In Episode 5 of The Kardashians, Kim Kardashian declared that she has to work “harder than the average person” to earn respect when it comes to her business endeavors.
Cut between shots of her giving a speech at a dinner party celebrating the release of her newest Skims line, Kim talks in her confessional about how her entrepreneurialism is perceived by the public.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve had to work a little bit harder than the average person to get a little bit of respect,” she says. “And then once you start working, and once you start seeing the results, and once you start proving yourself, it’s like: how do you stop?”
In the same scene, she can be seen telling dinner guests how much of a “workaholic” she is, describing her desire to work relentlessly as “a problem.”
“I come up with all the campaigns,” she brags about her hands-on involvement in Skims. “I come up with the materials, the fabrics, the styles. Like, I really do everything.”
At another point in the episode, Kim raised eyebrows among fans by comparing Skims with two of the world’s biggest and most iconic brands.
“I’m obsessed with Skims. It’s like my baby,” she gushes in her confessional. “All of the big banks and VCs — everyone says: Apple, Nike, Skims. Like, we’re in that conversation and it just makes me really proud.
“I definitely take a minute to soak it all in,” she adds before reiterating her same “workaholic” mindset. “But not too long, because I need to just keep grinding.”
Here, in just one 44-minute episode, we have three instances where Kim expresses not only how hard she works, but also how little she seems to value rest. And the hustle culture was prominent for the rest of the season, too.
In Episode 6, following a scene in which she appears to be preparing reference photographs for an upcoming Skims campaign, Kim reinforces her work ethic and directly contradicts her comments in the last episode by questioning whether there was anything wrong with working so hard.
“I just don’t get it. I just don’t get why being a workaholic is a bad thing,” she responds in her confessional when a producer asks if she ever takes a moment to rest. “I get shit done. That makes me happy. Like, I can’t just sit and do nothing.”
This constant rhetoric rubbed some viewers the wrong way, particularly in the wake of the controversy that exploded over her comments to Variety several months earlier, which caused the biggest backlash against Kim in years.
In case you need a reminder, back in March — at the height of her public fallout with her ex-husband Kanye West — Kim was branded “out of touch” for giving “offensive” advice to women in business.
“I have the best advice for women in business. Get your fucking ass up and work,” Kim says in the interview clip, before adding: “It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”
Given that she was born into wealth and privilege, the majority of fans felt it was ignorant and unfair to make such a sweeping generalization about what it means to truly work hard.
The online response was overwhelmingly negative at a time when Kim had been in the public’s good graces for her handling of Ye’s increasingly concerning behavior, but it wasn’t entirely surprising. In fact, Kim’s ill-advised business advice was arguably the inevitable end point for someone who has become increasingly obsessed with work.
Kim has always thrived on being the underdog. It’s the reason for her converting the interest from a sex tape into the longest-running reality TV show of all time, or making it onto the Met Gala red carpet and cover of Vogue. It’s the reason she took on the SNL hosting gig, working “20-hour days” and meeting with comedians on her own time to craft an iconic opening monologue that boosted the show’s ratings.
But over recent years, in the absence of ~traditional~ talents, she’s defined work ethic as her biggest asset, and her desire to prove people wrong — while also proving how hard she works — has become the driving force of her life.
“You can say a lot of things about me, but you cannot say I don’t work hard. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t act. But I am not lazy,” she said during a 2017 interview. “If I’m so not talented, if I do nothing, then how is my career my reality? I don’t mind being underestimated because it does fuel me.”
There’s no doubt Kim has always worked hard. In the early phase of her career, she signed countless licensing deals, promoting everything from credit cards to shoes. But it’s arguable that her 2014 mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, was a turning point.
The game was an instant, runaway success, raking in $43 million in its first three months. But more importantly, the game enabled her to break into the tech and business worlds, where she received praise from the highest echelons of those industries, appearing on prestigious panels and the cover of Forbes. She was finally being taken seriously by people who would previously have scoffed at her fame.
Since then, her apparent determination to maintain the status and respect that comes with being perceived as a forward-thinking entrepreneur has fueled other businesses, including Skims — a brand valued at $3.2 billion that earned Kim billionaire status herself.
