“There is no such thing as perfect. Nobody attains perfection. But if you keep trying, you grow and evolve, and to me that’s the point: To be a better person today than I was yesterday; to become the best possible version of myself” (Kardashian 3). This is the message that Khloe Kardashian carries in her cookbook “Strong Looks Better Naked”. The theme of perfection is not new to cookbooks but the individuals who bring this message have changed a lot since the medieval times. Cookbooks are among some of the literary pieces that have survived for various centuries without changing their forms in any major way. Consequently, historians have found cookbooks to be useful as primary-source documents just like other literary materials. As primary source materials, cookbooks reveal a lot of information concerning their social and cultural contexts. For instance, a cookbook can provide a historian with various types of information including facts about its author, its intended audiences, its area of production, and its purpose among other facts. In the past, the message of ‘the good life’ in cookbooks was mostly brought to a select number of readers by renown and experienced homemakers. However, since the 1950s capitalization and industrialization has enabled cookbooks to reach wider audiences. Forthwith, the elements of ‘celebrity’ and cookbook have become intertwined as exemplified by Kardashian’s book.
Modern cookbooks are mostly associated with commercial homemakers such as television hosts Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. This dynamic shift is an engineered and ongoing effort to uproot women from the kitchen and transplant them to other positions in the modern society whilst maintaining their roots. The method of extracting anthropology from cookbooks depends on these artifacts’s ability to “answer questions that are not directly related to cooking or material culture but may deal with gender roles, issues of class, ethnicity, and race” (Scott 139). Consequently, the concept of food anthropology through cookbook has become less about food and more about image and lifestyle. For example, in “Strong Looks Better Naked”, the author dedicates only less than thirty percent of the entire book to food and the rest to personal experiences. This development is responsible for the scenario where cookbooks were used to study the lives of women in the past. Overall, cookbooks have maintained their positions as primary sources that reveal important details about people, history, and sub-groups in a certain society. This essay focuses on a 2015 cookbook titled “Strong Looks Better Naked” and it is authored by reality television star Khloe Kardashian. The essay will explore how Kardashian’s book represents the current society and all its accompanying aspects. Furthermore, the paper will also dwell on the circumstances that depict “Strong Looks Better Naked” as an artifact of its time.
Kardashian’s book encompasses a traditional cookbook design that includes advice on dietary and exercise practices. The author provides readers with various recommendations on how to deal with diet and fitness. The book borrows on the author’s personal experiences as she struggled to lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle. For instance, in the first section of this book, the author informs the readers how she “would get there (the gym) early and start out with some stretching exercises and then do thirty minutes on the elliptical” (Kardashian 12). According to the book, the author was previously known to lead an unhealthy lifestyle a matter that she agrees presented a big challenge to her.
For example, the author lists some of the mistakes that she made before realizing that she was misinformed about diet and lifestyle habits. Some of the author’s bad habits were related to her eating and drinking habits. The book’s preamble is the author’s family reality television show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” (Jenner 5). Consequently, the book cites various events that were previously portrayed in the television show. The author of the book is a renowned public figure and she uses this status to advise her readers. The book goes on to catalog how Kardashian finally found the strength to steer her life towards the direction that she wanted: “you want to be strong…you have to believe in yourself…true strength comes from looking at yourself with fresh eyes” (Kardashian 45). In addition, the book lists some of the errors that people who are trying to harness their diet and exercise practices make. The book then delves into the ‘mind, body, and heart’ mantra, which is the central premise of the book- “if you begin with thirty minutes of exercise a day, the rest of it…mind, heart, and spirit will begin to change” (Kardashian 28).
The book is subdivided in accordance with the body, mind, and heart mantra whereas the body aspect concentrates on physical attributes. This is also the section where matters of food and exercise are reviewed. In the subsequent chapter, the book addresses matters to do with diet and food habits. According to Kardashian, it is important for her readers to approach food issues consciously so that they may achieve the desired results. All the recipes that are provided in the book concur with the author’s goal of having a healthy psychological aura when it comes to food choices. Some of the recipes that are found in this book include foods such as Chinese chicken salad, Khloe’s ideal oatmeal, and homemade hummus.
The author of this book is a ‘bona fide celebrity’ who regularly appears in television shows and other forms of popular media. Consequently, the contents of the book are centered on the author’s lifestyle as well as readers’ curiosity. The personality of the author is well represented in the book where she moves from being normal to an ideal. The author refers the readers to her earlier status as an individual who struggled to obtain perfection or one who was afraid to ‘try’. This premise presents a big difference between cookbooks of the past and those of modern times. For example, in the 1800s women often authored cookbooks in the serenity of their abodes and quietly passed them on to other women under their wings (Scott 149). These types of books would include personal commentary from the author and these sentiments were personalized in nature. Kardashian’s cookbook presents a different environment for the author. For instance, the author constantly reminds the reader about her hectic lifestyle hence the difficulty in mastering a desired lifestyle.
