Kim goes into a dressing room to change, while Khloe and Kourtney (23 and 28, respectively) start talking about hot looks for fall. To see them together is to wonder how Kim, with her seemingly unrelenting, innocuous sweetness, is related to them. They’re both lively and sarcastic; they mug, they flit, they slap each other on the ass. Khloe fingers a dress for the camera. “This one gives you the cleavage without all the boo-tay,” she says. “Can’t give it all up, girl!” She pauses. “Well, if you talk to me, I will.” When Kim comes out of the dressing room, Khloe says, “Obviously, Kim dresses a little whorey at times.”

Kim smiles uncomfortably. “Khloe, don’t talk like that,” she says.

“Kim, just because you have a stick up your ass doesn’t mean we can’t have fun,” Khloe says.

“You say I have a stick up my ass every day.” Kim turns from her sisters to the cameraman. “They love each other more than me.”

She presses on, picking some dresses off the rack. She identifies them by the event she wore them to. This one is the Heatherette fashion show, that one is the T-Mobile ID party. And when they finish taping, Kim tries to decide what to wear to the party that night. She worries that one dress pushes her breasts up too far; as she fusses with her décolletage, the Good Day LA cameraman looks around. “God,” he says to no one in particular, “I love my job.”

There’s a strange dynamic at work here. Kim is someone who should by now have inspired some hate-mongering—or at the very least have been dismissed. There’s a groundswell of pop-culture antipathy that has all but engulfed Paris Hilton and her moneyed, insulated, famous-for-nothing breed. So why does it barely lap at Kim’s feet? If you watch her in action for long enough, there’s one explanation that emerges. In the makeup chair at a photo shoot in West Hollywood, Kim’s the same person she was in her parents’ house. Sweet, unassuming. She shortens adjectives like any other Valley girl: “Cheese.” “Expense.” When the first flash goes off, though, something changes. A switch flips; she touches her face, arches her back. She swims through honey, she parts her lips. There are 20 people gathered around her, and the silence is thick.

The reason for that?

“I’m not the sex kitten that they’ve made me out to be,” she says. “But I’ll kind of give it to them when I have to. I know that’s what they want, and so I give it to them.”