At first glance, it seems all too easy to poke fun at Kim Kardashian’s aptly-titled, selfie-filled coffee table book Selfish. As the physical embodiment of our self-obsessed culture, it’s a tome that idolizes her and her unparalleled rise to media ubiquity. But a look through the pages of Selfish reveals that what may seem insipid and overblown initially is actually a far smarter, more calculated window into the life and times of one of our culture’s most relevant public figures through the simple, albeit absurd, art of documenting herself.
While not every human can paint or draw, just about any human can point a cell phone camera at themselves. Selfies are art for the everyman. This book combines the skill of taking a picture with the intimate perspective that only this “art form” could pull off. Through an evolutionary layout, and curated shot selection, there’s an unspoken commentary going on between Kim and the reader—designed and inspired by the work of her husband’s creative agency, DONDA.
The images become a behind-the-scenes look at Kim’s rise to celebrity, her growing family, her eventual acceptance in the fashion world, and ultimately, a kind of success that no one expected from a reality TV star. We begin to buy into her ability to make her unrelatable lifestyle seem relatively normal by the familiar way she documents her otherwise otherworldly experiences—the humble selfie. Guess what? It’s a strategy that works.
a look through Selfish reveals that what may seem overblown is actually a far smarter, more calculated window into the life and times of one of our culture’s most relevant public figures.
The Rizzoli title (which, at 2 inches thick and a mere 7 ½ inches tall, is very small for coffee table standards) is organized by year, starting in 2006 and ending in 2014 with Kim’s wedding to Kanye West. There is a small section of literal “black pages,” which contain Kim’s more revealing selfies (including several leaked by hackers during Reddit’s infamous “Fappening”). It’s not all self-indulgent, though. Via “handwritten notes,” Kim contextualizes nearly every image within the timeline of her personal life. It’s like reliving your teenage memories through the notes found scrawled in the margins your high school yearbook.
Starting in 2006, we witness the genesis of Kim Kardashian’s life in the limelight. Before the age of Instagram—or even cell phones that could take high-quality pictures—it’s jarring to see a version of Kim that’s so young, so far removed from 2015’s seasoned celebrity. Paris Hilton is one of Kim’s closest companions in these years—quietly reminding us that it was her social circle (and not a sex tape) that first put her star on the map.
Around the book’s 2011 point, the Kim we know today takes shape. The celebrities in her photos become more recognizable, and she starts to mention Kanye West. She admits trying to impress him with her fashion choices like an over-the-top white fur coat from Fendi. While most celebrity outlets would note that the pair started their relationship in early 2012, one of the most revealing segments of the book shows that the two were involved prior, with intimate car selfies and matching pairs of Yeezys in the backseat of a car hinting at a connection.
If you wanted proof that Kanye helped Kim unlock her swag, look no further than the part where she documents a time when she changed her clothes midway through a dinner with him in Italy. Kim’s fashion evolution is heavily documented in the culminating years of the book, including her CR Fashion Book shoot, British GQ’s “Woman of the Year” shoot, and of course, her wedding to Kanye West. From the couture Givenchy dress fitting, to the private brunch at Valentino’s french chateau, the tome ends with a shot of a marble table, upon which is engraved “Kim Kardashian West.”
“Photos are memories to me,” says Kim on a photo from 2007. “As soon as I see an image, all of the details of the day or moment come alive for me.” This whole book is a time capsule for the ephemeral, a celebrity scrapbook in the age of social media, put together with utmost care. Just because we were there to see all of these memories from the other side of the glass doesn’t make them any less valid to Kim. It’s her chance to repurpose her art as she sees it, not as Internet commenters do. In that regard, “Selfish” is a lot less vapid than you’d like to believe.