And Kim is keen to highlight the drive that goes into running these businesses at every turn. In fact, many of her biggest and most memorable arguments with family members have stemmed from Kim’s self-proclaimed superior work ethic.
In one episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kourtney refused to alter her schedule to attend a photo shoot, meaning Kim would be unable to attend an important Skims business meeting. Kim lost it, breaking out in an uncharacteristic — and now viral — rage.
“Maybe if you had a fucking business you were passionate about, then you would know what it takes to run a fucking business, but you don’t, so don’t even act like you know what I am talking about,” she screamed.
Two years later, Kim criticized both Kourtney and Kendall’s perceived lack of work ethic, with the argument escalating into physical violence after Kim declared that she, unlike her sisters, would show up for work even if she was on her “deathbed.”
And in many ways, she has proven that to be true. As recently as January this year, Kim crafted an entire Kardashians storyline out of the fact that she shot a highly coveted Sports Illustrated cover and a Skims campaign in the Dominican Republic all while she was sick.
But her desire to prove her work ethic and herself isn’t limited to business endeavors. In fact, even her recent move into criminal justice reform and studying to become a lawyer was fueled in part by wanting to prove doubters wrong.
“No one’s ever really respected, you know, a reality star with a sex tape, and I’ve always had to break through this stigma,” she says during an episode of The Kardashians. “I wanna prove this to myself that I can do it, and ultimately, a huge fuck you to everybody too, that thought that I can’t grow or move beyond where I was.”
And the studying also serves as a tangible, visible display of her hard work. She posts images of herself revising in a bikini during vacation, her flashcards were by her side for periods of downtime at her SNL rehearsals, and an entire KUWTK episode was dedicated to her sitting for the baby bar despite being sick with COVID.
But her dedication to taking the bar was exhibited more plainly than ever in a Season 1 episode of The Kardashians, which hinged on the plot point that Kim had been so engrossed in her studies that she wouldn’t even pause to celebrate her birthday, going as far as to forbid her family from throwing her a party.
“A birthday party is not important to me. Like, I cannot be worried about a party. I don’t wanna see people. I just need to study,” she says in her confessional as we’re hit with a montage of shots of her surrounded by books and handwritten notes on her 41st birthday.
Eventually, she is reluctantly pulled away from her desk and led to a surprise lunch at her office with her closest friends and family. But, before long, she declares that she’s “kicking [them] out” so that she can go back to her studies.
It’s arguable that this work ethic extends beyond business and law to the very act of being Kim Kardashian. A recent episode of The Kardashians charted the process behind her wearing the iconic Marilyn Monroe dress to this year’s Met Gala: She embarked on a strict exercise regime and spent 30 hours dyeing her hair blonde.
In one scene, her hairstylist describes her as the most “dedicated” person he knows. In another, she proudly compares her process with preparing for a movie role.
And in a recent interview, Kim also revealed she undergoes beauty and laser treatments “late at night,” even when she’s “exhausted” from being a mom and studying, because she cares so much about “looking good.”
But Kim’s desire to do it all and make it known could end up being her ultimate downfall, as her desperation to prove her hard work often impairs the self-awareness that has sustained her career so far.
This was particularly evident in an episode of The Kardashians in which Kim reflected on the criticism surrounding her comments about women in business, admitting that she was “blindsided” by the public’s intense response before going on to insist that her upbringing hadn’t been all that easy.
“Yeah, we grew up privileged, but people don’t know the story of your dad and mom having to sell their house in Hidden Hills because they couldn’t afford it and they had to move to an apartment,” Kim says to her sisters at lunch.
“Mom really started her career and making money at 50, so growing up and seeing her hustle and seeing her get up every day with all these kids, six of hers, that she had to take care of… I saw her work her ass off and figure it out,” she adds.
The Variety backlash, at its core, was Kim desperately trying to have a “girlboss” moment and losing her stride, prompting the whole thing to backfire. And in the aftermath, she is trying to rewrite history and position herself as someone who came from nothing, which — as we know from Kris Jenner’s own memoir — is false.
It was the perfect encapsulation of how difficult it’s becoming for Kim to operate as both a billionaire who hangs out with Jeff Bezos and brags about her cashmere-lined private jet and a normal human being whose relatability was once at the core of her success. It might be time for Kim to realize she has nothing left to prove.