By Justina Sharp, 18
Earlier this week, TIME released its “30 Most Influential Teens of 2015” list -- and a lot of adults released their personal opinions on the validity of 90% of the teens on it.
The list itself was beautifully constructed, featuring public figures like dancer Maddie Ziegler and Zendaya, alongside those who are working out of the spotlight, such Google Science Fair winner Olivia Hallisey. It truly showed the range of this generation's involvement in every spectrum of everyday life. That’s what has some critics so upset -- and what I feel the need to defend.
I was scrolling through Facebook, when a friend’s posting of the list showed a comment that gave me pause: “The fact that Malala Yousafzai and the two useless Jenner/Kardashians were on the same list makes me sick to my stomach.” Kendall and Kylie Jenner are indeed on the same list, listed one after the other (the list is ordered by age). So very close, but seemingly lightyears apart in the real world and in the world of public opinion. Malala is an educator, an activist, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and a symbol of strength for people around the world. Kylie is an entrepreneur, a designer, a role model for millions and part of a true American dynasty. In the opinion of the list’s critics, Kylie, and her sister, model Kendall Jenner, have no place there. That’s where they’re wrong. In my opinion, they've both contributed greatly to society -- just in vastly different ways.
Influence does not discriminate based on how your platform was achieved. Malala’s was thrust upon her when a man with a gun got onto a bus and tried to silence to her voice. Her crusade to change women's education has already changed our world. Kylie’s was born of a new age, in which your whole life can be measured in likes and views, and your fame fits in an iPhone. Her determination to spread the message to girls that they are free to be who they are has not only sparked a drastic change in the style, but in the attitude of girls my age. I don’t think those are two things that can be compared. Yet, we will try as a society to say that Kylie is “useless” and that her influence is “worthless garbage." (Just take a cruise through her Instagram comments, and you’ll find much worse.) Why is that?
We forget when we compare these girls of the worlds they grew up in and the way their lives were shaped. Malala was just Malala, until that day on the bus. She lived her whole life up to that point shaping her opinions -- and herself -- in private. When she walked onto the world stage, she was, in our eyes, a young woman with an important message and should be taken seriously as such. No one would ever think to challenge her place on this list.
Kylie has been Kylie Jenner since the first episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which aired back in 2007. She was 10 years old. Since then, we've watched her grow up on our rapidly expanding screens, and we’ve spent so long making fun of her, that we’ve forgotten she has a brain -- really good one that launched her own wildly popular subscription app, and recently partnered with Instagram on an anti-bullying campaign that brought the stories of people around the world to her massive audience. We’ve applied the same attitude towards her that we apply to aging Disney stars: “How dare you grow up, when you’ve been a child this whole time?” We don’t allow them experimentation or maturity. Then we get upset when we feel like they aren’t “acting their age." We infantilize, forgetting that many of these kids grew up years before they turned 18. Kylie is no different. At every turn, she has had to defend not only her work, but her worth.
TIME states that their criteria for the list as follows: “We consider accolades across numerous fields, global impact through social media and overall ability to drive news." Judging by that -- and not how you feel about hair extensions, or short skirts or any of the million other things Kylie Jenner is degraded for -- she has earned her place. The spot right next to Malala. Well that, much like everything else on this list regarding both of them, is just a coincidence of birth.