They are the ultimate followers. They go under the knife, get their cheeks sculpted, foreheads frozen, noses streamlined, necks and chins contoured, lips filled and apply makeup with a precision that leaves them nothing short of a Kim Kardashian facsimile.
"Keeping Up With the Kardashians" has taken on a whole new meaning, thanks to an influencer subculture of Kardashian lookalikes that's emerged online. This group of women, some now barely distinguishable from the real thing, have become influencers in their own right who boast anywhere from 500,000 to one million followers on Instagram.
For them, following the second eldest Kardashian sibling isn't enough — they need to be her, or at least look just like her.
And looking like Kardashian is no longer just a very expensive hobby — it's becoming a business. Influencer marketing agencies claim that brands seeking influencer support for product launches or to raise awareness that can't afford the real thing now have their pick when it comes to Kardashian-esque types. A quick search on Instagram shows that these lookalikes have worked with brands from Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.-owned Glamglow in the Middle East and MAC Cosmetics in the United Arab Emirates to Iconic London, Gerard Cosmetics and Loving Tan.
The reason all these copycats is twofold: the Internet and modern medicine.
If not for the advent of social media and its widespread adoption — Kardashian has one of the largest followings in the world at 106 million — it's unlikely this army of clones would have been able to attract the attention and massive audiences they've managed to today. Plus, there's the whole medical side. Cosmetic procedures from plastic surgeons and dermatologists — both of the invasive and noninvasive variety — yield better results than ever before. There are more accessible options pricewise, too: Those who can't afford a $15,000 rhinoplasty can now get a "non-surgical nose job" achieved with filler that costs $1,000 — or even less outside of major U.S. cities.
Regular people wanting to look like celebrities is not a new phenomenon. Doctors claim Megan Fox and Emilia Clarke are among the celebrities patients often ask to look like, with Angelina Jolie's jawline a popular request since the early Aughts, but Kardashian has trumped all of the above. The length to which some women are going to look exactly like Kardashian is startling.
Dr. Jason Diamond, a plastic surgeon linked to Kardashian after she documented her visit to his Beverly Hills office via Snapchat video, stated confidently that "Kim is far and away the most highly requested face — there is not even a close second."
"Kim has an amazing face. That's a big part of the reason why she is who she is. Kim's angularity to her cheeks are better than almost anyone's on the planet — the neck and chin and the way they come together. The contour is better than just about anyone," Diamond told WWD.
He noted that "anyone can strive to have better angularity" and there are many different procedures to get there, including facial sculpting with various fillers, mini invasive neck lifts and rhinoplasties — both surgical and nonsurgical.
Diamond said he noticed the phenomenon in Dubai — where he also has an office — before it hit America, where the overwhelming majority of patients started bringing in pictures of Kardashian five to six years ago. He maintained that 90 percent of his Dubai patients wanted to look "exactly like Kim," and to this day, it remains that way.
Inclusive of his U.S. patient base, the rush to acquire Kardashian's features has been going strong for about five years. Patients ask for her nose, jawline, neck, cheeks and most often, her overall symmetry and balance.
"I see people who just want her features and I see people who want to look exactly like her," Diamond said, but it depends on what canvas he's starting out with. "In general, we have to assess the person's expectations and their anatomy.…Most of the time when people initially talk to me, a lot of people say they want to look just like her…[but] we have to set realistic expectations. I take and treat every person like their own canvas — their faces are absolutely one of a kind."
Similarly, Dr. Simon Ourian, a Beverly Hills-based cosmetic dermatologist who's been publicly associated with the Kardashian-Jenner family, pinpointed five to six years ago as the time patients started asking to look like Kardashian.
"What's new is that it's gone beyond desire and can get very close to looking like these people. If you have the basic bone structure, with a little makeup or little cosmetic treatments, you can look like that person. It's really doable. That's what's so amazing. You really can look like these people because we have better tools and skills than we did 10 to 15 years ago," Ourian said.
He isn't exaggerating.
Some of the doppelgängers who most closely resemble Kardashian are Jelena Peric, a Croatian influencer with one million followers who goes by @j_make_up, and Sonia Ali, a Dubai-based beauty blogger and makeup artist with 738,000 followers. (Ali shares the account with sister Fyza Ali who happens to look a lot like Kylie Jenner.) Another who bears a striking resemblance to Kardashian is Kamilla Osman, a Canadian who — get ready for this — was reportedly dating Tyga, Jenner's ex-boyfriend. Two years ago, the then 20-year-old Osman admitted to the media that she had only gotten her lips and nose done, the latter for medical reasons. Peric, Ali and Osman couldn't be reached for comment.
Then there are Kardashian BFFs Larsa Pippen and Carla Dibello. Even they have begun to morph into their best friend, so much so that sometimes it's hard to distinguish who's who in photos that Pippen and Dibello post from their Instagram accounts @larsapippen — where she has one million followers — and @carladibello — currently 505,000 followers.
But Ourian, who obviously can't comment on any of the patients he treats — although Pippen has posted videos of visits to him, including the nonsurgical skin-tightening treatment she received on her abdomen last July — insisted he doesn't just specialize in creating Kardashian-inspired features because he knows her personally, he's just meeting patient demand.
"When news got out that I work on her face, on a regular daily basis people started telling me they wanted her cheekbones, her nose, her lips, her eyes, the way her eyebrows are lifted — it's an ongoing request," Ourian said.
