Monday night was the Met Gala. 

I sat on my couch in my sweatpants watching celebrities arrive at the red carpet, and was enthralled at some of the looks that had a lot of thought, time and effort put into them. (Some also looked like they were trying everything in their power not to fit the theme, but I digress).

As always, when Kim Kardashian arrived, heads turned and jaws dropped. 

We found out that she was wearing the iconic dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1962, when Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy. The dress was given to Kim on loan from Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.

Kardashian shared that in order to fit into the dress, however, she had to lose 16 pounds in just 3 weeks.

“I always thought she was extremely curvy,'' Kardashian said of Monroe during an interview with Vogue. "I imagined I might be smaller in some places where she was bigger and bigger in places where she was smaller. So when it didn’t fit me I wanted to cry because it can’t be altered at all.”

Kardashian, who is reported to be about 130 pounds, underwent a dramatic weight loss in a short amount of time just to fit into a dress. This says a lot, given that Kim is thought to be a “curvy” icon herself, and that during her time, Monroe was also considered “plus sized,” despite only weighing from 115-120 pounds. 

“I would wear a sauna suit twice a day, run on the treadmill, completely cut out all sugar and all carbs, and just eat the cleanest veggies and protein,” she explained to Vogue.

“I didn’t starve myself, but I was so strict,” she added.

While the focus became the fact that Kardashian was wearing Monroe’s dress, the bleach-blonde ‘do that accompanied it, and the overall wow-factor of the moment—I couldn’t get past how casually Kim mentioned the lengths she went to to fit into the dress.

Regardless of what you feel about the Kardashians, it would be completely remiss to deny their cultural impact. 

Since the beginning of their careers, whether or not you explicitly “care” about or follow them, they have influenced fashion and beauty trends, and continue to influence what an ideal body type looks like.

Despite their impact, the Kardashian clan has also been notorious for promoting and glamorizing a disordered relationship to body image.

They have blatantly denied that they have had any work done, actively promoted weight loss teas (which are made of laxatives, by the way), denied altering their Instagram photos, to now this instance at the Met, with Kim so proudly sharing the story of her weight loss.

On social media, many celebrated the great lengths Kardashian went to in the name of fashion—as we always have. 

“Beauty is pain,” they say, and there is a particular commitment to designer fashion, recognition of archives, and commitment to a theme we can all love and respect. Right?

But as I read the reactions to Kardashian’s weight loss and “dedication,” as many called it, I couldn’t help but feel my stomach churn, thinking about how despite claims to the contrary, we haven’t evolved at all from the days I’d read magazine covers about “staying thin” in grocery stores over a decade ago.

Even I had to catch myself. Despite the fact that I thought Kardashian’s adherence to the theme and understanding of fashion history were undoubtedly iconic—I couldn’t bring myself to accept that extreme weight loss in the name of fashion and aesthetic is something we should throw around so casually. 

It’s not normal, and certainly not commendable to push your body to great, unnatural lengths in order to fit into a dress for an evening. Kim saying this undoubtedly impacts millions of women everywhere, who look up to her as a standard of what a desired body type looks like.

It took me back to being an insecure teen who hung on to the every word and action of the supermodels, celebs and fitness influencers I wanted to emulate. 

I think my infatuation with seeing celebrities in high-end designer gowns and dresses began when I was in elementary school, reading tabloid magazines at the checkout counter while my mom was paying for groceries.

I would ask her each week to let me read the latest magazine, which would always have a section comparing celebrity outfits and showcasing some of the latest fashion week collections that were fresh off the runway.

I’d watch What Not to Wear or Fashion Police in my Aeropostale sweaters and La Senza Girl sweatpants—enthralled at everything, from the clothes being worn to the celebs who would wear them. 

I also think this is where my complicated relationship with body image started.

This only became worse during high school when Instagram became a thing, and the world of celebrities collided with the world of influencers—opening up entirely new avenues to make an already-insecure teen exponentially more insecure. 

Now, I wasn’t just comparing myself with the cover of tabloid magazines that highlighted how supermodels had “let themselves go” by gaining a few pounds, nor was I speculating a pregnancy any time a celeb dared to have a picture taken from an unflattering angle. We were also up against retouched photos, fitness “inspo,” and an ever-changing idea of what the ideal body type should be. 

My initial interest in fitness outside of the world of sports began towards the end of high school. It stemmed from reading 17 Magazine and seeing their pages dedicated to workouts, and became obsessive when I followed every fitness influencer I possibly could—telling myself it was for inspiration and motivation.

I’d scroll incessantly through my IG feed, ogling at my favourite celebrities and personal trainers, fuelling comparison and my own feelings of inadequacy. Subconsciously, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I began to police my own relationship with exercise and food as a result. 

I liked working out, and I liked food, but only to the extent that I remained thin. I wanted to get stronger, and I’d always say I wanted to gain weight, but I never actually ate enough so this would happen.

I saw what it meant to be considered “fit” and had committed myself to achieving that. This meant I too began to value my body for what it looked like and not for all that it could do for me.

Anytime I saw the numbers on the scale increase beyond what I thought was “normal” for me, I’d fall into disordered patterns of intense workouts or trying to eat “healthy,” which often meant not eating enough. It took me a few years to be honest with myself about my relationship with exercise and food and where it stemmed from.

It took me years to start eating enough and to accept that trying to fit into the same size I could when I was 16 wasn’t a reasonable expectation, and that a normal, natural weight for me was a weight that wasn’t the byproduct of a restrictive diet or excessive exercise. 

It took me years to learn that exercise is a way to show me what my body can do, not to punish me for what I ate. 

This is why I have such a problem with how many have normalized and glamorized Kardashian’s weight loss as a “challenge,” or an incredible feat to aspire to.

This is why we can’t just casually toss around the idea of extreme weight loss as a normal part of celebrity or fitness culture. 

Kardashian sharing that she cut carbs and sugar and only ate veggies in preparation for the gala only to post donuts and pizza on her IG story afterwards as a “reward,” is a reflection of disordered eating.

If you have to force your body to be a specific size by depriving yourself, you simply aren’t intended to be that size, and that isn’t something to punish yourself for. 

A quick scan of social media will garner thousands of comments or posts inquiring about how Kardashian lost the weight, or “joking” about how they too want to follow her regime.

What isn’t posted on social media is the teenage girl scrolling her timeline and then looking at her own waist in the mirror, wondering how or if she will ever measure up, or punishing herself for “indulging” in carbs or sugar while Miss Kim K munches on her veggies.

While it’s easy to tell people to stop giving their attention to celebrities, fashion or social media, the underlying logic that promotes and maintains thinness as the standard pervades every facet of our society—forcing individuals to compare themselves to celebrities, fad diets, or fitness regimens.

Mind you, Kardashian is entitled to eat and look however she desires to—as we all should. But her squeezing into a dress by following an extreme regimen and casually mentioning a dramatic and quick weight loss is being celebrated, because looking thin will always be the desirable way to be, regardless of how much “body positivity” that brands, including hers, try to sell you on.

I mean think about it, if a star had to gain 16+ pounds to fit into their Met Gala fit, would we be having the same conversation in the same way?

Maybe it isn’t about the dress, after all. 

About the author

Rumneek Johal

Rumneek is a journalist, host and speaker. She is currently the BC Reporter at Press Progress where she focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism. Her previous work centers on asking tough questions within her community, starting conversation and chipping away at the status quo. Other focus areas for her work include the South Asian community, arts and culture, pop culture, and more. She is a proud Punjabi woman from Surrey, BC.

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