A must-read review of the most narcissistic book ever published.

Kim Kardashian’s opus is a book of pictures all about… herself.

Some pairings are so obvious, they hardly warrant mentioning: Bert & Ernie, Michelle & Barack, and Kim Kardashian & Greco-Roman poets from Latin literature’s BC era.

For it is Ovid who told us the myth of Narcissus, the breathtakingly beautiful son of a river god.

One day Narcissus gazed upon his reflection in a pond and was so captivated by it, he couldn’t look away. His self-infatuation was his destruction, and eventually he died at the water’s edge. This is from where we get the word “narcissism”.

The quintessential narcissist – Kim Kardashian.

Today, Narcissus would wind up with his own reality TV show and release a book of hundreds of photos he took of himself. Enter: Kim Kardashian. Like Narcissus, she is undeniably, breathtakingly beautiful. She is also deeply enamoured with her own reflection, taking this love to a new level with her recently released book of selfies, brilliantly titled “Selfish”.

There are things I like about Kim. She more than successfully breaks the mould of fair and skinny models that dominate pop culture, and women have stated her “different kind of beauty” is one of the reasons they love her. From all we’ve seen (“all” being the operative word when discussing a life self-documented in micro-seconds), she is a loving mother, sister, wife and daughter.

Watch Kim describe how to take the perfect selfie to Jimmy Kimmel.Post continues after video.

But I was puzzled by the book – why would anyone buy what was mostly available for nothing on Kim’s Instagram? Perhaps the book provided witty commentary on current society, or offered new insight into previously-unknown aspects of Kim’s life? Nope. Flicking through the book, my puzzlement grew further still. There appeared to be no point to the book whatsoever.

It is just page after page of Kim’s (mostly bathroom) selfies, many uncaptioned or with only the barest nod to description (“I love bathroom selfies!”). Pages are devoted to almost identical pictures, each frame taken within seconds of each other and only showing a slight difference in how open her mouth was or the angle of her jaw. There’s a lot of pouting and bare skin. As she merrily captions (more than once) “Bikini selfies are my fave!”. There are even full-frontal nude selfies, which she says she wasn’t going to include until they were leaked and then, oh well. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.

It’s easy to poke lazy fun at the book, such as when she takes a selfie of her face perfectly positioned next to a horse’s ass, apparently unaware of what punchlines suggest themselves. Or when she gushes about the beautiful places she is taking selfies while managing to obscure any vision of these sights (such as Thailand, the desert, and the aquarium) because her own image takes up so much of the shot. Or when a caption is so badly written, it appears conclusive proof the book editor had entirely checked out by this stage, like on p 243 where it reads as if Kim and her friend were trapped in a wardrobe for a quarter of a year: “We were in Miami here in my closet. We were there for three months filming Kourtney and Kim take Miami.”

Image: supplied.

But soon, puzzlement gave way to a deep-seated unease. Kim merrily announced in the introduction (which, at 5 sentences, is the longest string of prose in the book) that the hundreds of selfies in the book were only a snippet of the thousands she had to choose from. Thousands. Of pictures of herself. Taken by her. This is a type of vanity Narcissus himself would double-tap on Insta.

Not all selfies are a descent into vanity, of course. Taking a selfie because you find yourself in a lift with Beyonce or Neil deGrasse Tyson and there’s no one else to snap the pic of you together is one thing. Taking literally thousands of yourself alone in your bathroom mirror, with each shot barely differing from the one before it, is quite another. One is about the event, the other about the ego. The sheer number of selfies shows that, like Narcissus, Kim can barely pull her gaze from her own reflection. Yet it is here that Kim departs from her predecessor. Narcissus just looked at himself in the pond; selfies invite an audience not just into our pond, but to create the pond.


And that’s the most uneasy thought of the lot: we’re so implicated in it all. Not just as consumers, but as purveyors.

“The sheer number of selfies shows that, like Narcissus, Kim can barely pull her gaze from her own reflection.” Image via Instagram @KimKardashian.

We’re all posting our selfies to social media in the desire for affirmation from our followers. How many of us would post them if no one ever liked or favourited them? If there was just constant, howling silence in response to our shared tilted heads and pouting lips? Most, if not all of us, would be crushed, convinced of our ugliness or unworthiness.

Because for most of us, selfies are about validation and acceptance of others. It’s a vanity that is paradoxically self-doubting. Far from being about confidence, the toxic combination of selfies and social media feed our worst insecurities about our appearance because they are entirely reliant on the approval of others. While social media in general exacerbates this sentiment, with the whole value of every tweet, status update, or article anchored entirely to the number of likes, RTs, favourites or shares they get, the selfie is by its very definition superficial. It is a loud and desperate shout into our own ponds: please validate how I look.

Here are some of Kim’s selfies. 

In the centre of all this, there’s just an empty pool of water, a void. Nothing. Which is exactly what ‘Selfish’ is about. That might seem puzzling until you realise nothingness seems to be Kim’s speciality. ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ was at its core a show about nothing, ‘Selfish’ is a book equally devoid of meaning. And in a time where nothingness wrapped in narcisissm seems to reign, we have become the pond that reflects her image back to her.

What I found most intriguing about the story of Narcissus isn’t that he was so infatuated with his reflection that it ended up killing him. It’s that the deadly infatuation with his reflection was a punishment inflicted by another god.

‘Selfish’ and everything it represents is our collective punishment.

Do you take selfies? Are they for yourself, or your audience? 

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