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Kim Kardashian’s Virtual Self

kim-would-you-stop-taking-pictures-of-yourself-your-sisters-going-to-jail

In a recent profile, Paper Magazine writes that “social media has created a new kind of fame and Kim Kardashian is its paragon.” Dubbed by Paper as the “High Priestess of Instagram,” Kardashian celebrated 27 million followers yesterday with a selfie of her butt. She now has the highest number of followers on the site rivaled only by Beyoncé. Using Smith and Watson’s guideline in “Virtually Me,” I argue that Kardashian uses this site as an archive of the body, but also as an archive of her experiences as a mother.

Kim Kardashian has posted 2,512 photos to Instagram, many of which are selfies. She posts selfies with her daughter, North West, and she also posts intimate, erotic selfies, like the one above. According to Smith and Watson, this archive of data “gathers and authorizes the version of self a user is assembling” (73). However, online audiences in such public spaces tend to be unforgiving of assemblages that defy conventional expectations of gender, sexuality and other identity markers. Commenters slut-shame Kardashian after every sexual photo. This is where the affordances of Instagram-as-archive pose a problem for Kardashian’s self-presentation: without any hierarchical categorization, a photo of Kim Kardashian in a thong can be seen in proximity to a photo with her daughter, without any differentiation between the two contexts. Without an information hierarchy, these multiple and perhaps distinctive selves are leveled and proximate. This is problematic in mainstream online spaces where “sexual being” and “mother” cannot be reconciled (Update: see Amber Rose tackle this issue on her Instagram here and here).

Postmodern understandings of the self describe it not as “a coherent, inborn unit” but a bricolage, a multiplicity of fragmented selves (77). Kardashian’s many photos of her sexualized body create a tension with her equally prevalent autobiographical photographs of her experiences as a mother. This leveling is very disruptive for Instagram’s audience. However, perhaps this leveling works in Kardashian’s favour. The constant, (seemingly) honest documentation of the fragments of her multiple selves is the reason she’s so appealing. She gives all of herself, all at once. As Paper writes, somewhat problematically but also poignantly: “You don’t get the sense that she is hiding or suppressing her true, private self.”

Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. “Virtually Me.” From Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. Eds. Anna Poletti and Julie Rak. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

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