Kim Kardashian broke the internet. And now she must break the selfie
Kim Kardashian West received the first ever Break the Internet award at the Webby's this year. She appeared on stage resplendent in a black gown and spoke these five words,
"Nude selfies till I die."
The Webby's allows no more than five-word-long acceptance speeches. Which means those five words are spoken with the greatest of deliberation.
And what she gave a condensed form of was this:
Kim Kardashian was telling the world - especially those who disagreed with her right to flood the internet with photographs of her celluloid-free bottom - that she's going to keep at nude selfies, loud and proud.
That being a mother doesn't change it. Decades on, being a grandmother won't either.
That when her breasts begin to sag to her toes and her first pair of dentures don't fit precisely right, she'll continue to pout her way to social media immortality.
That the nude selfie isn't just a great way for her to trend on Twitter. It's also a fabulous way to document the evolution of Kim Kardashian the life. And Kim Kardashian the body.
The hair on your unmanicured fingers
I recently visited an uncle-in-law's home for the first time. Predictably, I was inundated with food, liquor, and photo albums.
A particularly enthused uncle-in-law placed on my lap every wedding photo album from the recent past. I was tacitly expected to turn the pages and express admiration at how lovely and happy everyone was looking.
'Such a pretty dress!','Wow!','Oh how stunning!','Beyootiful!','Such prettiness.','Oh see how happy Aunty-so-and-so is looking!','Oh she's going to be beautiful when she grows up.','He's very handsome in that suit.'
A few hundred pages of zoomed in images of the groom's watch, groom's car, groom's milieu of smiling, sweaty aunts against font-sized fourteen text that read "Marriage is the union of two souls" later, a new album was thrust into my lap. This was my grand-mother-in-law's funeral album. (That's right, my uncle-in-law had hired a photographer to document his mother's funeral.)
Replete with life-size photographs of her lying in her coffin, hair and make-up painstakingly arranged to ensure she looked emanated, ironically enough, life and vigour. There were also photographs of aunties, neighbours, colleagues, children, grandchildren and great-grand children at her funeral march. Some crying from pain, many smiling cheekily for the camera. But mostly, carefully photoshopped pictures of the dead woman in her coffin.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for this moment. Torn between an optimistic, 'wow she looked so young', and an empathetic, 'oh how tragic', I eventually went with 'aww.' Then I asked for another drink.
No manner of selfie has been hated on as much as selfies with the dead.
Facebook Fanatics. ....😂😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/WzFUXd47we— Deepika Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) March 10, 2015
It's been hailed as the marker of human detritus. A sign that Kalyug has arrived.
And yet, we haven't quite been able to articulate why. One assumes this is because those who take these selfies appear to be 'less-than-grieving'. Suspiciously happy, even.
But the weird truth already universally acknowledged is that not everyone is sad or upset at a funeral. A friend who lost his mother at the age of 13 spent a greater part of the mourning period in a happy cocoon of video games. Another smilingly went off to watch a movie on the day of her demise, for lack of other things to do.
That the hollering, chest beating 'hai Bhagwan'mourner is no absolute indicator of grief is already well known. Plenty of well-meaning people grin through funerals.
Which begs the question, what is at the heart of hating on selfies with the dead?
Only the manicured nails, please
Perhaps the hate stems from the fact that there is a tacit understanding that we only share the parts of our lives that are easy to consume. That we churn out social media content that has easy, pre-programmed responses. Promotion? Like.
New baby? SO CUTE.
Death? I'm sorry. .
Smiling with Dead Person? THE WORLD IS ENDING. HUMANITY IS DEAD.
We are encouraged to only share content for which there is a safe, non-awkward response. Content that falls outside the ambit of the easily-consumable, like my uncle-in-law's funeral album, is considered bad. Not because it's mean, petty, unrelatable, or 'too much information''.
But only because we haven't acquired the skills to empathetically acknowledge it.
Which brings us back to Kim K
Among all the wonderful things said of the selfie, the most compelling argument is this - it bolsters self esteem. That it allows all human beings with a smart-phone to take control of the narrative around one's own body and life. That, in a world plagued by photoshop and untenable body-standards, the selfie allows one to reclaim command of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of one's self. And display just that.
But maybe we can pause that argument for just a moment. Maybe we can also acknowledge that the generic high cheekbone selfie encourages a single stilted narrative that is designed to be easy to consume. It is designed to be non-awkward.
And if selfies are the way we're documenting our histories and preserving memories, then we're only documenting the easy-to-consume, non-awkward parts of it. If selfies are how we look at ourselves, then we're only telling half the story, or less.
We're missing out on the social media equivalent of the < awkward silence >.
Maybe what the Selfie 2.0 needs is a more inclusive documentation of 'real life'.
Perhaps selfie culture should also begin to catalogue the awkward double chin, the upper lip hair, the pus in a blister and, on a slightly more intense note, the selfie with the dead.
So, that when we look back at our pasts in an array of selfies, we also see representations of the awkward moments. The moments that make us retch in the shower with embarrassment.
Which is all to say, that if Kardashian intends to keep up the selfie-taking till kingdom come, more power to her.
But a picture or two of her first signs of cellulite, a video of her not knowing how to operate a vending machine, or smiling stupidly with her dead second cousin would also be nice.