The celebrity as the chef model of modern cookbooks does not only apply to Kardashian only. For instance, there is a strong emphasis on the commercialization of the food anthropology with numerous shows and television networks being dedicated to cooking and food. One scholar notes that “television chefs have become part of our everyday lives…some real celebrities among singers, actors, and other people in the spotlight media” (Berg 14). A closer analysis of the celebrity chef phenomenon reveals that readers do not want the pleasure of the food, but they are also interested in the personality of the author. The celebrity chef entices readers not only by telling them what to eat but she offers them an ideal lifestyle that is closely connected to her personality. In “Strong Looks Better Naked”, the author makes use of her personality and that is why she is able to get away with feeding her readers with clichés. For example, among the things Kardashian tells the readers of her book: “you are responsible for your own happiness (35)….believe in yourself and the dreams will come true (18)….the only person you need to be better than is you of yesterday” (Kardashian 7). Consequently, it is clear that the personality of the author is the selling point and not the book’s content.
The association of cookbooks and celebrities has also been addressed by Hollows who is of the view that “lifestyle experts function like personal shoppers rather than school teachers, advising us on consumer choices-interpreting the lifestyle landscape for us rather than dictating how to live” (35). There is also an element of cookbooks and knowledge where readers want access to the knowledge of celebrities as well as their secrets to success. The lifestyles of celebrity chefs are appealing to readers because they appear pleasing to celebrities and to the masses. In Kardashian’s book, she makes various references to some of her celebrity interviews in the popular media. Moreover, Kardashian entices her readers by offering them would-be confidential information such personal-exchanges with her therapist. The celebrity chef has also gained popularity because she provides a catalog of lifestyle by-products apart from recipes. In “Strong Looks Better Naked”, readers can also sample workout routines, beauty regimens, health products, and fashion items. Nevertheless, just like the concept of a modern celebrity, the idea of ‘celebrity chef’ boils down to capitalism. One observer notes that the idea of the celebrity chef leads to the scenario where “a brand is created around the persona of the chef and that is further exploited or used to make money with equipment, books, and cooking tours among other ventures” (Parasecoli 26). In Kardashian’s case, the cookbook is an extension of her pre-existing brand.
The book is produced for mass consumption and hence it does not present an authentic image of the author. In most chapters of the book, the author appears to be trying albeit too hard to walk in the shoes of her readers. This makes the book an unreliable measuring stick of the author’s personality. Nevertheless, the book would be a viable tool for assessing its intended readers. The multi-class element is also evident in the book that addresses middle-class readers from an elite point of view. Traditionally, only the middle class had any use for cookbooks. However, this situation has changed a lot over the last few decades mostly because cookbooks are often written for commercial purposes. The Khloe Kardashian who is highlighted in “Strong Looks Better Naked” is classless mostly for commercial purposes. Further research into the author reveals she is a multi-millionaire who has access to the finest things in life (Jenner 15). However, the book does not reveal this side of the author. On the other hand, the cookbook portrays the author as a person who has underwent societal scrutiny hence the need to maintain a clean-cut image. This portrayal is more anthropologically correct in an age where social media personalities have to be cultivated and worked on even among ordinary citizens.
A running theme in Kardashian’s book is the aspect of a ‘perfect’ body image. According to the author, the ideal body image does not exist and it would be impossible for any woman to possess a perfect body image. Consequently, all that is left is for individuals to strive to achieve perfection. The author notes that in the course of striving for this perfection one can edge closer to his/her desired standards. The book urges individuals to engage in self-development continuously because this is success in itself. The theme of body image issues is prominent in this book and it is a major indicator of the trends in the current society. Although body image issues especially among women have persisted, they are a bit more pronounced in the current society (Dittmar et al. 891). Consequently, the issue of body image has found its way into nondescript literary channels such as cookbooks, video blogs, and television commercials among others. The issue has also managed to cut across generations of women to encompass even the young and the old. A historical overview of cookbooks indicates that the body issues that they reveal mostly apply to a few demographics among women. One team of researchers attempted to find out the origins of body image issues (Brown and Slaughter 120). The purpose of their study was to reveal whether body image issues originate from childhood or they are picked up as individuals become older. The researchers found out that body image issues are formulated during childhood and pursued throughout adulthood. These findings coincide with the cookbook’s central theme.
Khloe Kardashian is able to convince her readers that it is their right to pursue the body image that they want. The book also assumes that each of its readers harbors a certain body image ideal that is yet to be achieved. Kardashian points her readers to a time she was younger and when her body image issues were remotely addressed. It is important to note that even when the author was ‘fat’ she was still aware that her body issues required improvements. This scenario coincides with Brown and Slaughter’s findings that body image issues are formulated during childhood and cultivated for the remainder of a person’s life. For instance, the author of “Strong Looks Better Naked” intimates that she has had numerous failed starts in her pursuit of a perfect body image. In addition, the author does not neglect to inform her readers that her journey is a delicate balance and if she makes a slight mistake all her progress can easily go to waste. Overall, the book reaches out to a wide demographic of women because the author appears convinced that they have body image issues that can be publicly acknowledged. The acknowledgement of body image issues is a key pointer of the current society as it is addressed by Khloe Kardashian. In past societies, body image issues were guarded in secrecy and they were rarely acknowledged publicly. The manner in which body image issues are addressed in the current society is informed by the fact that psychologists have positively identified the connection between this issue and human beings (Brown and Slaughter 119). Consequently, individuals are aware that positive or negative body issues are a universal concept.
