‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ Was More Than Just A TV Show. It Was A Cultural Reset

From changing what it means to be a "celebrity" to heavily influencing today's beauty standards, the Kardashians have had a serious cultural impact.

keeping up with the kardashians cultural reset

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Last week, Kim Kardashian West took to social media to share the news that Keeping Up With The Kardashians, after 14 years on air, was officially coming to an end in 2021.

“It is with heavy hearts that we’ve made the difficult decision as a family to say goodbye to Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We are beyond grateful to all of you who’ve watched us for all of these years — through the good times, the bad times, the happiness, the tears, and the many relationships and children,” Kim wrote. “We’ll forever cherish the wonderful memories and countless people we’ve met along the way.”

In response to the news, fans of the show begun sharing their favourite Keeping Up moments, while others who think consuming any form of pop culture is vapid, groaned in the comments.

“Why would anyone care that this show is over. Was a complete waste of everything. Utter garbage,” one person, who thought they were better than everyone else because they don’t watch reality TV, wrote. “Finally some good news in 2020!,” commented another.

But regardless of your opinion of the Kardashian-Jenner family — there’s no denying the impact the world’s most-famous family made with Keeping Up With The Kardashians. 

Keeping Up Revolutionised Reality TV

When Keeping Up With The Kardashians premiered in on E! in 2007, there weren’t many other shows like it.

Sure, the Osbourne family had their reality show, The Osbournes from 2002 to 2005, but Ozzy Osbourne was already a fully-fledged musical celebrity when it aired.

Similarly, The Simple Life was a semi-scripted reality show, which starred Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, who were also already well-known by the world and the tabloids specifically. As did Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, which focused on the married adventures of popular celebrities Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson.

The point is: reality TV in the 2000s focused on who was already famous over who could be famous. And Keeping Up With The Kardashians changed that formula.

In the early seasons of Keeping Up, the eldest Kardashian sisters had relatively normal lives, and the E! cameras would record the trio doing menial tasks for the world to see. They ran their DASH retail stores together by doing stocktake and working the registers, they shared their dating struggles like they were regular people, and they babysat their younger sisters, Kendall and Kylie, whenever their parents needed them to.

Naturally, as the seasons went on and Kim’s popularity grew, the show became less relatable, but still stayed a source of guaranteed entertainment for the world. Even when the Kardashian’s fame surpassed the need for the show, and the stars became more private to protect their personal brands, the show still let the world in during important moments that regular celebrities often refuse to let the world hear about.

Beyond Caitlyn Jenner openly sharing her transition journey on the show, the Kardashian-Jenners let cameras in when Khloé was sent to jail for a DUI, when Kim had her emotional divorce with Kris Humphries, when Scott went to rehab, when Kylie hid her pregnancy from the world, and when Kim was robbed at gunpoint in her Paris hotel room.

Sure, the Kardashian-Jenners we have today are not the same people we met when the show started, but Keeping Up With The Kardashians taught television producers that anyone could be the next goldmine for content when given the chance — including those who are seemingly nobodies.

Today, anyone can have a reality show — from Teen Moms to Real Housewives — so long as what is shown remains somewhat “real” — sharing not only the good, but the bad too. Any misstep the Kardashian-Jenner family made over the last decade, like Kendall’s Pepsi debacle or Kylie’s controversial lip fillers, the family were always sure to address it on the show.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians was realer than anything that came before it and set the precedent for the future of reality TV — if you want success, you have to work hard and be willing to share and over-share.

The Show Changed The Way We Defined Celebrity And Beauty

Keeping Up With The Kardashians premiered right after Kim’s sex tape with Ray J was leaked to the world. But prior to the sex tape, the Kardashian’s, while rich, were relatively unknown.

The Kardashian name had only really been heard of once before, when Robert Kardashian became O. J. Simpson’s defence attorney during the football star’s notorious 1995 murder trial. For the Jenners, Caitlyn Jenner was a gold medal-winning Olympian, but not really much else.

Keeping Up, however, instantly made the Kardashian and Jenner sisters household names thanks to their entertaining life content, that was equal parts relatable and ridiculous.

For example, while fans of the show could all laugh at Kim’s reaction to losing her diamond earring in the waters of Bora Bora, it’s hard to sympathise with someone splashing $75,000 USD on a single piece of jewellery. And when the Kardashian sisters bickered over Bentleys and Kim slapped Khloé with her handbag, we could all relate to the feeling of fighting with siblings — albeit over much cheaper issues.

As these scenes would air, the family would live-tweet the show to make viewers feel as though they were close to the people they were watching on screen. Even in recent years, when the family haven’t necessarily needed to engage with fans or acknowledge the show, the sisters still ensured they stayed close to the fan base that gave them their careers.

This relatability and accessibility allowed the sisters to gain followers and loyal fans, which gave them influence that led to opportunities and careers outside the show. From clothing collaborations to makeup lines to modelling careers, the Kardashian and Jenner family were able to capitalise on the insult most often thrown at them: “Famous for just being famous”.

After the family found initial success through Keeping Up, the Kardashian-Jenners took any and every business opportunity they could. They sold themselves until they didn’t have to anymore, but they were only ever given this opportunity because they were willing to share the positive and negatives of their lives through reality TV.

