To build a career on a potentially devastating breach of trust, and keep rising when that breach keeps being thrown back in your face? To me, that’s inspirational. Photo: Ally Garrett/ Instagram
2015 was a big year for me. I went to Thailand for the first time. I ended my relationship with my partner of seven years. And, I got a tattoo of Kim Kardashian.
I have a portrait of Kim Kardashian, in the style of Guadalupe or a 14th century Madonna, on the side of my right thigh. In September last year, Melbourne tattoo artist Clare Hampshire, spent a good portion of five hours etching Kim's likeness into my leg at Hot Copper Studio while we listened to Le Tigre. I was inspired to portray Kim using religious iconography by New York artist Hannah Kunkle. Kunkle's 2014 exhibition 'The Passion of Kim Kardashian' that depicted Kim as religious figures like the Virgin Mary, Joan of Arc and Jesus. Kunkle maintains Kim is "the patron saint of pop culture", a description that resonated with me so much that I decided to give it some permanent real estate on my body.
Beneath Kim's hands, permanently clasped in prayer on my leg, is a banner reading "can I live?!?!". The text comes from Kim's classic response to the criticism she received for cropping daughter, North, out of her Instagram post. She tweeted "her eyes were closed and I was feeling my look! Can I live?!?!" This tweet to me, was ultimate Kim Kardashian. Funny, self-aware and unapologetic.
Kim wasn't my first tattoo. My thighs are decorated with a rainbow paddle pop, a red love heart that reads "myself" and I have a matching waffle with a best friend. I'm planning for a leopard on my left bicep. For me, tattoos are a way of making my own mark on the canvas I was born with. As Lucian Clark wrote:
"My body is my home since I am stuck with this for the rest of my life here on this Earth. I will make it my own. I will own it. I will rearrange the furniture and I will paint the walls as I see fit. I will knock down walls and hang up paintings. My body is my own to do with it as I please, just as any home I would own. I do not rent my body, I own it."
Tattoos can be light-hearted or serious, an image that conveys a deeper meaning. My portrait of Kim is both of these things at once. In a world obsessed with celebrity culture, reality television and selfies, Kim has conquered it. I love the campness of depicting Kim as the Madonna and in some ways it makes sense - her image is iconic and it's everywhere, like Mary in the Renaissance. There's also a delicious kind of irony in depicting Kim Kardashian as a famous virgin, when the most common insults hurled at her are that she's a 'slut' and a 'whore' who is famous for doing nothing.
Kardashian critics label them as talentless and money-hungry, a family who have capitalised off Kim's sex tape. The footage was recorded in 2003 with singer Ray J, and the sex tape was leaked in 2007. After the leak, Kim gave an official statement where she confirmed she hadn't given consent for the tape to be made public and she filed legal charges against distribution company Vivid Entertainment. The fact that it's Kim who is vilified for her sex tape, and not the company who non-consensually leaked and profited from the content, is a reflection of the bizarre relationship our society has with female sexuality.
I have never-ending admiration for the way Kim took this leak and turned it into a business empire. I'm baffled by the criticism that the Kardashians do nothing. The family have seven successful reality television shows; a retail franchise, several fashion and beauty lines, endorsement deals, books and eight apps. KIMOJI, Kim's emoji and sticker app, was so popular upon release that downloads of the $1.99 app raked in $1 million per minute. That's some serious bank, and some seriously enviable business skills.
The Kardashians' business nous is often ignored because of the way Kim and her sisters have capitalised on beauty and sexuality. The Kardashians' interest in the way they look means they're often labelled as vacuous and shallow – women should, after all, be effortlessly beautiful. This is part of the paradox of a femininity. Our society places huge emphasis on the way women look but women mustn't try too hard to look good or appear to enjoy their beauty. The Kardashians attract so much hatred because of the way they celebrate and expose this kind of femininity. They enjoy their own beauty; and they make money from it – selling lipstick and clothes in real life and as in-app purchases. As a queer femme, femininity is a huge part of my identity. The way that the Kardashians embody, celebrate and monetise their femininity was one of my inspirations behind getting Kim inked on my leg.
As well as lipstick, selfies are a big part of the Kardashian brand. Kim releasing Selfish, her book of selfies, last year. Taking selfies is a way of celebrating your appearance and controlling your own image – when a woman takes a selfie she is holding the camera. Kim's career began with the leaking of footage from her sex tape but the camera is now back in her hands.
Kim's recent nude selfie attracted the usual criticism that her more revealing pictures often do. Kim herself has grown tired of the predictable responses to the way her body and her sexuality are used to undermine her achievements. Kim published a response on International Women's Day, writing:
"It's 2016. The body-shaming and slut-shaming—it's like, enough is enough. I will not live my life dictated by the issues you have with my sexuality. You be you and let me be me. "
I was especially proud of my tattoo when Kim posted this, like when I watched Kim tenderly give fashion advice to recently-transitioned Caitlyn Jenner on reality show I Am Cait. The Kardashians aren't perfect. As ludicrously wealthy Americans, I often don't agree with their thoughts on particular issues and, in my opinion, Kylie Jenner posts too many lip-sync snapchats. But to build a career on a potentially devastating breach of trust, and keep rising when that breach keeps being thrown back in your face? To me, that's inspirational.
I love my Kim Kardashian tattoo. The only thing I don't like about it is that Kim herself wouldn't approve. "Honey," she said of tattoos on the Wendy Williams show, "would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?"
Ally Garrett is a Sydney-based writer and performer. Her writing has been published on The Cusp, The Wireless and The Guardian. Ally's work often touches on body positivity. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allygarrett.