about eating and abuse

CN: eating disorders, abusive relationships

When I was seven, I told a teacher at my primary school that I wanted to have liposuction. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that it made you thinner.

When I was twenty two, I stopped eating.

My eating disorder feels like an inevitability. It has always been looming over my life, waiting for me to walk towards it, dying to envelop me. But for many years, despite it foreshadowing itself as a constant ebb and flow of confusion about and dislike towards my body, I did not need to be enveloped. 

Until, of course, I did. Last summer I came to the end of an abusive relationship with a man who had been my boyfriend for two years. For around half of that period, he had another girlfriend, too. When I suspected, he lied and screamed and cried, telling me that my paranoia was making him want to leave me. If I imagined my life without him, it was shapeless – I had moved to London to be nearer to him, and I loved him much, much more than I loved myself – so I swallowed the hard lump of what I’m sure I unconsciously knew was his grave dishonesty, because even though choking it down was difficult, it was safe.

But I couldn’t quell my curiosity – I always had questions. When friends told me they’d seen him with the same girl repeatedly, he made up vile, sexist lies about her that relied on boring ‘psycho girl’ stereotypes (I, unfortunately, was all too ready to believe them, though now I am very grateful to say that she’s a good friend of mine); if I saw posts on social media that made me think twice and asked about them, he’d say that I’d gone looking for trouble. Sometimes my questions would cause him to rage around my flat, punching and kicking furniture (though never touching me, because as long as you don’t actually hit a woman, it’s not abuse, right?) and when I told him that his behaviour reminded me of a violent former stepfather, he screwed up his face. He assured me that it was nothing like that at all. 

What I want you to know, though, is that these outward shows of aggression were not everything. When you are talking about abuse, people expect stories involving physical threat, and I have always felt as though I have to include them when I relay my experience of the relationship so that the other, more insidious and ultimately much more damaging parts are taken seriously as well. Because as scary as his actions during arguments could be, it was being frequently told that my perception of things was incorrect – even dramatic or fantastical – that took the greatest toll. My hands shook all the time; panic made the air feel like it was strangling me. A deep sadness manifested inside me, felt like it was leaking out of me, and it remained when I finally found out about his other relationship. He lied to me for six months more, stringing me along as if I deserved nothing better.

When someone acts as though they are certain that you’ll always be there regardless of what they say or do to you, it affects you even when they’re gone. And even though I was eventually brave enough to cut the tumour of him out of my life, I didn’t stop feeling like I had no worth. It is quite astonishing how easily influenced humans are: when you are treated like nothing you get to feel like nothing and eventually you want to be nothing. You can tumble through this trajectory without even being aware of it. In hindsight I can tell that I had lost control of my life – I always see myself as the driver of a car that had careered off the road, flipped over and burned out, its last sparks spluttering like somebody dying – so I took it back by finally, if not quite knowingly, choosing to have what I had always desired with a hot want in my chest, more than anything else, more than any other person, more than even him: thinness. 

I was already what most would categorise as thin, though the warped view of myself that I had cultivated over years of quiet self-consciousness and low self-esteem told me that my body was somehow wrong. So I got thinner. I strictly limited my calorie intake per day, measuring and logging my food in my phone’s Notes app. I weighed myself every morning before showering, making sure to remove all my clothes and hair ties lest they force a marginally inaccurate result, and I berated myself via more restriction if one day’s figure was higher than the last. Because I lived in a shared house with people who were not my friends, nobody noticed. At my lightest I weighed six-and-a-half stone, but as far as I know, no one could tell the extent of what I had shed so rapidly.

Rather, the opposite. When, at seven, I told the teacher that I wanted liposuction, I felt crushed when her response was not to tell me that I didn’t need it. At twenty two, I was validated every day by people who told me how wonderful I looked. I was drunk on myself – I loved how I felt in my clothes, and stared at the ribcage which protruded a little through my skin with a novel fascination in the mirror, a sign that I was finally, properly thin.

But all that time, I thought only of food – of when and what I would next eat. Eventually, my body took the power away from my mind, and instead of avoiding food, I ate constantly. It felt like my body’s response to a long period of being held hostage. By the end of last year, I had gone from being extremely thin to the heaviest I have ever been in a relatively short time. After that, my weight levelled out again, which I suppose brings us to now.

