Yesterday, Forbes declared Kylie Jenner en route to becoming a self-made billionaire — or more specifically, “the youngest-ever self-made billionaire.”
The magazine estimated that she’s currently worth $900 million, making her the wealthiest member of her family and at age 20, will likely beat Mark Zuckerberg in the financial game (since he only became a billionaire at age 23 – how embarrassing!). Naturally, everybody on the internet had something to say. But not so much about Kylie’s monetary milestone or the specifics of her cosmetic business. Instead, it was the phrase “self-made.”
In the immortal words of Dictionary.com, “Self-made means having succeeded in life unaided . . . Used in a sentence, ‘Forbes says Kylie Jenner is a self-made woman.'” And obviously, this came across as throwing shade. A point writer Roxane Gay refuted while raising an important issue: “It is not shade to point out that Kylie Jenner isn’t self-made,” she tweeted. “She grew up in a wealthy, privileged family. Her success is commendable, but it comes by virtue of her privilege. Words have meanings and it behooves a dictionary to remind us of that.”
And, well, exactly. There is nothing “self-made” about Kylie Jenner’s wealth or her success. You are not “self-made” when your parents are worth millions, and you’ve never known a reality outside of excess. Kylie Jenner may have worked hard to make her cosmetics company an empire, but that cosmetics company was bred from the privilege that allowed her, as a teenager, to have it. The rest of us would’ve had to scrimp and save, take out loans, put our credit at risk, and faced a real chance of failing. Kylie, on the other hand, likely did not have to do those things. Or if she did, she had a safety net that would ensure that even if her company failed, she would still have a bankable future.
Which is the issue with this “self-made” rhetoric. To begin, it’s wonderful for a woman to earn so much as a result of her dreams and hard work. But at the same time, Forbes‘ phrasing falls in-step with the idea that capitalism is a synonym for feminism. Mainly, that to be rich means a woman is strong or powerful or that we’ve all won because of it. And we know that isn’t true. Kylie Jenner’s wealth does not mean we are all wealthy or that we’ve advanced as women in any bankable way. (See: the world, now currently on-fire.) Instead, it is a milestone for her, and it connotes her ability to work hard. But she isn’t self-made. And it’s a disservice to everybody to declare her as such.
Kylie Jenner is likely (I hope) aware of her privilege. She is not living a life common for a 20-year-old, and it would be delusional to think that she is. She is surrounded by millionaires, opportunity, comfort, and possessions, and while I think it’s wonderful that she still got up and went to work despite not really needing to, the choice to work is still a reflection of her privilege: she had a choice. Most of us don’t. Most of the world doesn’t. And if you have a choice that nobody else gets, you are a privileged person who is by no means “self-made.” So by attaching “self-made” to Jenner’s descriptor, Forbes perpetuates a lie. And not even a good one: we know Kylie Jenner is, well, a Jenner. And to acknowledge that wouldn’t take away from Kylie’s cosmetics (it’d be the repetition of common knowledge).
Adding it? It sets unrealistic expectations, misuses the words, and fails to paint a realistic portrait. Also, it puts Kylie Jenner on the same level as all of us. Which isn’t fair. She has advantages that most of us and our families can’t fathom. For you or I, to live without worrying about food or shelter is as big an achievement as Kylie’s Forbes cover. Or at least, to be a 20-year-old woman on her way to becoming a billionaire.
Images via Forbes/Jamel Toppin