This openness on screen, tied with the start of the social media age, meant that the Kardashians were able to break the mould of a traditional celebrity — who would often try to live their lives in private, and set strict boundaries for who was allowed access, and attempt to only ever let their fans see positives. Their lives were more curated.

But this shift in what it meant to be a celebrity and how accessible famous people became allowed the Kardashians to carve out a career path for influencers in the social media world.

For better or worse, the Kardashian family changed the modern beauty ideal and were the ones who paved the way for “influencer culture”, which exploits the feeling of personal connection to push product and “influence” their followers, while also being built on no real set of talents beyond “looking good”. But this idea of what’s desirable and “looks good” today is often based on the beauty standards that were unintentionally set by the highly-influential Kardashian and Jenner family.

Over the show’s 14 year run, it was hard not to notice the physical changes the sisters went through. While Kourtney openly admitted that she had breast augmentation during her college years, Kim, Kylie and Khloé hold firm that their large, disproportionate booties are natural, with Kim even going so far as to x-ray her butt on the show to prove it was real.

The normalisation of these unnaturally large backsides have caused a significant increase in plastic surgery amongst women — particularly in Brazilian Butt Lifts, which transfers fat from the body and pushes it into the butt to create a more shapely figure. But even beyond the booty, Kylie Jenner’s lip fillers sparked an increase in pouts all over Instagram, with large lips becoming the ideal ~look~ of 2010s.

But even beyond physical changes, even the makeup styles and fashion adopted by the influential family have changed how we see conventional beauty today: huge fake lashes, heavy contour, thick eyebrows, tight-fitting clothes, sky-high heels, two-toned hair, waist trainers, shape-wear… the list is endless.

While it may not exactly be ethical, when Kylie Jenner promotes Fashionnova — a fast fashion company that Kylie can afford not to promote or purchase from — the items sell out. When any of the sisters change their body or appearance — like Kylie having her lip fillers dissolved or when she went bleach blonde in a day — the changes are hailed as “body goals” as people flock to do the same. When the sisters advertise body slimming products — like Kim getting paid to promote “appetite suppressing” lollipops — their impressionable audience start to think that being hungry is not normal or attractive.

For simply existing in a world where social media influence is more powerful than traditional talent, it’s hard to deny the impact that the Kardashian and Jenner clan have on just about every aspect of modern beauty and style. While it may not necessarily be “good” that they hold so much power over impressionable groups, it’s undeniable that the Kardashian family are the current tastemakers of our generation — which is only exacerbated by the sisters creating their own empires too.

Keeping Up Created Multiple Empires

The reason that the Kardashian-Jenner family is so popular isn’t just because of Keeping Up, but rather as a direct result of the empire that the family built by capitalising on their show’s success.

While they were already a successful and wealthy family prior to the show, the Kardashian-Jenner clan were by no means on the level of Britney Spears fame or even Paris Hilton stardom when the show began. In fact, Kim even worked for Paris Hilton as a closet stylist before her big Keeping Up break.

But today, Kim Kardashian West and Kylie Jenner far surpass Britney and Paris by at least 150 million followers on Instagram, which has become a modern measure of fame. Even when looking at net worth figures, despite being a heiress and 16 years her senior, Paris Hilton is only worth $300 million while Kylie Jenner sits at a pretty $900 million.

This success, however, wouldn’t have been possible without Keeping Up. Without the reality series, Kylie would’ve just been another unknown rich girl from family wealth living in Calabasas. Kylie was a literal child when the series started, but we’ve since watched her go through puberty, boy struggles, lip fillers, and onto building an empire all because she leveraged the show to her own benefit.

Kylie Jenner let the E! cameras follow her most embarrassing and raw moments as she grew up, which in turn made people want to follow her as they felt an odd sense of connectedness to Kylie — likely as her fans, being of a similar age, grew up alongside her. From here, Kylie was able to leverage the 195 million followers she gained to ensure her brand, Kylie Cosmetics, was a success by using her online influence as free marketing.

Similarly, through broadcasting her life on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Kim was able to seem more accessible to fans, which also made 188 million people want to follow her too. As a result, her KKW Beauty and SKIMS brands also found great success when they launched thanks to her loyal followers.

This transition the sisters have been able to make from rich family to celebrity to business moguls has inspired the way influencer culture has adapted too. Long gone are the days where influencers stay in one lane. Whether it’s by releasing a line of merchandise — like TikTok star Addison Rae has done — or through creating their own brand of clothing — as Australian influencer Tammy Hembrow managed to do with Saski Collection — the Kardashian-Jenners have inspired a new generation of online celebrity to diversify their income streams and push themselves beyond the “famous for just being famous” category they’re instantly boxed into.

While Kim, Kylie and the rest of the family found fame through their reality show, they never let the show define them nor was Keeping Up ever a guaranteed success. In fact, many celebrities who have managed to bag a reality show have failed to make them work and last. Despite their fame, not even Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears could make their reality shows last longer than a single season.

Whether it was by a stroke of genius or just dumb luck, the Kardashian-Jenners found a sweet spot with Keeping Up With The Kardashians by keeping the show raw, authentic and entertaining. And it’s this formula that gained them a loyal following that stayed with them beyond TV screens to impact pop culture forever.

Michelle Rennex is a senior writer at Junkee and will mourn the end of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ for at least four more months. She tweets at @michellerennex