Last year, Kim Kardashian did an objectively Good Thing when she successfully lobbied for the release of Alice Marie Johnson. The 63-year-old grandmother had been locked in an Alabama federal prison since 1996, over a first-time, nonviolent drug charge. Johnson had been sentenced to life without parole.
No matter anyone’s thoughts on the Kardashians, there was little snickering at Kim’s motives. The reality TV star and entrepreneur was laudably trying to reform a broken prison system and heal one of the nearly half million lives broken by the pointless war on drugs. A gold star achievement for sure, if they still give those out in law school.
One year and a month after Johnson’s release, the former inmate popped up on the official Instagram page of Skims, Kardashian’s Spanx-but-not-Spanx line of shapewear. Under the guise of profiling “real women, real stories” (as opposed to those pesky fake women), Kardashian enlisted Johnson and a slew of non-models to hawk the fancy girdles.
Halloween must have come early, because in two short promotional videos shot by Vanessa Beecroft, the Skims team dressed Johnson up as a PR prop, touting a woman who should be celebrating her deserved, tortuously earned clemency in peace as the new face of its Sculpting Bodysuit Mid Thigh ($68 in sizes XXS - 5XL, out September 10, #ShowYourSKIMS).
As the camera pans up and down Johnson’s spandex-clad body, and shots cut to Polaroids of Johnson from the front and profile (not unlike a mug shot), Johnson begins her “testimonial.”
“My name is Alice Marie Johnson. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee. I’m wearing the Sculpting Bodysuit. I was serving a life, plus 25-year sentence, without the possibility of parole. Kim saw a video of me, she saw my story, she said, ‘This is so unfair,’” Johnson delivers with a smile in her voice, adding, “By the way, I didn’t know who Kim Kardashian was.” (It’s a joke, because she was in prison!)
“She went to war to fight for my freedom,” Johnson goes on. “And that’s why I call her my War Angel, because nothing stood between her and my freedom. I was set free on June 6, 2018. Now, every moment in life is precious to me. Waking up in the morning and not having a bunk bed over my head is precious to me. Being able to open the door whenever I want to and just walk outside and breathe in fresh air, to breathe in freedom, that is precious to me.”
Then Johnson reads lines almost certainly penned by a Kardashian-bankrolled copywriter: “This shapewear makes me feel like I can walk into the store, I can pick up something I normally wouldn’t think about wearing, and it’s going to look great on me.” Cut to Johnson in a form-fitting black gown, punctuating the monologue with a truly tasteless catchphrase that is a new low, even for this family, “This shapewear makes me feel free.”
A representative for Skims declined to pass along The Daily Beast’s request for comment from Johnson, so until the next press push, we do not know her motivation for promoting the off-brand Spanx. We can only hope that she was paid really, really well for the appearance.
Of course in the Kardashian universe, no good deed (and there are so few of them) goes unpublicized. If Kim truly wanted to push her vague, much-championed “positively” out into the world, she could have helped Thompson and then shut the hell up about it.
Wrangling the grandmother and author, who surely has much to do after more than two decades behind bars, into her passion project clothing line, arguably invalidates the compassion she displayed by getting her out in the first place—even if Johnson agreed to help her friend.
Unfortunately this is not the first time Johnson has been a cog in someone else’s attention-seeking machine. She was infamously pardoned by Donald Trump, a noted racist who went against his fear-mongering anti-drug rhetoric to pardon Johnson pretty much just for the Kardashian photo-op.
In January, a blood red lipstick-wearing Ivanka Trump and her haunted doll of a husband Jared Kushner, who looked especially waxy that night, brought Johnson to the State of the Union. Much like his “friend” Kim, Trump used Johnson’s story to pad his already-boxy suit shoulders.
“Alice’s story underscores the discrepancies and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing and the need to remedy this total injustice,” Trump read off a teleprompter. “In June, I commuted Alice’s sentence. When I saw Alice’s beautiful family greet her at the prison gates, hugging and kissing and crying and laughing, I knew I did something right. Alice is with us tonight and she is a terrific woman. Terrific.”
Johnson famously spent her time at Aliceville Federal Correctional Institute as a hospice volunteer comforting dying inmates, becoming a minister, and remaining a rock for her family on the outside. As Johnson put it to the ACLU last year, “The work I did for others gave me hope… Helping people gave me a purpose.”
“Terrific,” indeed. Now let her live free from the burden of selling Kardashian shapewear.