Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and the truth about “women supporting women”
Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have a complicated relationship spanning decades. And in a time when we still have a celeb friendship hangover from Taylor Swift’s squad days, it also feel more realistic than most public celeb friendships.
Women, whether they’re in the public eye or not, are under pressure to be supportive of their friends, colleagues and loved ones no matter what — especially when it comes to “women supporting women.” Men don’t seem to have to shoulder this burden. We’re told that “women supporting women” is a goal to which we should all aspire, while men are free to critique and condemn other men without backlash. The idea that women should do nothing but praise each other in public prevents us from living out the full range of human emotions, and it upholds the retrograde and incredibly limiting stereotype that we’re the more caring and accommodating sex.
Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian don’t seem to care about or play by these rules, though, which is why their relationship is so fascinating to me.
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The story of how Paris and Kim came to be is well known at this point.
Back in the early 2000s, Paris was already famous and Kim became her stylist/assistant/closet organizer who also made cameo appearances on her TV show. Later, by securing her own reality show and incorporating a leaked sex tape into her narrative, just as Paris once had, Kim would go on to become a pop culture powerhouse.
As she began her ascent to fame, Paris publicly shaded Kim more than once: She sat by while Nicole Richie called Kim a “ho” on “The Simple Life” and also talked negatively about Kim’s body on a radio show. Kim also once shaded Paris on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” with a sly night-vision joke.
Then, Paris lay relatively dormant for a few years as Kim climbed the celeb ladder from 2008 until now. The pop culture peanut gallery largely assumed that they’d become arch nemeses. But that doesn’t appear to be the case, at least not now.
Today, Kim sits comfortably on the A-list and Paris has also returned to pop culture relevance with a self-aware social media presence and a string of magazine covers (including two with Galore). They’ve been seen at each other’s parties and appear to have buried the hatchet, staying relatively drama-free aside from one June 2016 incident when Paris double-tapped a shady Instagram post implying she made Kim famous.
But today, they’re collaborating again.
Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West dropped an influencer marketing campaign for Kanye’s Yeezy Season 6 line in which Paris Hilton was the focal point. A dozen or so influencers dressed up like Kim clones and mimicked paparazzi-style photos that Kim has posted in recent weeks, forming an Instagram army of Kims in rooty platinum-blonde wigs. The models included Jordyn Woods, the Clermont Twins, Abigail Ratchford and more. But so far, Paris is the only one who Kim shouted out on her main Instagram feed.
Kim even captioned the post “#ForeverTheOG,” a respectful nod to widespread claims that there would be no Kim without the blueprint to reality TV fame that was first laid out by Paris.
The fact that Paris and Kim are on good enough terms to work together shows they aren’t the enemies people thought they were. In fact, like so many other human beings, they have a relationship that can’t be boiled down to “friends” or “enemies.” This shows a nuance that many in my generation, obsessed as we are with “bullying” and “haters” (a.k.a. any form of public criticism), would do well to take note of.
Paris and Kim have both ribbed each other in public, but neither of them appears to be that upset about it. They have never pulled the “women supporting women” card as a way to evade criticism from each other — they both seem to think some light media shade at each other’s expense is fair game.
This is a much more mature and nuanced take on female friendship than what we normally see in the headlines. Should we all be publicly trashing our friends when we go through a frosty period? It would probably be better not to. But Paris and Kim’s relationship is much more human than the mushy-gushy, kumbaya, cupcakes-and-butterflies friendships that we’ve seen publicized in recent years by the likes of Taylor Swift.
The truth is friends go through rocky patches. And the idea that female friendships should be drama-free love-fests is more harmful than the comparatively fuller range of emotions we’ve seen Paris and Kim display in public when it comes to their friendship.
There’s too much pressure on women and girls to be happy and smiley and supportive of every single thing the people in their lives do. We’re told we have to do that in our romantic relationships, and with the birth of Taylor Swift’s squad philosophy, it was implied that that’s how we should be in our friendships, too.
Men don’t face this kind of pressure — not in their private lives and not when they’re taking in messages from the world about how people should behave. If a man shades or lightly ribs a former friend or colleague in public, it’s not seen as a dramatic betrayal. They’re usually assumed to either be joking or handling something that needs handling.
This is why you so rarely hear men being called catty or petty or bitchy (although millennials and Gen Z are changing this with their penchant for shaming fuckboys online). It’s because men are allowed to have negative feelings for other people, particularly other men, while women are not.
Would the world be a better place if all women supported all women? Um, no. Some women are bad. Some men are bad. All women shouldn’t support all women any more than all men should support all men. Men supporting men is how world wars happen — because men are complicated and not all good. Women are the same way. And in my experience, people pull the “women supporting women” card as a way to silence women’s negative opinions.
Just look what happened when, in an effort to upend her boy-crazy reputation a few years ago, Taylor Swift leaned on the fantasy of sweet, innocent, and 100% supportive female relationships.
It worked for a little while. But nothing is all sunshine and buttercups forever. Taylor’s squad members have one by one shown their humanity and individuality, either by criticizing Taylor or drifting away from her to establish their own distinct public images. It’s just like a real-life friendship: sometimes you love your friends, sometimes you can’t stand them, and sometimes you might talk shit about them. But in the limited and sexist world of Hollywood gossip, this translates into feuds and drama — and irreparably broken friendships.
When the squad was drama-free, it and the girls involved were considered good. But when the squad members started to display the full range of human emotions, the squad’s image became tainted and tabloids declared it defunct.
In reality, the infighting and cracks in Taylor’s squad’s veneer actually make it just like any other friend group. But in the world of “women supporting women,” for Taylor’s squad to continue, its members would have to pretend they were all in agreement on each other’s private and public decisions no matter what. They’d have to pretend they never found one or two squad members annoying. They’d all have to be doormats! And that’s just not real life.
I don’t want to live in a world where “women supporting women” is more important than “women voicing their opinions, even if they’re negative.” But based on social media chatter and the way female friendships are treated in the public eye, it looks like we’re going that way.
That’s why I’m so interested in what we know about Paris and Kim’s complicated, messy, nuanced and far from perfect relationship: it’s human. Paris and Kim aren’t baking each other cookies and gushing about how amazing the other one is, at least not in public. Instead of presenting their friendship as some sort of feminine ideal, they allow the cracks to be seen. And although they’ve been called bitches and drama queens for it, at least it might make someone who’s felt less-than-Taylor-esque about her own friendships once in a while feel better.