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.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.