In most cookbooks, pictures and other forms of photography are restricted to food items and ingredients. However, the cover photograph in “Strong Looks Better Naked” features the picture of the author half-naked. This fact immediately calls the readers’ attention to the concepts of Puritanism and food pornography. Magee notes that “food icons that capture our attention can easily be divided into two kitchens: food Puritanism and food pornography” (5). Puritanism seeks to maintain the dynamic of food being a necessity while food pornography aligns with the society’s obsession with ‘all things sexy’.
The recipes that are outlined in the book are therefore secondary to looks. This scenario points to the fact that the current society has a strong connection between food and sexuality. The position adopted by Kardashian in her book resonates with the sentiments that are included in another book “All about the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity”. The author of this book focuses on the main issues that influence body image issues in the current society (McRobbie 4).
The author points to some of the most popular depictions of body image issues in popular media including renown movie characters who represent women’s struggles with this issue. The book notes that women spend a considerable amount of their money and time trying to achieve the popular depictions of body image standards. Kardashian’s cookbook is not an exception and the cover image is a depiction of what the society considers to be a ‘perfect body image’ (Stryker 1). The author reiterates the concept of an ideal body image throughout the book. The cover image only serves as a reminder of what an ideal woman should look like. The current society like the others before it is heavily influenced by standards of body image as depicted in various mediums (Hollows 35). Consequently, the author of this cookbook feels compelled to comply with these standards.
Depictions of body image in popular culture warrant some investigations especially in reference to Kardashian’s cookbook. In an article that appeared in “Lifestyle Magazine”, the author attempts to convince the readers that the notion that all bodies are beautiful is true (Sheek 1). The author of the article vehemently voices her opposition to the concept that there exists a perfect body. This idealist position appears distant from the society that is depicted by Kardashian’s book. Although the cookbook’s author maintains that there is no perfect body, her language and inclinations indicate that perfection indeed exists. This perfection is first encountered by the readers in the cookbook’s cover. Furthermore, the running premise in the book is that the author was able to move from a below average body image to an excellent one. Overall, the conflicting body-image rhetoric in the cookbook and in other popular media is a testament of the societal hypocrisy on the matter (Magee 5). Kardashian preaches the gospel of a positive body image while at the same time working overtime to denounce her former self. Nevertheless, just like in cooking, the process of attaining a perfect body image should be the real pleasure. This conflict is a hallmark of this society where individuals exist in a platform of conflicting ideologies concerning body image issues.
The author of the cookbook is obviously swaying the public opinion with the images that she has put in her book, the non-fat recipes, and the rigorous workout routines that she touts to the readers (Kardashian 9). Furthermore, her perfect body is supplied as the main motivation and consequent reward after all her efforts. Currently, it is almost impossible to identify how popular opinion on body image stands in this society. On one side, readers are bombarded with rhetoric on being comfortable in their own bodies. On the other hand, all societal efforts are directed towards the achievement of a certain body image (Airila 115). At thirty-one years of age, Khloe Kardashian is the embodiment of the social conflict surrounding body image issues when she claims that the perfect body image does not exist but we should all strive to achieve it anyway.
One issue that is conspicuous by design in Kardashian’s cookbook is that of cosmetic surgery. A little background research of the author indicates that the author has had personal experiences with cosmetic surgery (Jenner 30). Nevertheless, the author deviates from this subject throughout her cookbook. The author’s official stand is that perfection can be achieved through food and exercise. The underlying issue of cosmetic surgery has been addressed by a gender scholar who links the matter to negative body image issues. The society has embraced body modification through cosmetic surgery but on a personal level, individuals are not ready to deal with the stigma that comes with this choice (Morgan 26). Consequently, Kardashian cleverly avoids covering the issue so as not to open herself and her readers to judgment. The issue of cosmetic surgery is quite new to the current society and it is only common within a few demographics. Consequently, diet and exercise are often used as an excuse for covering up traces of cosmetic surgery. There is a possibility that cosmetic surgery will eventually be accepted in all societies but currently the practice is only a societal undercurrent.
A cookbook can reveal a lot about a society and its author as exemplified by Kardashian’s “Strong Looks Better Naked”. The main issue throughout the book is body image. The issue of class is handled in a subtle manner mostly because the book is meant for mass consumption. Nevertheless, biases and various shades of feminism are evident throughout the book. A society that bears body image issues in a hypocritical manner is also encountered through this cookbook. Although the author gives the readers the impression that she is bearing all, it is evident that she is sidestepping issues that might expose her to judgment such as her experiences with cosmetic surgery. Years to come, the readers of this book might find it amusing to see how this artifact tells of a society with deep body image issues and one that is both averse and open to public scrutiny in equal measure.
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