Skip to main content

Kim Kardashian, Queen of Narcissism

By Pepper Schwartz
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Television personalities Kim Kardashian and Willie Geist take a selfie during "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Television personalities Kim Kardashian and Willie Geist take a selfie during "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
HIDE CAPTION
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
Celebs taking selfies
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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?

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.

(CNN) -- 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.

Pepper Schwartz
Pepper Schwartz

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?

Generation Selfie: We do it better
Put the phone away if ...
Before their May 24 wedding, lovebirds Kim Kardashian and Kanye West pretty much took over Paris. Here, the couple -- who often enjoy matching one another -- take a pre-wedding stroll in the City of Light on May 19. This moment's pretty kute, but how does it stack up against these other PDA-filled moments?
Before their May 24 wedding, lovebirds Kim Kardashian and Kanye West pretty much took over Paris. Here, the couple -- who often enjoy matching one another -- take a pre-wedding stroll in the City of Light on May 19. This moment's pretty kute, but how does it stack up against these other PDA-filled moments?
Kim and Kanye's kutest PDA moments
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
Kim and Kanye\'s kutest PDA moments Kim and Kanye's kutest PDA moments

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.

Kim Kardashian is a self-described hopeless romantic, and she never stopped searching for the right guy after these former flames burned out. Before Kanye West, whom she's set to marry on May 24 somewhere in Europe, there was: Kim Kardashian is a self-described hopeless romantic, and she never stopped searching for the right guy after these former flames burned out. Before Kanye West, whom she's set to marry on May 24 somewhere in Europe, there was:
Kim Kardashian's past loves
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Photos: Kim Kardashian\'s past loves Photos: Kim Kardashian's past loves

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.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT