Women in reality television are on the top of the pyramid

How the portrayal of women in reality television has shifted positively over time from pettiness to vulnerability.

Over the last 15 years, women in reality television have evolved to not only appear more independent but to represent a more emotionally vulnerable, educated, balanced, and complex ideal for women. As these women, who gained an online following through toxic immaturity and a dramatized image of them in their youth, are becoming older, their “characters” are developing into more mature, well-rounded, and valid role models.

On Keeping up with the Kardashians, for example, each Kardashian sister was no stranger to being attacked in the media for aspects of their character. The main complaints against the Kardashian brand in the early 2000s were that the girls were ungrateful, self-absorbed, and obsessed with shallow pursuits that their viewers did not find relatable or worthy of sympathy. 

But when their show transitioned and was rebranded as simply The Kardashians on Hulu, each sister adopted authentic aspirations and values that enriched the show and made it more valued by the public.

Kim Kardashian, now the most affluent sister, was originally marketed as overly dramatic and emotional. She cried over materialistic inconveniences (think “my diamond earring!”). The show’s producers highlighted her annoyances and privilege during the majority of the show. 

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Now a mother of four, Kardashian is also the founder, creative director, and primary shareholder of SKIMS, a company which, according to their website, is a “solutions-oriented brand creating the next generation of underwear, loungewear, and shapewear.” 

In an interview with TIME Magazine, Kardashian said she believes her success with SKIMS has changed the public’s outlook on her. 

“I think at the beginning, I didn’t really understand where my path or my career was going because I was just kind of winging it,” she said.  

All of the sisters in this distinguished family have their own examples of the development Kardashian has shown in her opening up about her business success. Khloë Kardashian is the founder of Good American, a brand focused on body inclusivity that requires any store selling her brand to carry all of its sizes. She also expresses her vulnerability by openly sharing her relationship difficulties and the importance of peaceful co-parenting while simultaneously providing a good example for her daughter. 

Kourtney Kardashian shares her struggles with infertility with the public, serving as a role model to women all over the world struggling with the same. 

Similarly to the toxic nature of the original Kardashian television show, on Dance Moms, producers portrayed the girls as overly competitive and aggressively pitted against each other, thus manipulating their public images. 

In the second season of the show, for example, the girls were given the opportunity to audition for The Joffrey Ballet School, which is a competitive dance school in Chicago. 

In the episode, Chloe Lukasiak received a call from the Joffrey Ballet School in front of the rest of the girls. The call informed her that she had received the scholarship. This success being awarded to Lukasiak caused teammate Maddie Ziegler to be shown having a tantrum minutes later. 

In reality, both Ziegler and Lukasiak had actually received Joffrey scholarships, indicating that the producers intentionally twisted Ziegler’s reaction to dramatize the two girls’ alleged rivalry. Around three years later, Lukasiak referred to Ziegler as “[her] biggest rival in the competition world,” according to OKMagazine, but claimed that their personal relationship simply grew apart due to their busy schedules – not because they disliked each other.

Certain things that were on the show were obviously creative editing of just making certain pieces splice together,” Asia Monet Ray, another star in the show said in an interview with E! News. “We had to wear the same clothes for like a week. So certain things could be taken out of context.”

Contrary to their portrayal in the early seasons of Dance Moms, many of the girls are now achieving success in their careers, be it academic, musical, or performance-wise. 

Although education and schooling were rarely mentioned in Dance Moms, Nia Sioux is currently studying American Literature at UCLA, an extremely competitive university in California. In 2021, she starred in Dance with Nia, which is a show she said she created to highlight dancers with disabilities.  

Soon after Jojo Siwa’s time on Dance Moms, she released multiple songs, her most popular being “Boomerang” in 2016. The song focused on anti-bullying and the importance of self-expression. 

Throughout Siwa’s career, she has won multiple Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards. She is now focused on growing her youth pop group called XOMG POP. She has also partnered with J.C. Penney, sold merchandise and even made Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2021. 

Women thrive from seeing examples of strong women in the media. While many of these women originally represented an expectation of partying and pettiness, they have since grown into pillars of society, openly sharing their business aspirations, academic pursuits, and journeys through motherhood.

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