No matter how much it hurts, “Kimye” will always have a special place in my fairytale hurt-locker. To watch the irresistible chemistry of their attraction pull them closer throughout the early years, along with a seemingly idyllic romance unfolding in front of our very eyes—you just had to be there to get it. Although like most of us who grew up with the façade of smoke and mirrors, we should know better than to believe in the airbrushed perfection of Hollywood romance, as José Saramago once said, ‘not everything is as it seems, and not everything that seems is’. This heavily resonates with such fantasies of love, as the cracks in their dreamy whirlwind soon turned to craters, exposing the throes of idealisation, love-bombing and a deeply narcissistic relationship dynamic.
This idealism indeed began with Kanye, who from the outset incessantly pursued and worshipped the ground Kim walked on—as he should. However, the glorification of Kim was not that of starry-eyed princes in their gallantry and child-like infatuation, but rather came from an objectifying and possessive male gaze—a red flag so often overlooked when the grandiosity of love-bombing is at play. No one can deny the calibre of fly that Ye possessed in the early 2000s up until recently, from the College Dropout years of preppy bow ties and pink polos to debonair Parisian couture to the rise of post-apocalyptic style with his Yeezy era; he got the vibe and executed it immaculately… until he didn’t.
The focal point of Ye’s fashion projects shifted around 2012, from his own Vogue-featured ready-to-wear womenswear line to his own ready-to-dress life-size Barbie-doll: Kimmy. He became preoccupied with a deep clear out of her closet, casting away her collection of clothes whilst replacing it entirely with a new one of his choice—a move understood in relational psychology as ‘representational control’. Was he giving her this makeover to truly help her, or was it to transform her into the ultimate object of his desire and dreams? This was his way of telling her: ‘not only do you belong to me, so do your possessions’. This growing obsession with stylising her entirety bears a striking resemblance to Ovid’s myth of Pygmalion—the uncanny blueprint that defined the Kimye saga.
Written over two millennia ago, the Roman Poet Ovid wrote a tale of a Cypriot sculptor named Pygmalion who carved his perfect woman out of ivory. The legend opens with the Cyprian girls of Amathus, known as the Propoetides, who refused to accept and acknowledge the divinity of Venus—their goddess of feminine beauty, fertility and amour. In her divine rage, Venus cursed them with overwhelming sensations of lust, thus making them the first to prostitute their bodies’ charm, losing all sense of shame, public reputation, ‘as the blood hardened in their cheeks, and only a small change turned them into hard flints.’ Pygmalion’s awareness of the Propoetides practising prostitution imbued him with a repulsion for female sexual ‘deviance’, as he began to ‘detest the faults beyond measure which nature had given to women.’ In finding no suitable company in human women, he was driven to create his own ideal version, by sculpting her himself. Perhaps Pygmalion is our most ancient incel, one who condemns the livelihood of women whose blood runs warm with passion and free will, only to be attracted to the vacancy of his own idle creation. Her gaze is blank, she is cold to touch and no pulse runs through her. She is alluring yet silent, no thoughts or words… a still shell of sadness.
The lifelessness of Pygmalion’s sculpture was indeed a fleeting feat of her submission to him. Upon praying to Venus for a bride who would be ‘the living likeness of [his] ivory girl’, he kissed her and felt the warmth of her lips against his—she had come to life. The most poignant versions of this myth explore how once awakened, his sculpture had a thirst for knowledge and a lust for life, abandoning her creator to pursue the same unbridled earthly delights that urged him to create her in the first place. Throughout centuries of cultural and artistic repetition, Man proves to consistently crave the imperium that comes with playing God, yet when their creations are birthed with consciousness, these gods are met with rejection at the hands of a newfound free will. Whether it be Ovid’s ivory sculpture or Collodi’s Pinocchio, Shaw’s Eliza or Garland’s Ex Machina, these cautionary tales remind us that to reign over freedom is an ungovernable desire that soon slips through one’s fingers like sand.
God made man in his likeness, as Ye did with Kim. From the outset, he saw in her the ability to fulfil a lurking fixation, the ability to chisel himself into the marble of her beauty and tenderness, creating who he wanted her to be, for him. What is unique about Kimye is that their story is not bound to the fictionalised imagination of myth and fable, but rather exposes the complexity of a real-life Pygmalion Complex and its outcome in liberating even the most famous woman from the male-gaze. This relationship, interwoven with the Kardashian dynasty and their spearheading of the social media revolution represented a reimagination of pop-culture, its beauty standards and the boundaries of feminist idealism in the 21st century. Society’s inherent patriarchal domination and influence over women's lives, minds and bodies is in constant exploitation and expansion. The rise of plastic surgery culture and its never-ending growth is a terrifying amplification of Ovid’s myth. According to 2020 statistics by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 85% of board-certified plastic surgeons are men, while 92% of these surgeries are performed on women. This interaction between male surgeons and female patients is chilling, and reveals a disturbing normalisation of modern-day Pygmalions in their unquenchable quest to literally carve their ideal woman through scalpels, silicone and stitches. Sculptors who are never quite satisfied, teaching their sculptures to relentlessly pursue ever-evolving beauty standards that remain constructs of a warped male-gaze.
In observing the rise and fall of Kimye through such standards, we can take the good and bad from them into our own lives, learn from it and craft better standards for ourselves, right? From watching their relationship unravel through Keeping up with the Kardashians and other public broadcasts by Ye, we came to understand the root of this relationship being heavily linked to the need for obsession and validation, also understood in psychologist Dr Ramani’s terms as ‘narcissistic supply’. Not only was Kim able to stock him with this supply through her admiration for his endless artistic visions, she also became a product of his creation under the guise of artistic license. This ownership over Kim’s physical and public image seemed to fuel an ego that was indecipherable from love.
In 2019 however, we begin to see glimpses into the breakdown of this power struggle, when he confronts Kim the night before New York’s annual MET Gala about the wet corseted Mugler piece she was to showcase for the world’s eyes: ‘You are my wife, and it affects me when pictures are too sexy…a corset is like a form of underwear, its hot…its like, it’s hot for who though?’ In a similar vein to Pygmalion, the idea that Ye evokes here is: ‘I created you, and therefore you belong to me’. A key theme that parallels Ovid’s myth is his intentionality in not naming Pygmalion’s sculpture, or giving Pygmalion the desire to name his own creation—this is Ye with Kim. We are reminded of how her identity and individuality are of no importance compared to the narcissistic supply and validation the creator receives; this dehumanisation is the fundamental subtext of the myth, and ultimately symbolises the Kimye power struggle.
Nevertheless, Kim rises. That same night before the MET she says to him: ‘You built me up to be this sexy person and confident and just because you're on a journey and you’re on your transformation doesn’t mean that I’m in the same spot with you.’ This is Kim’s final exaltation of agency over her image and life. She reclaims power and consciousness over her own voice by rejecting control that Ye continually tried to assert over her throughout their relationship—a mirror to Pygmalion’s sculpture and her awakening. This interaction is powerful in revealing the way Kim’s gradual self-actualisation as a woman and mother has allowed her to surpass him, fostering autonomy with the way she runs her own ship. There is a lesson here for men but equally a warning for women, one that cautions the loss of self-government in love and champions the restoration of power in abuse. Kim is the sculpture of perfection that came to life, interacting with herself and her world independently, and Ye does not get to turn her back into stone just because he is no longer the only person to admire her for what she has become. He created this monster, as the doctor did with Frankenstein—the parable being: Be careful what you create… it gets away from you, as she is now both the sculptor and the clay.