If you had to sum up the year in beauty terms, you could talk about celebrities and influencers coming out with many brands, or make-up making a comeback. Glossier’s growing pains would be another contender for story of the year, or perhaps the staying power of fragrance, the unlikely winner of the pandemic.
But really, 2022 was another year where Kim Kardashian dominated the beauty conversation — though not because she debuted her long-awaited skincare line.
In June, Kardashian relaunched her beauty brand with SKKN By Kim. The overall aesthetic — various shades of nude and gray, minimal and resembling stone or concrete, much like Kardashian’s house — was very much on brand. The decision to start skin care, less. Widely known for her makeup, Kardashian is arguably responsible for mainstreaming contouring as a beauty trend.
The hope was that Kardashian could emulate the success of Skims, her multibillion dollar lifestyle brand that sells shapewear, bras, underwear, swimwear and more. Crucial to Skims’ winning formula was that the product was authentic to Kardashian, famous for curves not necessarily embraced by fashion. She built an empire rooted in body inclusion and positivity, with marketing and campaigns reflecting this ethos.
SKKN by Kim’s $43 Cleanser and $95 Oil Drops and Night Oil fits that model in some ways; they’re all part of Kardashian’s own rigorous nine-step routine. Candid about her vanity, she told me in an earlier interview for The New York Times that she would eat feces every day if she looked younger.
It’s too soon to say how it sells, but Kim’s reaction to SKKN was as muted as the packaging. Skincare wasn’t seen as revolutionary, and for the most part it wasn’t. It felt similar to any other prestige skincare with minimalist branding designed for millennials.
Kardashian got a lot more attention this year from just about everything else she did. In 2022, she lost her husband, Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), her boyfriend, Pete Davidson, and then those curves.
The 42-year-old, who made her shapely derriere her trademark (her shiny backside on the cover of Paper magazines #BreaktheInternet issue in 2014 did just that), has embraced her new slimmer body like a trophy, first by shrinking herself to squeeze into a Marilyn Monroe dress at the Met Gala and even going so far as to posted body scans in which she bragged about the Olympic athlete’s body fat levels during the summer.
In the mid-20s, a celebrity’s shrinking physique and indulgence in extreme dieting may have provoked a mix of praise, admiration, condemnation, and concern. Their meal plan and a detailed list of what they do and don’t eat in a day would probably have sparked new food trends as well. Well, not so much.
Priorities are shifting, especially among Gen-Z, a group that increasingly values self-acceptance, self-expression, fairness, authenticity and diversity in all aspects, from race to body types. This group is less concerned with perfection or achieving unrealistic body fat percentages; they crave Selena Gomez’s humanity, whether it’s her real stomach on TikTok or openness about mental health issues, and Lizzo’s unabashed confidence.
Despite Kardashian’s willingness to share her weight, she didn’t open up the way younger consumers want. Openness and authenticity, whether genuine or not, is key to selling products. Kardashian is getting more attention than ever, but the fixation on weight loss and achieving a perfect body feels like a throwback. Her comments in the Time may have been a Gomez-style attempt at authenticity, but it was overshadowed by everything else she said and did this year.
MJ Corey, a psychotherapist and the founder of “Kardashian Kolloquium,” an Instagram account that analyzes the culture’s impact of the Kardashian family, likened Kardashian to a cyborg.
“She encodes herself like a computer, [showing us] she’s operational at her optimal peak performance,” Corey said of Kardashian’s uncanny ability to create a “perfect, organic-matter-formed-in-a-human-being” type image and skillfully project it onto the hundreds of millions of people who follow her online.
It’s a way of operating online that’s better suited to Instagram than TikTok, where many of the beauty conversations now take place and where trends emerge. Over the summer, when Instagram prioritized video content in an effort to be more like TikTok, Kardashian and sister Kylie Jenner reposted a photo that read, “Make Instagram Instagram again.”
“Content around Kim’s body will always stick around, even if it’s not well received,” said Corey. “It will always trend.”
That may be true, it may not always sell skin care products.