Editor’s Note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author of many books, the latest of which is “The Normal Bar.” She is the love and relationship ambassador for AARP and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is also a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Kim Kardashian is compiling a 352-page book of selfies titled "Selfish"
Pepper Schwartz: Normal people would find this extreme, but not the Queen of narcissism
She says Kim K is a canny self-promoter; it's when you just love yourself so much 24/7
Schwartz: Why are young women so entranced with Kardashian?
It hurts me to say this, but I bet when I say “Kim,” you know the last name.
Our world is no longer run by bankers and brokers but by public relations people who will do anything to keep certain names in (or out) of the news. If they are not trained psychologists, they sure act like them; they know how to get our interest even when we absolutely do not want to give it.
And so into this vortex of extreme public relations savvy comes Kim K, one of the people who is “famous for being famous.” How did she do it? By flaunting her vapid lifestyle, her great body and good looks and her money.
Of course America idolizes her. But as it turns out, not nearly so much as she idolizes herself.
Kim is putting together a big book of selfies called “Selfish.” She said she was assembling sexy pictures of herself from a trip to Southeast Asia for a book to give to her newish husband, Kanye West, on Valentine’s Day. But then the thought occurred to her – why wouldn’t everyone want one?
Normal people would find a 352-page compilation of selfies in bad taste. But in truth we recognize the basic instinct: It’s hard to resist walking by a mirror and not having one of two reactions – to look or, at all costs, to avoid looking.
Unlike Kim K, the Queen of Narcissism, most of us have a more ambivalent relationship to our own image. We look at pictures of ourselves and more often than not, cringe. If it’s a flattering picture, we save it for our Facebook page or give it to our partner. But few of us, even few movie stars, want to create books of how glorious we look.
Yes we all are mini-narcissists, but most of us have a sense of our flaws and the limits of how much time we should spend on adoringly looking at our own image. Kim K is a lesson in how extreme it can get when you are a canny self-promoter: You just love yourself so much 24/7.
If you, like me, is relieved at the disappearance of Paris Hilton from the front pages and are not a fan of pathological narcissism, you know we should ignore Kim K and shun falling into her PR trap.
But the fact that she has an esteemed publisher and that the editors there must think this book will sell well presents a serious issue: Why are young women entranced with this woman? (I understand why young men would be.) But young girls who are easily impressionable and hooked by hype may be enchanted with the ease with which she seems to float through life and take on her “struggles” (Which brand name shall I buy? Which mini-feud will I rage about?) as ones they would rather have than the ones they have in real life.
They envy her. The fact is that the Kardashians have gained traction in their lives. They have built an empire and no one can deny she and her posse have figured out how to make a fortune based on her brand. Kim K won’t be around forever. But is it some failure of feminism among the young that allows this kind of person to be a star?
I remember the icons of my day: Janis Joplin – a wild woman, a maverick and a massive talent (though, sadly an addict as well). There’s Gloria Steinem, a woman who was mission driven. And while perhaps she had extra press attention because she was good-looking, it was her feminist theory, her amazing verbal ability and her mentoring of others that made her someone to follow and emulate. These were women who deserved to be famous. Even Madonna, embellished by PR but not created by it, had (and has) talent, and a provocative message about sexuality.
Kim K, like Paris Hilton, is just about as thin as their photographs. They want our love and money and they hope to achieve it by showing how much love and money they have already.
So wouldn’t it be great if Kim K’s selfie book sat moldering in book stores and on Amazon? That would reassure me about the soul of modern girls and young women. I wouldn’t blame anyone for paging through it. It’s a little like a car wreck – awful, but hard to totally avoid looking at. But buying the book is another thing altogether.
Instead of sending Kim K to the bank, let’s encourage her to go to a really good therapist. This kind of narcissism needs to be treated, not celebrated.