The Queen, Kim Kardashian’s bottom and what two iconic images told us about women last week.

Photos of the two most famous women in the world were released last week. Both were instantly iconic for vastly different reasons. 

They each speak volumes about the changing value of women in our culture and by this, I don’t even mean physically although there is the fact that one woman is wearing a cardigan, and the other has no pants.

The images themselves are a mind-bending contrast. In one, we have the Queen of England, just 48 hours before her death, looking frail and immaculate in her smart country outfit shaking hands with the in-coming British Prime Minister, Liz Truss.


In the other, the queen of the Internet, Kim Kardashian, poses with bleached eyebrows in a jockstrap with her jeans pulled down, thrusting her naked bottom defiantly at the camera.

Here’s something we can all agree on: both of these images are authentic representations of the women they feature.

For the Queen, it’s a depiction of duty. For Kim Kardashian, it’s a depiction of self-promotion. And while it would be easy to value one over the other, it’s a little more complex than it looks.


In the rolling news coverage and global reactions to the Queen’s death just two days after that image was released, the same words kept coming up: Restraint. Public service. Dignity. Resilience. Humility. Self-sacrifice. Modesty. Work ethic. Responsibility. And the word uttered most often: Duty.

None of these words – or qualities – are particularly sexy and by that I mean desirable. Not anymore. They used to be, though. In previous generations, they were all highly prized values for women. Especially duty. And while royal nostalgia makes it easy to romanticise that now, in practice it wasn’t great because these values were used as tools of oppression to keep women from being too loud, too opinionated, too... self-focused. 

Humility and restraint please, darling. Be modest. Think of your duty. To your country. To your family. Don’t complain. Dedicate your life to the service of others, there’s a good girl.

The world works far better when women are content to remain in caring roles, putting the needs and wants of everyone else ahead of our own. Have you noticed?

This is essentially what the Queen had to do throughout her life. 

Her role as monarch and the responsibilities that came with it trumped any personal feelings or frailties, every time, right up until the end. She knew the power and importance of that final photo as a symbol of reassurance to her people; their Queen greeting their new Prime Minister during an incredibly turbulent time in British politics amid a global pandemic. It’s ok kids, Nana’s across this and everything’s cool. 


Duty above self, always. She had to put her role as the head of the monarchy not just above her own desires but also above those she loved. She chose to put duty above desire and her people adored and respected her for it because it made them feel safe and taken care of; a steady presence underpinning our own lives which were chaotic and messy and unprecedented. 

The Queen was very… precedented, and that was because of duty, as her personal life was no doubt turbulent too. We know it was. She endured great pain and heartbreak because she is human and nobody escapes these things. But even as her own family flailed about in their melodramas, the Queen lived by the edict ‘never explain, never complain’ and we were grateful for that because we had enough problems and it was nice to simply have her as a benevolent presence in the background. 

Always there. Never a drama. 

The only time we resented her for it was when she didn’t reflect our grief back to us after the death of Diana. In 1997, the Queen was slow to pivot but in the end, she did join her people in mourning Diana because she knew that her primary duty was to preserve the monarchy. And she knew she must do whatever it took to avoid people losing faith in that institution, no matter how she felt personally. Duty above all.

Kim Kardashian is an altogether different cat.


If the Queen’s life was driven by her singular dedication to duty, a Kardashian life is driven by an unflinching dedication to fame; the pursuit of it, the growth of it and the monetisation of it.

This is not in itself a bad thing and nor is it a new thing. No shame here. Women have always sought to leverage their faces and bodies for fame and money. The Kardashians are simply the realisation of how this can be scaled in the Internet age. Most of them are billionaire brands now.

Kim Kardashian appears to feel no pull towards duty or none that is perceptible. Instead, she is fully focussed on growing and monetising 'brand Kim'. Whatever it takes. She’s unapologetic about that and while the easy angle is to condemn her for it, do we condemn men for being ambitious purely for personal and financial gain?

Is anyone expecting Elon Musk to be making the world a better place for other people? Or Mark Zuckerberg? Or Harry Styles? Or Hamish and Andy? Do we expect them to display the selflessness so prized in the Queen in exchange for their fame and fortune? We don’t. In fact, it doesn’t even occur to us.

For women though, that expectation has always been there: But how is she helping others?

For a long time – and still now, to be honest – I’ve felt frustrated with the way Kim Kardashian chooses to spend her celebrity capital.

What purpose is served by yet another sexualised photo of her bare bum? Does it do any good for anyone but Kim? No, but should it have to? Also, no.


In some ways, I admire the literal naked ambition Kim has for nothing more complex than… more. More fame. More money. More power. Her body and her face are the tools she uses to build that equity into an empire.

Of course, most women sit somewhere in the vast chasm between these two images of womanhood – the one of servitude and the one of bare-arsed self-promotion. Most of us wouldn’t choose either as our north stars. 

Many women like to claim Kim Kardashian as a symbol of feminism because she has monetised her body into vast wealth. This is not feminism though, it is capitalism. And we should not confuse the two.

Yes, it’s better that Kim Kardashian is reaping the rewards of her labour directly instead of an agent, a brand or a movie studio – as used to be the case. 

But no, it’s not empowering for anyone other than her. In fact, it’s pretty easy to argue that the way she promotes unrealistic beauty standards is a net negative for other women. 

Last week’s reaction to the image of Kim’s bottom was surprisingly muted though. It didn’t break the Internet, not this time. Perhaps that trick has lost its power.

The woman who broke the Internet last week was The Queen.

To see more of Mia Freedman's writing, you can subscribe to Mamamia here, and you can also sign up to her newsletter  here too.

Feature image: Instagram @theroyalfamily/@kimkardashian 

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