By Ava Barnaby
This year’s Met Gala was themed ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’, and the chosen dress code was Gilded Glamour, white tie. Whilst many stars stunned in their grandiose looks, some attendees fell short of the theme. Kim Kardashian raised eyebrows for more than just this reason. Nude, figure-hugging, and sparkling with hand-sewn crystals, the iconic ‘JFK dress’ was a bold choice when worn by Marilyn Monroe to sing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ in 1962. Sixty years later, it returned to being an object of controversy as Kim’s Met Gala outfit.
Kim obtained the famous dress from ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’, an attractions company that had previously acquired it at an auction for $4.8m and preserved it in a vault.
Textiles conservator Cara Varnell told the Los Angeles Times, “We just don’t wear archived historic pieces”, whilst Sarah Scaturro, a former conservator at the Met’s Costume Institute, worried that “colleagues in historic costume collections are now going to be pressured by important people to let them wear garments”. Many comments under the Instagram posts of Kim Kardashian and Ripley’s also asserted that the wrong fashion choice had been made.
Nick Woodhouse, who runs Marilyn’s estate, attempted to quell the backlash by telling TMZ that Marilyn would have been thrilled to see Kim wear her gown. Yet Woodhouse has merely made Marilyn his puppet by placing his own words into her mouth. A dress so unmistakably representative of the Hollywood icon should remain preserved as a part of history. Instead, it has been paraded around at a highly publicised and superficial fashion event by a rich businesswoman with enough power to procure it.
Throughout her life as a leading Hollywood actress, Marilyn Monroe was one of the many women to be fetishised by the film industry. Historically, women’s bodies have been reduced to material objects used to sell films, attracting consumers through sex appeal. So, moments after being gifted with a lock of the now-deceased star’s hair as if it were plucked straight from a doll, Kim’s choice to play dress-up to an event which revolves around flaunting outfits continues the objectification and exploitation of the actress. It also perpetuates the idolisation of celebrities, who achieve such staggering fame that they are no longer perceived as human beings but as cultural symbols.
During her red-carpet interview, Kardashian continued to dig herself deeper into controversy by proudly revealing that she had lost 16 pounds in 3 weeks to fit into the dress, sparking disapproval.
Notably, actress Lili Reinhart wrote over a series of Instagram story posts on the 4th of May:
To openly admit to starving yourself for the sake of the Met Gala. When you know very well that millions of young men and women are looking up to you and listening to your every word. The ignorance is other-worldly and disgusting.
With such a huge following comprised largely of young and impressionable women, it is irresponsible for Kim to advocate such a dangerously fast fluctuation in body weight as an achievement. The idolisation of thinness promotes extreme weight control behaviours which are characteristic of Anorexia and Bulimia (Keel and Forney 2013, 438). Young women are disproportionately affected by these dangerous eating disorders. Therefore, it is imperative that influencers like Kim Kardashian stop incentivising their audiences to practice weight loss in their aspirations to be beautiful.
Crucially, the dress did not initially fit because Kim has a different body shape from Marilyn. In a world where there is so much pressure to metamorphose into a Barbie doll, we must recognise that our bodies are unique and embrace them for being so. Kim operates within a Hollywood bubble where it is normal for people to go to extreme lengths to alter their appearances whilst having the privilege of being attended to by elite doctors and dieticians. Most of her followers do not have this luxury.
Promoting rapid weight loss is emblematic of the fashion industry’s oppressive beauty standards, which the Kardashian family have long since faced criticism for perpetuating. They are notoriously unwilling to disclose the ways in which they have augmented their bodies, attributing their vast changes in appearance to dieting and exercise. Brown and Tiggemann identified “exposure to celebrity images, comparison with celebrities, and worship of celebrities as particularly salient to body image” (2022, 1247). With such a large online presence, it is vital that the Kardashians and other powerful influencers are mindful of the messages they project and are transparent about their unrealistic bodies. This way, young people will be less inclined to compare themselves to what they see on social media and develop a negative body image.
Hopefully, Kim will steer clear from vaults preserving iconic dresses and think twice before promoting the next toxic beauty standard to her young followers, but chances are this won’t be her last controversy.
Brown, Zoe, and Marika Tiggermann. 2022. “Celebrity influence on body image and eating disorders: A review.” Journal of Health Psychology 27, no. 5: 1233-1251. https://click.endnote.com/viewer?doi=10.1177%2F1359105320988312&token=WzMyMTMxMzcsIjEwLjExNzcvMTM1OTEwNTMyMDk4ODMxMiJd.UywHys1FNjveg7iiVXUCMK-unQo
Keel, P. K, and K. Jean Forney. 2013. “Psychological Risk Factors for Eating Disorders.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 46, no. 5: 433-439. https://click.endnote.com/viewer?doi=10.1002%2Feat.22094&token=WzMyMTMxMzcsIjEwLjEwMDIvZWF0LjIyMDk0Il0.HeGHFbpg-jsCml2bt66ELGMz-28
“Marilyn Monroe's Estate Gives Big Thumbs Up Over Kim K Wearing Dress.” TMZ, May 4, 2022.https://www.tmz.com/2022/05/04/marilyn-monroe-estate-big-thumbs-up-kim-kardashian-wearing-dress-met-gala/
Saad, Nardine, and Deborah Vankin. “Conservators ‘speechless’ that Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s dress to Met Gala.” The Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-05-03/kim-kardashian-marilyn-monroe-dress-2022-met-gala-conservators
Social Media Links
Kim Kardashian: https://www.instagram.com/p/CdFEmpQr7vF/
Lili Reinhart’s Instagram stories: https://twitter.com/PopCrave/status/1521848508298444803