When talking about self-perception, beauty standards, objectification, and how we relate to the rest of the world, 2007 was a pivotal moment that changed the lives of women, epically. Just months apart we were introduced to the iPhone and watched the series premiere of Keeping up With the Kardashians. At the time, these two events were certainly noteworthy. Ten years later, we can look back and see how, together, they have drastically altered our sense of self—probably for the worse. And many of us are wondering: can we hit reset?
On June 29, 2007, the original iPhone, a first-of-its-kind pocketable computer, became available to the public. Thousands stood in line and many stores were sold out in less than an hour. Ten years later, as we near the release of iPhone X, the hype hasn’t changed much, but the culture certainly has. It’s impossible not to connect the iPhone’s legacy—that of connectedness, shareability, image dissemination, and social media with the Kardashian influence. On October 14, we were welcomed into the energetic home of this California family. One-hundred and ninety-five episodes later (not including spin-offs, of which there are many), we’re still Keeping up With the Kardashians.
There are roughly 7.4 billion people living on Earth. More than half of them have access to the Internet and use a smartphone. Ten percent of them—a cool 700 million people—were using iPhones as of March 2017, according to BMO Capital Markets. That same amount of people, 700 million, use Instagram, which did not exist in 2007 but would probably not exist without the iPhone. On Instagram, 103 million people follow Kim Kardashian West. Talk about influence.
Kim didn’t invent the selfie. But she did “write” a book—an anthology of her self-produced photos—called Selfish in 2016. That same year, Kim posted her most notorious selfie to date. Captioned, “when you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL,” the photo featured a mirror image of a censored yet entirely naked Kim—and her space grey iPhone. Many criticized her risqué photo. No doubt many, many more criticized themselves for not looking like her—impossibly proportioned, unattainably svelte.
Some credit Kim for ushering Americans away from a strictly anglo-European standard of beauty—thin, light-skinned, pretty. She made buxom the look du jour. Still, for whatever diversity she represents, first and foremost Kim has become the literal face of a generation obsessed with the self as defined by outward influence.
The iPhone was the vehicle and Kim, in many ways, the driver who led us down a path of utter self-consumption—and it's a path I think many of us are desperate to repave.
A decade in, the lifestyle that has come to define us—images, social media, excess, frivolity—is suddenly suffocating us. We're more anxious than ever, more depressed than ever, more unhappy than before. Of course, there are many factors at play here. But much of our current unease boils down to one thing: comparison.
When looking at social comparison, there are two forms to keep in mind: upward and downward. Upward comparison is looking at those we deem better than us (they have more money, are more beautiful, are better at something than we are). Downward comparison, conversely, involves us juxtaposing ourselves against someone we think we are better than. Now, imagine which form of comparison you do most on social media. My guess is it's upward comparison. My guess is that's also what you're doing every time you see an episode of KUWTK. As The Skill Collective points out in their studies, the lower our self-esteem the more we compare upward and, in turn, the worse we feel (no surprise there).
Both downward and upward comparison results in contingent self-esteem, which means we appraise our worth based on how we stack up against others. This is what so many of us, unfortunately, have been ritualized into doing during the past decade. But there's another measure for self-esteem, and it's one that could stand to help us redefine what we want for ourselves in the decade ahead.
According to The Skills Collective, non-contingent self-esteem is a form of self-evaluation where we feel validated based on how true we remain to our core self. Many of us know the kind of person we hope to be. Surely, for most of us, that person is not Kim Kardashian. So why then do we let ourselves flounder in her shadow? To practice non-contingent self-esteem keep this advice from The Skills Collective in mind: "By focusing less on how we’re doing compared to others, and focusing more on what guides us, we then set goals because we want to achieve them from a mastery perspective rather than achieving them because it makes us equal to or better than others."
Today, we have a cultural fascination with analyzing the great minds who came before us, in large part I think, because they were great without the Internet. They weren't "influencers" on social media. They were just dedicated people with a personal mission to fulfill. It's true, we can learn a lot from how they operated. Ben Franklin had a proclivity for list-making. Flannery O'Connor kept a strict but diverse daily routine. Audrey Hepburn dedicated herself to philanthropy. None of them was chasing "likes" on Instagram.
I'm not suggesting that anyone toss his or her iPhone into the garbage. Nor am I condemning the Kardashians as a force of evil. I'm simply saying that cultural fatigue is real. We've been on an autobahn of information overload and excessive consumption for a decade, and our self-esteem has paid a price. Recalibrating your self-worth to be defined by you—not by the Internet at your fingertips—is a way to realistically reclaim your sense of self. Revisit (and perhaps refine) your core purpose, and let that, not Kim's latest nude PSA, be what motivates you the most.