He's honed his craft by studying every landmark on Kardashian's face — by both drawing and sculpting it. He uses clay as a medium to assess and sculpt what kind of cheekbones resemble hers most closely, and told WWD he has studied her face "probably more than anyone else's face."
"By just merely looking like her you can get a job and be an influencer yourself. There's a huge group of people who just look like Kim and some of them have over two, three million followers. They haven't really done anything, they just look like her. People follow them because they look like her," Ourian said.
And brands are increasingly seeking to partner with these Kardashian copies.
Sherri Langburt, founder and chief executive officer of influencer marketing agency BabbleBox, said two brands just recently requested to work with "Kim-esque" influencers who have the same cache as Kardashian, from her look to posting aesthetic.
On the influencer side of the business, Langburt is also seeing an uptick in these Kardashian copycats, noting that "some look extremely similar — like to the point that if her hair changes, their hair changes or if she's seen wearing something then they're wearing something similar."
"We definitely have a lot of influencers who when they fill out their profiles, when they talk to us or when we start collaborating, a lot of what they tell us about themselves is that they were 'inspired' by Kim K and that they're trying to take after her. That's how a lot are shaping themselves," Langburt said.
She started to see these Kardashian lookalikes appear en masse about two years ago.
But there is a marked difference between a patient inspired by a particular facial feature or body part on a celebrity — versus asking one's doctor (or doctors, which would likely be the case since one would have to undergo a series of surgical and non-surgical procedures) to turn them into a Kimbot.
Kit Yarrow, a San Francisco-based psychologist, professor and author, likened the outbreak of Kardashian dupes to an extreme continuum of copying someone's lipstick or hairstyle they might admire — a relatively healthy action. At the other end of the spectrum, though, are what Yarrow described as people so insecure about what they personally have to offer that the only way they think they will be loved, admired or appreciated is to take on the persona of someone else.
Yarrow thinks individuals who are confident and think they look good as is are less likely to use influencers on social media to guide their behavior — even with something as harmless as trying a nude lipstick Kardashian might've been sporting on Instagram.
"We can expand that to someone who wants to look exactly like any celebrity. There's something about Kim that seems to inspire mimicry, and the more that people want to acquire that persona or look more like her, the more we understand them to not feel like they have anything unique or special to offer themselves. It's an extreme form of narcissism," Yarrow said.
While it might sound counterintuitive at first, she explained that narcissists, who tend to feel "quite empty," put all of their emphasis on a look that they feel like, in this case, makes them worthy — with others, the emphasis might be on power. Yarrow called the "seed of narcissism" an emptiness that she compared to a shell with nothing inside — hence the emphasis on the external, how they look and how others perceive them. In other words, it's a "desperate grab for attention" that they hope will instill feelings of self-love, but unfortunately, narcissists don't understand that loves comes from more than how you look.
"When you look at a Kim K lookalike, they decided that they love that particular look in their mind, so they feel that if they have that look they will be liked by other people…[and] that's one of the saddest things I've ever heard, it just breaks my heart," Yarrow said, adding that the advent of social media culture has done this group no favors.
She said: "They can get enough gratification and positive feedback from their appearance that it momentary makes them feel full and fill in that gaping hole of need for love and appreciation. So when they get a 'like' or a sponsor for a post, I think they can get enough gratification that it propels them to keep working at it."
Unfortunately, "likes" from thousands of complete strangers on the Internet is a false metric of personal approval. In reality, social media has become the enabler for this new subculture.
Maureen Brewster, a lecturer at The New School's Parsons School of Design and expert in fashion and beauty in pop culture, agreed that social media has exacerbated society's obsession with celebrity, including the group who admire Kardashian so much that they've gone and got new faces to resemble her.
But on a broader scope, social media has allowed the public at large to develop "weirdly personal" relationships with actress, reality TV stars and influencers, said Brewster, admitting she herself is guilty of personalizing her relationship with celebrities. For instance, Snapchat allows her to look at Kardashian's updates amongst the updates of her friends, and that's very powerful — the fact that the content is situated amongst one's personal content.
She remains fascinated by how strong people's reactions to Kardashian are and "how angry people get" while talking about the 37-year-old reality star turned mogul.
"People are fascinated by it because we're kind of repulsed by that level of fandom. I don't think when you hear people talk about this that it's usually admiration. You're not thinking, 'Wow what a great tribute,' when someone does something like this to any celeb no matter who they are, and Kim Kardashian especially," Brewster said.
"On top of the regular criticisms or judgment that someone would have against someone who participates in this activity and follows this lookalike culture, you have a lot of negative opinions about the Kardashians and what they represent," Brewster explained. "It's not just because of how they got there, but there's a lot of layered problems with the way they attained that fame. It's not just in the way that people judge reality stars, or Kim's sex tape that she's famous for [and her] being sexualized. For me, there's some negative surrounding the fact that people have rightly called them out for appropriating black culture."
Brewster is clear she's in no way putting the family down, and from a celebrity perspective "tremendously respects" the family — Kardashian and Kris Jenner, in particular. She said a key takeaway for anyone watching "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" is the overarching theme of hard work, the labor of celebrity and the labor of being a businesswoman. This is portrayed by what seems like an endless series of meetings that members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan must attend to make sure their respective businesses are running smoothly.
Admittedly, Brewster acknowledged the complicated psychology and narrative relating to plastic surgery. When she tries to imagine why these women would elect to undergo so many procedures to become a Kardashian-lookalike, a part of the reason is that "murky angle" relating to identity and perceptions of beauty — but another part goes back to what Kardashian represents. And again, it's also a handful of positive associations.