The selfie is not only a specific kind of photo, but a cultural touchstone. Collectively, in western society, we write a lot of thought pieces about the selfie’s social benefit (good? bad? inevitable?). Prince Harry, for example, is against them.
Kim Kardashian, on the other hand, is very much in favour of them.
Many of you will have heard of Kim Kardashian’s new book, Selfish. A curated collection of selfies, it is from venerable art publisher Rizzoli. A chorus of boos and snickers greeted the announcement of the project, but it has proven to be a bestseller, as well as a surprisingly revealing document. Why?
Here’s the thing: we’ve always treated the selfie as a transitory phenomenon, a blip in one’s Instagram feed. But just how impermanent is it? We’re warned that everything lives forever on the internet. We can’t hide our awkward and embarrassing moments. Our poorly phrased Tweets and tragically mis-timed photos are all fair game.
Through selfies, Kim Kardashian has diarized her life. Everything, from a sunburn to the birth of her first child, is part of the story she tells. The selfie – each apparently more throwaway than the last – has generated a memoir, a document that tells her story.
One of the earliest photos in the book is of Kim and her sister Khloe Kardashian, taken with a disposable camera in the mid-1980s. The arrival of the smartphone obviously empowered Kardashian, and the book is mostly drawn from the past nine years. They track Kardashian chronologically, moving from LA party girl, to nascent reality star, to polished media machine. Eventually, husband Kanye West and daughter North pop into the frame. In a way, this is Kardashian’s memoir, in her favourite medium.
Kardashian displays an odd blend of calm and obsession when it comes to her image. She claims to be able to identify each hairstylist and makeup artist who worked on her by simply looking at a photo. Conversely, she shares any number of intimate (read: nude) photos. Those nudes? Already leaked on the internet in a phone hacking scandal.
Kardashian is comfortable revealing herself, both physically and emotionally. The process of writing your memoirs – however you do it – requires self-reflection. You have to look back at that moment in your life, and come to terms with what you see. Kardashian’s Selfish is a reminder that all memoirs are made up of small, seemingly forgettable moments, that compose your whole story.
Maybe, then—just maybe, Kim may give us pause to reflect. How are you going to tell your story?