Every so often, someone says exactly what we’re thinking about a certain issue, saving us the trouble. Today, that person was comedian, actress and 2017 Root 100 honoree Franchesca Ramsey (aka “Chescaleigh”), who can now add “mind reader” to her lengthy resume, since she succinctly summed up our thoughts on Forbes magazine calling Kylie Jenner a “self-made” soon-to-be billionaire on its cover (which features Jenner).
While the 20-year-old Jenner—who, according to the cover story, is currently worth approximately $900 million—is indeed en route to becoming a billionaire any second now, Forbes made some major missteps in explaining to the world exactly how Jenner earned those piles of money. For example, this paragraph:
What her half-sister Kim Kardashian West did for booty, Jenner has done for full lips. Like Kardashian West, she has leveraged her assets to gain both fame and money. But while her sister is best-known for the former, Jenner has proved adept at the latter. In historic fashion.
Her “assets”? You mean, her admittedly cosmetically-filled lips, which Jenner—who literally grew up getting residual checks from a hit television show—initially wouldn’t admit to, but recently claimed to have gotten rid of?
But we digress. Moving on, Forbes also says:
Jenner runs one of the hottest makeup companies ever. Kylie Cosmetics launched two years ago with a $29 “lip kit” consisting of a matching set of lipstick and lip liner, and has sold more than $630 million worth of makeup since ... Forbes values her company, which has since added other cosmetics like eye shadow and concealer, at nearly $800 million. Jenner owns 100% of it.
Forbes rightfully notes that the manufacturing and packaging of Jenner’s cosmetics are outsourced to private-label producer Seed Beauty. What they fail to mention is that Seed Beauty is the company behind much cheaper cult-favorite brand ColourPop—which should explain the similarities between products, albeit at very different price points.
Here’s where they got it right:
Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following. Almost hourly, she takes to Instagram and Snapchat, pouting for selfies with captions about which Kylie Cosmetics shades she’s wearing, takes videos of forthcoming products and announces new launches. It sounds inane until you realize that she has over 110 million followers on Instagram and millions more on Snapchat ...
It’s not that much different from the early days of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, when his strategy basically consisted of calling in to television shows, tweeting provocatively and holding an occasional rally. Products of reality television, both Trump and Jenner understood how fame can be leveraged–that they are as much brands as people and that fame is just another word for free marketing. While this has always been somewhat true–it’s the very nature of a celebrity endorsement–social media has weaponized fame to the point that a real estate mogul can be president and a 20-year-old from a family “famous for being famous” can approach billionaire status by monetizing that to the extreme.
And how did she get that social media following? Organically? Or by virtue of being part of an already famous family?
In fact, as Forbes also notes, Kylie Lip Kits started when the then-teenager, who admits she “struggled for a minute with finding something to do on my own,” (outside of co-starring on Keeping Up with the Kardashians) got lip fillers to boost her burgeoning modeling career, sparking scrutiny and ridicule on social media. Ever one to capitalize on scandal, it was
Svengali mom Kris Kardashian-Jenner (as usual) who spun the moment into a marketing opportunity, for the bargain price of the (well-earned) 10 percent she takes as a management fee from all of her children. And a cosmetics empire was born.
But as our homegirl Ramsey subsequently pointed out in a series of blistering tweets, what we’re not going to do is ignore the fact that Jenner had a major leg up to begin with, being the product of not one, but two wealthy families—and well-known ones, to boot:
Of course, Jenner stans were quick to come for the comedian, accusing her of being a “hater,” and “salty,” rather than stating simple and verifiable facts, however sarcastically. And of course, Ramsey was more than contrite and humbled by the experience (also sarcasm).
Because here’s the thing: We can acknowledge that Jenner is extremely and even enviably successful for her age (or any age) while still acknowledging that immense privilege played a major factor in making her perhaps the most successful in an already immensely successful family. After all, aside from inherited wealth, a decade’s worth of media exposure and built-in mentoring and management, she’s also (dare we say it?) white, which has been known to open a few doors that just having full lips and booties alone do not.
Is Kylie successful? Hell, yes. Is she “self-made”? Hell to the no. Just like raising a child, her empire took a village to build—and that’s okay, as long as we’re honest about it. But let’s also be honest about this: That empire was built on the beauty of marginalized women who will likely never have the opportunity to market it with the same success.
But perhaps, as Ramsey says, we’re just being too “aggressive” in our assessment: