Selfish, Kim Kardashian’s new 445-page book of selfies, is a bit of a party trick. Pull out the compact, three-pound art book at a social function, and people clamor to flip through the hundreds of near-identical selfies that chart Kim’s evolution both as a human and as a brand (is there a difference?). Some took a meta selfie with the book, Kim’s damp bosom and dewy face overshadowing their own smiles in the foreground.
I was not surprised that this happened. What percentage of Americans haven’t at least heard Kardashian’s name, if not seen her nude? Amidst a popular culture that only becomes more segmented every year, Kim Kardashian is an equal-opportunity beacon of shamelessness. I look to her Instagram when I’m feeling self conscious about posting a selfie or tweeting a link to new work. I feel gross populating my web presence with such outward promotion of the self, but in Kim’s world, who you are and what you are selling are one and the same. Such an assertion would bother me more if Kim wasn’t so self-aware about her existence spent shilling. Nowhere is this made clearer than throughout the pages of Selfish, published last week by Rizzoli.
Selfish occupies a place somewhere between a Marina Abramović stunt and your Facebook friend who splices together brief video clips every day for year. The intention is far more like the latter, but flipping through the book may leave you with this philosophical question: Why bother hiding anything? (That’s quite the millennial take, but hey, it’s a less troubling question than the existential query Kim’s iPhone game raises: Does anything matter?)
Though she took to this week’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians to reveal that she struggles to leave the house without wearing Spanx, Kim leaves her insecurities at the door when it really matters. One might say, “Well, it’s easy to get naked and greased-up on the cover of a national magazine when you have a perfect body,” but I assure you that there are photos within Selfish that are far from flattering. And really, once there have been smartphone cases and T-shirts made of the ugliest cry of your life, who cares about some under-eye circles, tacky makeup, brutal sunburns, or questionable club-wear?
The salad days of the Kardashian empire are chronicled here in a way that reminds the reader that the family was once desperately lowbrow, instead of some irony-steeped combination of low and high — front row at Paris Fashion Week, Kardashian Kollection at Sears — that balances out, I suppose, to the middlebrow. The enthusiastic nostalgia with which Kim, in her Comic Sans-esque handwriting, recalls getting her makeup and hair done while lounging in her signature Juicy Couture sweatsuit is sort of funny and maybe even a little charming coming from someone whose husband threw out her clothes and replaced them with couture. But how many of us would look back at our earliest Facebook photos and not feel a slight embarrassment? Furthermore, how many of us would publish them in a book that everyone we knew and many more we didn’t would see?
I realize this comparison is not perfect because Kim has long been conditioned to normalize egomaniacal behavior, mostly because it actually makes her money. But because she looks less than perfect in many of these photos, including some wonkily angled nudes, it’s hard for me to flip through Selfish and feel like it’s as wildly vain as it appears at first glance. Madonna’s Sex, Selfish is not, at least with regard to art direction and styling.
I am hesitant to use the word “reading” with regards to Selfish, because there is little text besides captions about how Kim selfies to remember. “Bikini faves are my favorite,” for example, appears in some variation as a caption multiple times. I’ve seen a few positive reviews of the book from respectable outlets like Slate and The Atlantic, but to review such a pure document — something that, unlike a memoir, has very little artistic framing — feels impossible without either embracing or rejecting the Kim K Experience. Whether it’s good or bad is frankly irrelevant — one’s own opinion of Kardashian is the ultimate bias here, so the book is a mirror. But I will say this: to spend time with Selfish is to encounter a woman who possesses zero embarrassment. If you’re the kind of person who personally relates to Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing,” then Selfish may feel like a temporary respite from the exhausting act of giving a shit.