Life beyond style

Kim Kardashian-West may be rich, impossibly beautiful and unbelievably powerful, yet one rarely-explored characteristic is her undeniable resilience. It was in 2007 that she turned a horrific invasion of privacy – a controversial leaked sex tape – into a beneficial situation, airing her reaction to the scandal on Keeping Up With The Kardashians. She laughed off the slut-shaming, exposed her emotions and ultimately came out of the ordeal appearing likable, self-deprecating and surprisingly relatable, despite her unattainable lifestyle.

Late last year, the star was subjected to a far more dangerous intrusion when she was held at gunpoint, bound and robbed in a Paris hotel room. Understandably, Kardashian-West’s immediate reaction was to withdraw from social media completely, and the star ended up taking a lengthy hiatus from her social media channels, across which she collectively had hundreds of millions of followers, despite earning a large amount of income from them.

In the meantime, the internet was rife with discussion and speculation. Some questioned the exact circumstances of the robbery, arguing that her frequent activity on channels such as Snapchat and Instagram had at least given vague indications of her location.

Others blamed her flashy displays of wealth – this is, after all, one of the world’s richest women often dressed by the world’s best designers – as justification for the robbery. As usual, the victim of robbery was blamed for the crime: online trolls suggested that she was privileged and could therefore stand to suffer, whereas others simply wished her dead.

Kim Kardashian’s Social Media Influence

Mert & Marcus

It is, of course, insensitive and deeply offensive to suggest that Kardashian-West was caught in a trap of her own making, but it is worth examining the ways in which she influenced a new generation via social media. Not only was the star active on the usual platforms – Twitter, Instagram – she also used more instant channels such as Snapchat.

Arguments have been made that this immediacy gave clues to her location, whereas one article went so far as to blame her snaps for the robbery. This theory remains unproven, but it does point towards a trend of online “over-sharing” which many of us indulge in.

Kardashian-West is one of a new generation of celebrities responsible for directly encouraging our use of social media – she interacts with us online, makes unthinkable amounts of money from sponsored posts and prides herself on giving fans unfiltered access to her personal life. In return, many of us do the same. The popularity of Facebook Live (and now Instagram Live) means that plenty of users view themselves as a brand – albeit a much, much lesser-known brand – like Kardashian-West.

The Changing Cultural Landscape

kimkardashian on IG

Today’s generation can be defined by a series of job titles which, in previous years, never existed. There’s the social media “influencer,” a person who makes their money through gaining a large following online and sharing sponsored content (although the transparency of this job role is often debatable.) Then there are Social Media Managers and SEO specialists – all of whom are hired by brands to create online content which will rack up likes and retweets.

It’s obviously not the case that these roles are a direct repercussion of Kardashian-West’s popularity, but there is an argument to be made that she was one of the first to truly embrace the immediacy and potential candidness of social platforms.

She did, after all, popularize the selfie (and, to a lesser extent, the #belfie) by publishing an extensive book of selfies called Selfish. This served, in a way, as a modern autobiography: snapshots of various pivotal moments throughout her life captured through a filtered lens of vanity. The images were curated yet retained a personal feel – a juxtaposition which “influencers” now strive to achieve.

Kim Kardashian’s Return Is a Turning Point

kimkardashian on IG

However, Kardashian-West’s recent return to social media may signal a turning point. The star first returned a few weeks ago, originally posting an unlisted video depicting home footage of Kardashian-West and her family relaxing at home. The footage was heavily-filtered, as was her first Instagram post following the incident, simply captioned “family.”

In the weeks since this post, several photos have been uploaded, all filtered with a fuzzy, polaroid effect. The confines of her multi-million dollar mansion have been seemingly replaced by a more humble family home replete with stained walls, a green sofa and, in one photograph, what may or may not be a cockroach.

It’s worth noting that these images are a marked departure from the naked selfies and crystal clear press shots of her high-end outfits. This seems to be a conscious rebranding – one which, bearing in mind her previous influence, could also lead to a larger rethink of how we all use social media. Not only is she placing emphasis on family and friends, the star has consciously ditched the flashy aesthetic and the “over-sharing” which many (unfairly) blamed for her robbery.

Instead, there’s a conscious distance between Kardashian-West and her audience – these aren’t videos posted to instant platforms, nor are they live-streamed. Instead, these are snapshots which have been deliberately curated with no pretense of immediacy.

Time for a New Direction?

Although Kardashian-West may have taken a deliberate step back to safeguard her public image and privacy, her recent use of social media is likely to have a wider effect. After all, we’re all approaching a social media saturation point: we have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Periscope and a variety of streaming options available at our fingertips, making it easier than ever to share every mundane detail of our lives online.

This ease and availability, however, arguably makes it less enjoyable, and the constant pressure to update all our feeds every hour of the day is exhausting. Many of us don’t need to see our friends singing Mariah Carey in the bath, just like many of us didn’t particularly care when Kim flashed her grills on Snapchat.

There’s a breaking point, and it’s fair to argue that it’s fast approaching. Perhaps Kim’s new approach to social media has come at the perfect time, then, and a slower-paced, less immediate and more meaningful use of social media will now trickle down to the rest of us.

Kardashian-West was one of the most influential celebrities to truly embrace the immediacy of social media and, perhaps more importantly, to shrug off the notion that content should be carefully-curated. Not only did she inspire a wave of #RichKidsofInstagram, she gave us enough fire selfies and reaction memes to last a lifetime.

kimkardashian on IG

In response, many followed in her footsteps: there’s clearly huge demand to broadcast the intricacies of our daily lives online, exemplified by the growing number of platforms at our disposal and the money that can be made by people who reach “influence” levels.

However, now that Kardashian-West has taken a step back from her previous strategy of unfiltered immediacy toward more filtered portraits of meaningful relationships, it’s likely that many will adjust our social media use accordingly. Like her or loathe her, it’s hard to deny the impact that Kim and her family has on the way we utilize social media and conceptualize fame and influence.

It’s problematic to use Kim’s trauma to suggest that “over-sharing” invited her robbery, but it’s also difficult to avoid the conclusion that this hideous attack made the star question her priorities. Now, she’s spending time with loved ones as opposed to Snapchatting her entire wardrobe, and in an era of social media exhaustion, it’s a welcome shift in tone. It’s likely that – once again – the rest of us with soon follow in her footsteps.

For more Kardashian-related social commentary, here’s why we need to stop saying words like “lit” are “over.”

  • Lead image: kimkardashian on IG
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