Kim Kardashian's curves aren't to blame for our problems

Young girls admiring Kardashian's unskinny form isn't going to bring Western Civilisation tumbling down

If you had to pick one image that summed up all that’s currently wrong with Western Civilisation, what would it show? Greek families begging on the streets? Guantanamo? The thousands of victims of child abuse that await protection?

Or an undulating Kim Kardashian in her practised, projectile T-and-A pose?

According to the very learned Dr Helen Wright, former President of the Girls’ School Association, our moral pillars are crumbling under the voluptuous threat of Ms Kardashian: "The descent of Western civilisation can practically be read into [her] every curve". And here was I worrying about unemployment (around one in 10 are jobless in the eurozone alone) and whether the new Greek government will say "yamas!" to meeting debt repayments. 

Wright’s speech to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education makes the obvious but reasonable point that girls are growing up to value aesthetics over intellect due to a dearth of decent role models and society’s (or rather the market’s) overvaluing of female beauty – which if you take a look at history, Dr Wright, you’ll see is nothing new, whatever your fears about premature sexualisation may lead you to believe otherwise.

Kim Kardashian mentioned in the Daily Mail

Kardashian featured on the Daily Mail website

But for a supposedly clever woman, Wright’s hyperbole reveals a facile and paranoically conservative analysis. I mean, is a knicker-flashing Kim really responsible for social deprivation, or child poverty? Is Western Civilisation’s biggest problem really that women waste too much time worrying about their cellulite? And if we flibbertigibbets were all in drab, convently garb, would that rid our minds of frivolous thoughts, and mean that we’d be free of childcare conundrums or sexual harassment or any of the other things that stop us from reaching the professional echelons, come adulthood?

Quoted in The Times yesterday (£), Wright dissects a Zoo cover image of Kim that has so discombobulated her thus: "Officially the hottest woman in the world? Really? Is this what we want our young people to aim for? Is this what success should mean?"

Well, I hate to say it but I’m partial to a bit of Kardashi-bum admiration myself (only in the two-minute breaks I take between tweeting bunk, re-reading Foucault and overeating oatcakes, mind). Which doesn’t mean I consider her successful. Nor a moral role model (I don’t know her, I couldn’t possibly know anything about her personal values). Just that I quite admire her refreshingly un-skinny form.

Wright needs to calm down with the wash-their-faces-in-carbolic-soap maternalism. Piece of advice for you Dr Wright: I went to a girls’ school, and far better than worrying about the nefarious influence of Kardashian and her ilk, is for overly-concerned teachers like yourself to give pupils some more important topics to think about in the first place, as mine did.  You know, like hyperinflation in 1920s Germany. Or the fall of the Soviet Union. Or what happens when puritanical societies use women’s bodies as a moral battleground.

The Bum That Brought Us Social Meltdown, however, probably doesn’t need to be on that syllabus.

Kim Kardashian in Las Vegas in June 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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