An essay on free speech in democracy, and it’s unfair usage by the Kardashians
Democracy is generally defined as a method of governance that’s led by the will of the people. Free speech is an integral part of democracy’s core values. By logic, this should apply to social media in a democratic nation as well, but does it work? In a democracy, while everyone has a right to post and say what they want, it does come with its own set of challenges. The most prominent one being – when does free speech become harmful, and when should it be stopped? We have seen resistance from social media towards outwardly hateful speeches of Donald Trump and Kanye West, but the more subtle and harmful speech is often ignored by the same social media. This article talks about the harmful impact that free speech can have through a case study of the Kardashians and their promotion of negative eating habits, and the pushback they receive. Where is the line that separates the more obvious violation of democratic rights versus more subtle ones?
In a democracy, free speech is the open expression of ideas and opinions without government interference. This freedom is often misused, and the Kardashians’ exploitation of social media is a more subtle way of abusing this right. The Pew Institute, in their article, states that “citizens’ lack of digital fluency and their apathy produce an ill-informed and/or dispassionate public, weakening democracy and the fabric of society.” (Concerns about democracy). Given how easily misinformation can spread via social media, the Kardashians take full advantage of that. A study conducted by York University in Toronto studied the rise and fall of the “slim-thick” body type in social media, and how it generates dissatisfaction in women about their own bodies (McComb & Mills, para 5). They in fact, credited Kim Kardashian, and Kylie Jenner for contributing to this trend of constantly altering your body to fit the societal standards. Millions of people follow the Kardashians, and presumably a significant number of their followers will aspire to look like them, and this is where the problem arises. The Kardashians continue to post body image shots and promote “slimming teas” and “slimming candies” that are essentially just hunger supressing food items and laxatives (Jameela Jamil Slams).
Through a democratic lens, they are simply accessing their right to free speech and promoting what they think is right on their platforms. But it’s causing women to look at their own bodies and conclude that they are not “fit” enough, like the Kardashians. Furthermore, the Kardashians are also known for digitally altering their photos with photoshop and have even gone as far as getting plastic surgery to attain the “slim-think” aesthetic. This (makes) the thin ideal even thinner and less attainable for the average woman.” (NYPost). While it is not un-democratic to promote harmful teas, alter your bodies and deny claims about harming women’s bodies through their actions, “it’s “manipulating authenticity” by not being transparent about it.” (NYPost). According to the New York Post, another study concluded that “contrary to the thin imagery that once reigned in media, the slim-thick body ideal actually caused “more weight and appearance dissatisfaction” than the thinner imagery.”(NYPost). The question then arises – if what the Kardashians are doing is so clearly wrong, why is no one doing something about it?
The negligence of social media platforms when it comes to women is quite evident in cases like these. When Andrew Tate claimed to access his free speech and continuously commented on women’s bodies to his 4.6 million followers, he was promptly banned from most social media platforms in under 2 months. Why has the same not been done for the Kardashians? This shows that the idea of free speech is dependent on how subtle you are with it and shows how much you can get away with. The rise of the “slim-thick” body type, popularised by the Kardashians, is extremely harmful because “[It] may still represent an ideal of beauty that women find threatening and personally unattainable.” (NYPost). The alarming part is, this impact on women and their bodies will go ignored by the standards of the government and social media platforms, because it isn’t actively harming men and women, which appears to be the basis of these bans from social media.
So, does that mean that the Kardashians will continue to exploit women’s bodies and harming their mental health without any consequences? This would invalidate the actual meaning of free speech in a democracy. While one has the freedom to express their thoughts on their personal social media platforms, it is essential to keep in mind the impact their words can have on their audience, no matter how big or small – a harmful impact should be dealt with, and even someone as wealthy as Kim Kardashian should face consequences for their actions.
But not all hope is lost in democracy. There has been significant pushback from activists all over the globe, debunking the Kardashians’ claims of having untouched photos, the benefits of their teas and candies, and much more. Actress and Activist Jameela Jamil has been extremely vocal about the impact of the Kardashians on the everyday woman. Jamil always has quite the vocabulary towards the Kardashians and has called Kim a “terrible and toxic influence on young girls” (Pedestrian) after the latter promoted an appetite suppressant sucker in 2018. It is relieving to realise that there are people standing against promotion of various body image issues, and that democracy still sustains itself. While the Kardashians have the democratic right to promote, discuss and post whatever they desire on their social media, it is important to call them out for the exploitative way with which they harm women’s thinking.
Adams, David. Jameela Jamil Slams “Toxic” Kim Kardashian For “Appetite Suppressant” Ad. May 17, 2018. https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/jameela-jamil-kim-kardashian-appetite-suppressant-ad/ Accessed November 6, 2022.
“Concerns about democracy in the digital age.” February 21, 2020.https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/02/21/concerns-about-democracy-in-the-digital-age/Accessed on November 7, 2022.
Kato, Brooke. “Kim Kardashian’s ‘slim-thick’ figure is ‘more harmful for body image’: study”. New York Post. January 26, 2022. https://nypost.com/2022/01/26/kim-kardashians-figure-is-harmful-for-body-image-study/ Accessed November 6, 2022.
McComb, Sarah E. Mills, Jennifer S. “The effect of physical appearance perfectionism and social comparison to thin-, slim-thick-, and fit-ideal Instagram imagery on young women’s body image.” ScienceDirect. December 27, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2021.12.003
Ramirez, Nikki MCCann. “Andrew Tate Banned From Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube”. August 22, 2022. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/andrew-tate-banned-instagram-facebook-1234578232/ Accessed November 6, 2022.
“The Future of Digital Spaces and Their Role in Democracy” November 17, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/11/22/the-future-of-digital-spaces-and-their-role-in-democracy/pi_2021-11-22_future-of-digital-spaces_0-02/Accessed on November 7, 2022.