Interview by Johnny Crisp
May 5 of 2015 is a date that will go down in history as a key moment in the development of human art. Kimberly Kardashian West, possibly the most famous woman on the planet, published a 448-page book made up entirely of her own selfies. It’s fair to say nobody knew quite how to react. From super fans posting declarations of intense love on her every Instagram post, to this 74 year-old who was arrested on Monday for allegedly going on a Selfish massacre in a Barnes & Noble, Kim Kardashian brings out the most extreme in people.
Luckily, Lauren O’Neill, a writer and Kim Kardashian expert (who wrote her MA dissertation on Kim, and is about to publish a new Kim-centric zine: Selfies, Self-Awareness and ‘Selfish’) is here to help us understand what’s going on.
Her first selfie. Credit: Rizzoli
My relationship with Kim? I suppose it’s kind of complicated. When you’re a fan of someone but they’re also your intellectual subject matter, it can sometimes be a difficult relationship to define because fandom is so deeply personal, but academic analysis is supposed to be objective. I think she’s best summarised as my ‘problematic fave’. As someone who observes her critically, I can’t say I’m here for everything she does or every decision she makes, but I do think that in many ways she’s unbelievably ground-breaking, and the respect I have for her is endless. I genuinely think the moment I fell in love with her was when I saw her ugly crying face on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
The thing about Kim is that she’s completely unapologetic about how she feels about herself – she once cropped her own child out of a selfie because the kid was ruining the picture and she was “feeling [her] look” – and she’s not afraid to say: “Hey, look at me, I look good and I love that.” To me, in a culture that tries to shame selfie-takers (almost always women) as boring narcissists, it’s refreshing to have a role model who literally doesn’t care what people say.
Kim’s image is so widespread that she has kind of become an icon: identifiable by our idea of her, rather than by her actual self. Her comfort with her own image is what made that happen, because it’s such an intrinsic part of her brand, and it has allowed that image to be distributed via photo, video, film and television. Her icon status – her cultural legacy – couldn’t have been achieved without her own adoration of herself.
The thing that inspires me most about Kim is that she took adversity and turned it into an empire. It helps me to remember that burning my grilled cheese doesn’t mean my day is completely fucked.
I’m sure that the selfie can always go further. Despite what old men don’t like to admit, humans are vain and we’ll always find new ways to capture ourselves. Maybe 3D selfies are next, or VR selfies, where you can transmit a hologram of yourself. I’d definitely beam a Kim Kardashian hologram into my home.