Maybe Kylie Jenner will surprise the world by showing up this week at the famed Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference to hobnob with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Sheryl Sandberg, Rupert Murdoch or Michael Bloomberg.
After all, the 20-year-old lip kit mogul already stunned the world this week by getting a cover story by Forbes that hailed her as the youngest person ever named to be named to the magazine’s annual ranking of America’s “self-made” women. After another year of growth, Forbes added, Jenner’s cosmetics empire could make her the youngest “self-made” billionaire ever, trumping Facebook’s Zuckerberg, who became a billionaire at age 23 and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel who became a billionaire in his 20s.
So, maybe recent teenager Jenner is now super rich and deserves to be at Sun Valley’s nexus of tech, media and global power.
But that doesn’t mean Jenner deserves to be called “self-made,” critics say.
After all, she started “at third base” in her empire-building efforts, having been born into an already famous and wealthy reality TV show family, noted actress, comedian and author Francesca Ramsey in a series of Twitter posts.
erm. being born into extreme wealth & instant fame is the exact opposite of “self made” https://t.co/c9rZyx03Al
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) July 11, 2018
Meanwhile, consider how Jenner earns her money. According to Forbes, the young mother of baby daughter Stormi with rapper Travis Scott does it in a very contemporary, social influencer way.
“Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following,” Forbes said.
Certainly, Jenner has a lot of leverage: More than 110 million followers on Instagram, 25.6 million followers on Twitter and millions more on Snapchat.
But as Ramsey and other critics point out, Jenner got help gaining that following by growing up in the public eye as the youngest Kardashian-Jenner sibling on TV’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
As the daughter of the O.J. Simpson-adjacent Kris Jenner and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, Kylie Jenner became famous for being famous starting at age 10. And like her older famous siblings, Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Robert Jr, Jenner was encouraged and guided by her savvy and ambitious mother to come up with her own scheme for making money.
According to Forbes, here are the steps Jenner took to becoming super rich selling lip kits. But as critics would point out, these steps don’t seem to involve much sacrifice or industry, and Jenner’s endeavors hardly sound “self-made.”
— Jenner taught herself about makeup watching YouTube videos.
— Jenner became a teen model — thanks to her mother’s guidance.
— In true Kardashian fashion, Jenner turned scandal to her advantage. She seized on tabloid coverage of the mysterious plumping out of her lips to admit that, yes, she had gotten temporary lip filters. She took $250,000 of her earnings from modeling to pay an outside company to produce her first 15,000 lip kits.
— Jenner, who appeared to inherit the marketing gene from her mother and sisters, teased the sale of the kits on Instagram. When launched, the kits sold out in less than a minute.
— Jenner then turned to big-time help from her mother, who basically handles “the actual business stuff,” according to Forbes. Kris Jenner arranged for her daughter to partner with a laboratory company to formulate, test and make her cosmetics, and with an e-commerce company to handle the sales.
Mostly, Jenner spends her days hanging out on social media, according to Forbes. That’s how she leverages her social media following.
“Almost hourly, she takes to Instagram and Snapchat, pouting for selfies with captions about which Kylie Cosmetics shades she’s wearing, takes videos of forthcoming products and announces new launches,” Forbes wrote.
Jenner critics aren’t questioning the fact that she came up with the clever idea for her lip kits or that she’s made tons of money. But don’t call her self-made, they say.
“Self-made as a phrase conjures a Horatio Alger-esque vision of a woman rising from nothing and clawing her way to the top through hard work, perseverance, and grit—starting from the bottom and ending up at the glittering professional peak,” writes Megan Reynolds for Jezebel. Reynolds said that Jenner is “hardly a scrappy little thing” and questions whether she would have been so successful had she been born into any other family, or had any other mother.
Ramsey, also a writer for “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, added: “The lesson here is that if your parents have the connections to shop a reality show that launches when you’re 10 so you’re famous from childhood & have very famous siblings, maybe you too can pull yourself up from your bootstraps & start a company valued at billions.”
the lesson here is that if your parents have the connections to shop a reality show that launches when you’re 10 so you’re famous from childhood & have very famous siblings, maybe you too can pull yourself up from your bootstraps & start a company valued at billions #goals
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) July 11, 2018