Kylie Jenner is on track to become the youngest self-made billionaire in history and, well, I don’t know how to feel.
On one hand, it’s a solid “Good for you.” She’s made over $900 million and she’s not even 21! That’s an enormous accomplishment, achieved while the rest of us were all sitting around and speculating about her lip fillers. To be bitter about that feels petty and small and, like, counter to the Laws of Abundance. Also: girl power, etc. etc. etc.
But does that “self-made” narrative bother me a little? Well, yes. Because, guys, we all know that’s just not true. Privilege—of literally getting paid to just *be* on reality TV from childhood; of being part of a well-connected family that had the resources to invest in her businesses and advise her along the way—got her a long way down the road to billionairedom. This is not 16-year-old Kylie sitting at the kitchen table in Calabasas painstakingly assembling Lip Kits one-by-one to sell them at a local maker’s market. She had an idea, and then had a team ready in place (thanks to momager Kris!) who made it happen.
It’s important to acknowledge that the lip kits—and then all of Kylie Cosmetics afterward—were born as a response to people’s obsession with Jenner’s personal style. Kudos to her for having the charisma/X-factor/savvy to fascinate an audience of millions across her various social media channels. But again: this is capitalizing on a pre-existing platform.
There’s also something in my discomfort that has a lot to do with how society values different ways of making money. If Kylie had made this almost billion by, say, coding from early youth and starting a tech company (like the current youngest self-made billionaire Mark Zuckerberg), would we be as judge-y about it? Instead, she’s made the vast majority of her wealth by selling nearly $630 million USD in makeup that’s aimed largely at a young, female audience. The balance of her wealth comes from endorsement deals for clothing lines and television spots. It’s all driven by one thing: social media. And there’s something about that—that the driver of all this success is a medium that values the surface-deep, the banal, the artificial—that is worth being honest with ourselves about. Am I mad at Kylie Jenner because I’m really terrified about what her success says about society as a whole?
The other piece, of course, is her age, and how that makes us all feel about our own accomplishments. We’ve all done a lot to be proud of but, no, we’re not billionaires (nor even millionaires, TBH). Comparison is the thief of joy, etc, and it’s sometimes helpful to remember that chances are, you and Kylie Jenner are not, in fact, comparable. She—and so many of the others that we call out as self-made geniuses—had a head start, and a fairly unique set of (mega-privileged) circumstances that enabled her to get where she is now at the tender age of not-even-21. That doesn’t discount hard work on her part, or diminish the strategic brilliance of capitalizing on what was around her—hey, she could just as easily have blown it all and wasted every opportunity handed to her on a Kardashian-sized platter. And, yes: she’s the most successful of all six Kardashian-Jenner siblings, so that’s not nothing.
Side note: Kylie, if you should ever find yourself feeling conflicted about the vast scale of your own wealth, I am definitely here to take some of that burden off you. And by burden, I mean: several millions. TYSM.