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As Kim Kardashian prepares to marry the other half of #TheWorldsMostTalkedAboutCouple, Ray J has supposedly offered up his profits from their sex tape as a wedding gift. The whole thing sounds too tabloid-friendly to be true but, regardless of its veracity, reminds us of why Kardashian became so famous in the first place. It highlights the way Kim has since transcended her scandal, ultimately turning herself into an enduring public figure. Seven years later, it's clear that what truly made Kim a "Superstar" is not the creation of some low-budget porn, but her ability to distance herself from the very impetus for her fame in building a brand that is paradoxically sexy yet not based on sex.
Kim has an extensive social following, but her brand extends into a realm of unprecedented business savvy. With the help of her sisters and "momager," Kim has managed to construct an “empire that includes fashion boutiques, fitness videos, credit cards, a best-selling fragrance, skin care products and a self tanner.” As the New York Times noted back in 2010, she is also received positively by the consumer when promoting other products. Her relationships with the likes of Sketchers or Carl Jr. would even indicate that she is considered a family-friendly brand.
Let's be clear, having a family-friendly brand does not mean Kim is not sexy. Her persona consistently incorporates sexiness, of which that French magazine cover and butt selfie are real standout examples. Yet, what Kim exposes is always deliberately limited and alluring in its curation. This is most clear through Kim's obvious foil and long-lost counterpart, Paris Hilton. Lest we forget, Kim rose to relevance as “one of Paris Hilton’s friends” (or, really, “one of Paris Hilton’s closet organizers.”) Both can thank sex tapes for their ascent to public consciousness, but it was Paris’ reliance on a certain raunchiness -- which Kim has eschewed --that have led to their starkly different levels of fame in the following years.
Of course, Kim has not always been welcomed without criticism. There is a noticeable backlash, but it’s very specific backlash. When she appeared on the cover of Vogue this past March, there was an audible voice of discontent. But that didn’t seem to consist of people whose selective memories still managed to latch on to a 2007 sex tape, as much as those who took issue with Kim's supposed talentlessness being glorified. The dissenters didn’t think someone so "famesque" had enough of a hand in shaping culture to receive the Vogue honor. A past edition of Middlebrow has argued they’re wrong, but the point here is that even the Anti-Kim faction responds to her current brand as a lifestyle presence, rather than any memory they might have of that one time she had sex with Ray J.
Yet again, as with the reemergence of the sex tape, Kim was overwhelmingly resilient to all of the Vogue-related criticism. Her marriage to Kanye West is another testament to that immunity. Sure, part of Kim’s narrative was always a search for love. But despite the fact that we’ve seen her find it and divorce it via a two-hour E! special, we’re ready to not only see her get married again, but to spend the preceding months quivering over where it will be and what she’ll wear and whether Bruce Jenner’s ponytail will be invited. Like her or not, it’s impossible not to respect the sheer genius of Kim’s long-form PR game. She's almost ever-present, yet able to leave much to the imagination, despite the fact that we've already seen pretty much all there is to see. So, as Kim prepares to walk down the aisle once again, all that’s left to do is revere this woman’s ability to convince us she ought to continue being paid to wear white, and maybe even say “Kongratulations.”
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca