Today, Kylie Jenner has been named the world’s youngest self-made billionaire for the second year running. When Forbes—under its own definition of the term—crowned her a year ago, the internet was not happy. They complained that she was born with privilege, that she had a platform that made it really easy, and that she wasn’t self-made because her family put her in a place to claim success.
It’s exactly this attitude that reduces the success such women may have to whether or not ‘intelligent’ or ‘respectable’ people have their back. After all, smart women are not generally associated with sex appeal, beauty, materialism and anything else the glam fam might model. In fact, if anything, these characteristics prove that the women have nothing of value to contribute to the world apart from sex appeal—and any sane person knows that sexiness and brains are mutually exclusive.
All that I seem to gather from discussions around the Kardashian-Jenner empire is that it came from somewhere else—it’s never their own. They became famous because Kim was besties with ‘00s it-girl Paris Hilton. No wait, it was because Robert Kardashian Sr defended OJ Simpson during his infamous murder trial. Nope, actually it was definitely because Kim and Ray J’s sex tape was leaked.
An array of reasons for the family’s fame come in list-form whenever it’s discussed, and Kylie’s self-made billionaire status has been reduced to the very same reasons that excused her sisters’ success. It turns out, according to the world, this family is famous for absolutely no reason at all, and everything they have just fell into their collective lap through their relations with other people… mostly men.
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It’s also worth noting that at the time of writing, out of Forbes’ list of 41 self-made billionaires under 40—all but one are men, making Kylie the only woman. Of these 41 billionaires, 30 of them are in the tech industry—a notoriously lucrative industry, yet abusive, unequal, and discouraging in terms of its attitudes toward women, and therefore an infamously difficult one for them to break into.
It takes a millionaire 14 years to reach billionaire status, on average. Bill Gates achieved mill to bill in 5 years, and Jeff Bezos in 2 years. Kylie, on the other hand, was worth $5 million in 2015, and managed to make a 19,900% return on her investment within 4 years—a simple achievement if you are born into privilege and fame.
That’s precisely why we are seeing so many young billionaires today. The children of celebrities or wealthy families—from Donald Trump to Kardashian-creator Paris Hilton—were all quickly advancing to billionaire status in their early 20s. Sarcasm? Definitely. Kylie’s net worth is almost double that of her mother and sisters’ fortunes combined in just a few short years in the beauty business. And despite having more Instagram followers, with very fruitful and lengthy careers, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ariana Grande, The Rock and Selena Gomez can unfortunately not withdraw a billion dollars from the bank of Instagram fandom.
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Although a large majority of people refuse to see a materialistic woman succeed, Kylie drew from her own experiences as just that: a materialistic woman. She saw a gap in the market when it came to liners and lippies being sold separately—not always matching in colour—and decided to release her own kits.
She had a platform and huge following already, and her family have spent years building a unique way of marketing which involves almost no traditional advertising. In any other context, this would be viewed as strategic business management—but for Kylie, it’s reduced to her sister’s sex tape or whatever other excuse the world conjures up to explain away the accomplishments of beautiful, sexy, materialistic, and perhaps shallow women—especially if she’s capitalising off those traits.
But if society holds women primarily to their looks and sex appeal, then it was only a matter of time before women took the reins on selling it themselves. Nobody wants to see a crusty, old, rich man selling lipstick on Instagram—so traditionally, the aforementioned old man would hire beautiful young women (like, ironically enough, Kylie’s supermodel sister Kendall) to model his products for him. It’s no mistake that almost all the top beauty companies, according to Forbes, have male CEOs; and those (very few) companies with female CEOs were still founded by men originally. Beauty products were conceived as a tool for men’s pleasure, and subsequently their control.
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Evidenced by her billion dollar fortune, it’s difficult to fault Kylie’s unique business model. Without magazine ads, billboards, or even an initial need for a major distributor, many reduced Kylie’s success to her inherited fame rather than the family’s business strategies. When the Kardashian-Jenners devised their own extremely successful way of advertising, the need for advertisement production practically vanished—and many perceived this as ‘doing nothing’.
The entire family, including Kylie herself, contributed to their cult social media following. She used her resources and built a business—but which celebrity hasn’t? Far bigger names, whether male or female, have not been able to reach ten figures—not even those same friends and family who had apparently paved the path to the bank for Kylie—and let’s not pretend this is because they just don’t want a billion dollars.
I’ve learnt from experience that you don’t just become a billionaire by posting selfies on Instagram (trust me, it doesn’t work). And to give credit where credit is due, Kris Jenner hustled hard to manifest her family empire—and Kylie, whether the internet likes it or not, played to her advantages better than any other celebrity heir, including her sisters. Her massive fortune is, in one way or another, a result of her business strategies—not because of their father, or Paris Hilton, or Kim’s sex tape. I mean, who the hell is Ray J anyway?