percent care?

When Forbes representatives met with Jenner initially, they were “shown tax returns detailing $307 million in 2016 revenues and personal income of more than $110 million for Jenner that year.” Yet, according to the same article, her net margins appeared to be only half of the assumed 44%. As a result, Forbes stripped Jenner of her title as the “youngest self-made billionaire.”

Jenner took to Twitter shortly after the event, stating, “i thought this was a reputable site.. all i see are a number of inaccurate statements and unproven assumptions lol. i’ve never asked for any title or tried to lie my way there EVER.”

At face value, her quick defense is likely fallacious; Forbes noted that Jenner’s PR team “began a campaign to ‘get a… cover for Kylie'” years before her debut. The response uncovers that she still needed to reassert her success as a business mogul in the public spotlight, regardless of whether the allegations were true.

Young adults of the larger workforce also hunger for validation for their hard work, and some may even spitefully argue that this need exists because they were all given trophies as children. However, it really concerns how they see themselves from a larger economic standpoint.

Specifically, we translate our skills and talent into commercial numbers. So, while faking tax revenues and income might be criminal, Jenner exemplifies how our financial systems have truly reconditioned our perception of the “real world.”

Manicured lawns and other tokens of suburbia once signified success in the workforce, a justification of one’s diligence in working behind a desk from nine to five. Fifty years later, a mutation of wealth and greed has swallowed the answer to a crucial question: What ever happened to the American dream?

Jenner’s cosmetic empire and its controversy is microcosmic when considering the larger economic narrative for millennials and Generation Z, which encapsulates widespread anxieties of personal prosperity. “It’s worth noting that if even Jenner, who has everything possible going for her in this Instagram ecosystem that she created, had to fabricate her own success,” said Molly Borman Heymont, an entrepreneur and author. “There is truly no hope for those with a fraction of her influence and resources.”

Luke Gair, Sewanee: The University of the South

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Luke Gair

Sewanee: The University of the South

Currently a senior at Sewanee: The University of the South, Luke Gair enjoys long days on the Cumberland Plateau and winding conversations with friends.

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