Falling in Love with the Idea of Her
The other day someone I’ve never met sent me a text that read ‘How do you fend off all of the guys that fall in love with you’... ‘or fall in love with the idea of you?’. I blew right past the question as the typical kind of thing someone says when they’re trying to flirt or be complementary. Later that night I was having a gin and tonic getting ready to go meet a guy I met through tinder a few weeks back, and simultaneously flipping through Kim Kardashian’s book “Selfish”. I wanted to try to do a smokey eye, although I don’t usually wear eye makeup, and was hoping for some inspiration. I poured over selfie after selfie, like I usually would when I’m scrolling one of the many social media feeds I participate in, looking for the perfect photograph to replicate. I started to think a little deeper about that phrase that I feel I’ve heard countless times since I was 16 or 17, “falling in love with the idea of someone”.
Kim Kardashian's “Selfish” is such a permanent form of self representation although it is heavily steeped in the aesthetics of a culture based on constantly changing and morphing the way one represents themselves to their peers.
I would venture to guess for most people in my demographic, the phrase “falling in love with the idea of her” means falling in love with someone before you really know them. Falling in love with a stream of photographs, one liners, playlists, and other curated ways in which a person can present themselves to the world. As we constantly intake these pseudo personalities, judge them, fall for them, wish we were them, we turn back around and create our own version of ourselves; a well curated “idea” of a person we want to be, or a person that we believe will receive positive feedback. I read an article recently that said when we see the badges from notifications on facebook and instagram they cause our brain to release dopamine. That means that not only are people falling in love with the idea of us, but we are feeling that love full circle. Peering into the shiny black screens that seem to dominate our lives nowadays we become the ultimate narcissists staring at our own reflections. Now more than ever that reflection doesn’t resemble who we are.
In contrast with the infinite abyss that is the internet, a sprawling web of ideas and images, is Selfish. A book which is contradictory in so many ways even down to its size. The dimensions are seemingly small and transportable (somewhere in between your phone and your ipad), but when flipped on its side is found to be incredibly thick and heavy, mimicking a brick. I find this fact to be indicative of the contradictory and controversial content which it contains. At first glance it may seem just as streamlined as any electronic device, but turned on its side you find it has much more depth. The book is a stream of photos and captions similar to what you may see on Instagram of all selfies of Kim Kardashian.
Although this content may strike you as one dimensional, I wholeheartedly disagree.
I initially became a fan of Kim Kardashian because I love playing devil's advocate. It seems an obvious and easy point to argue that someone who, with each day becomes exceedingly more relevant within pop culture, has an affect on subcultures and artistic and intellectual conversations as well. The more that I took her side, the more I realized that I believed what I was saying. I harbored a lot of animosity about the fact that no matter who you brought Kim up to, it seemed everyone agreed she was a talentless, superficial celebrity that lacked any sort of intelligence or relevance to intellectual conversation, save for being an example of what's wrong with the world. I saw them scoff and write me off as just another fan girl with male dominated culture’s wool being pulled over my eyes. Something about the fact that Kim’s celebrity wasn’t masked by some half assed attempt at a music career, or second rate acting gig really rubbed people the wrong way. For me, however, it was in many ways more honest than the careers of celebrities like Megan Fox, Blake Lively, Katy Perry. A vast majority of young female celebrities I see presented to me first as sex symbols filling roles in movies or on stages for the male gaze, but who do not have any particularly astonishing talent or allure from my point of view. They bore me and strike me as empty replicas of one another filled to the brim with other’s ideas of what they should sing, act, say.
Stemming from this is another aspect of Kim Kardashian which drew me in. Kim first entered into my realm of thinking not as a sex object intended for male consumption, but rather as a single woman building a brand around herself. Kim owns her celebrity by being unapologetic and forthright about being a sex symbol and self promoter. In some writings by Robert Irwin, made for his 1977 retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art, he describes different levels of defining
objects or ideas and how these levels impact our society. The level that interests me most is the perception during which a person, place, or thing is yet to have a name or be defined by the mind, or even acknowledged by it, but yet it has a stance and a perceived feeling that comes with it. For whatever reason when Kim Kardashian began to seep her way into my subconscious it was clear that she was a female celebrity presenting herself for the consumption of women. Admired by women, as well as hated, but overall her fandom felt like a girls club. There are countless factors that make this true, but a lot of it has to do with just the thing that makes her so controversial, which is the fact that she is not an actress and she is not a singer. We do not have to see her placed in these roles or age old stereotypes; oversexualized by an incredibly large team of writers, and costume designers. She is presented to us on her own accord. The platform in which she expresses herself are her own self-managed, albeit often highly sexualized, social media accounts. Kim is a woman taking a visual culture at face value, and turning what was originally an invasion of her privacy [the leak of her sex tape] into an empire she has built around being transparent and unashamed.
I have read recently some articles such as, Vice magazine’s “Kim Kardashian West is the Outsider Artist America Deserves” and an article in i-D “Jerry Saltz Thinks Kim Kardashian is Our Generation's Andy Warhol” comparing “Selfish” to artistic, predominately male, self portraiture of the past. When someone creates images of oneself and compiles them into a collection to be published, leaning heavily on aesthetics, and presented as simply images with little to no text, comparisons will be made to artists compiling self portraits. Countless important artists have participated in some form of self portraiture throughout history. One can also look at an artist like Cindy Sherman, who made a name for herself, through self portraits that place her in the exact movie scenes created for women that Kim Kardashian has avoided.
What is much more interesting is the way in which our society finds so many negative things to say about a woman who has essentially created her own self image and been astonishingly successful rather than having her fame appointed to her by a vastly male culture that decided her looks make her worthy.
I can’t deny that it’s clear Kim Kardashian has used her looks to advance her career. She is beautiful by today's standards, which have in many ways become defined by her. If anything I feel that at worst she is another celebrity utilizing her image as self-promotion, and at best a woman who has proclaimed herself as a beautiful and relevant figure, and will use this confidence to become increasingly more relevant within the discussion of feminism. With events such as a talk Kim did recently in Oakland, intended to cover a few topics, one being the objectification of women, it seems plausible that this woman, who proudly proclaims on NPR that out of all of the photographers that she has been photographed by she has photographed herself the most, could be a valid candidate to help shift the discussion. ⊗