I don’t know what I weigh anymore. I am trying extremely hard not to care. I don’t have a set of scales in my flat, and I make a point never to look at how many calories are in the foods I eat, for fear of triggering the counting behaviours I employed when my eating was at its worst. A lot of days, however, I still feel debilitatingly self-conscious. I take photographs of myself all the time as a method of building confidence, but sometimes I catch my reflection in a window and it will force me into entire days of worrying about how I look and how others perceive my body. Summer is a particularly difficult time – the fact that I’m more exposed to my body now than I was during the winter is the entire reason I have started to understand my problem in the first place. I’m aware that writing about all of this a year on may seem strange, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to put words to both my problems with food and my abusive relationship. I was fortunate enough that my eating disorder, even when most rampant, never put me in enough danger to require medical attention, but because of this – and especially because I didn’t have the correct language to describe what had happened to me – I failed to see it as a real concern for a very long time.

This year, however, when the same negative thoughts that I have experienced before approach, I am in a much better position to deal with them: fully rid of the man who made my life miserable, I’m now surrounded by friends and support all the time, and as pervasive as my thoughts about myself can be, I am dealing with them. Ultimately, my eating disorder is a sad, dark part of me that makes me feel frightened and ashamed. I am frightened of it because it took hold of me without my even being conscious of it, and because it has taken me such a long time to name it for what it is. I am ashamed of it because I very badly wish I could follow the example of people I know who love their bodies no matter their shape. But, I am trying. I’m working hard to overcome painful ideas about myself, exacerbated as they were by abuse. And right now – now that everything finally feels clear, now that my experiences have a form in my mind – that feels like the best thing I could possibly be doing.

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BildungsRoman: ‘The Pinkprint’ by Nicki Minaj as Coming of Age Narrative

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(I wrote this ages ago and realised I never did anything with it. The follow-up to The Pinkprint is probably coming soon, so maybe this is relevant now.)

On August 2nd 2014, something important happened to Nicki Minaj.

The remix of Beyoncé’s ***Flawless, on which Minaj now famously featured, appeared on Beyoncé’s website. On the track, Beyoncé introduces Nicki as if she is invoking a demon spirit – she says her name slowly, gutterally; warning us that what she is about to unleash – that is, the sheer talent of Nicki Minaj – is powerful, profound and, moreover, shit hot. Crucially, though, instead of announcing Nicki by calling her ‘Nicki Minaj,’ Beyoncé utters three syllables: “O-ni-ka.” In doing so, she signals the beginning of a new stage in Nicki Minaj’s career.

Onika, of course, is Nicki Minaj’s real first name. And from the moment that Beyoncé – and all of the cultural and artistic legitimacy which is synonymous with her – introduced Nicki Minaj as ‘Onika,’ Nicki Minaj became a different, somehow more complete artist from the one she was before.

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Throughout her career, Nicki Minaj has built a fearsome reputation upon her voice’s versatility and her ability to create and embody different characters. Her second full-length record is named in part for Roman Zolanski, her most fully realised alter-ego, and even on Itty Bitty Piggy, the first song on her early Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape, she offhandedly reels off a list of her alternate personas: “Like, I’m Nicki Minaj, Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki the Ninja, Nicki the Boss, Nicki the Harajuku Barbie.” 

At the head of that list is ‘Nicki Minaj,’ and I want in part to suggest here that ‘Nicki Minaj’ has always been as just as much a character as the other alter-egos. And when, on August 2nd 2014, Beyoncé introduced her friend as “Onika,” she also announced the beginning of a process via which Nicki Minaj, self-proclaimed Queen of Rap, would finally invite the facts of her life as Onika Maraj from Queens, NY, into her music. This process found completion on December 14th 2014, with the release of Nicki’s third studio album, The Pinkprint.

At the beginning of The Pinkprint album cycle, Nicki began to shake off many of the visual trappings of ‘Nicki Minaj’ that she had previously clothed herself in, replacing the garish coloured wigs and neon outfits of her earlier career with more natural-looking hair and make-up and low(er)-key styling. Via this physical transformation, she foreshadowed the more personal, stripped-down feel of her third record. This brings me onto the second point that I want to make: The Pinkprint is an album with an unusually strong narrative thread, and this narrative is enabled largely by the fact that the Nicki Minaj mask has been allowed, partially at least, to slip – though it is never fully removed, because three albums into a highly successful career it has become less of a mask and more of a tangible part of Onika Maraj’s personality.

On The Pinkprint, Nicki speaks candidly about the events of her personal life (indeed, of her life as Onika) – in particular she discusses her break up with her fiancé Safaree Samuels after an eleven year relationship. In doing so, she crafts a type of aural bildungsroman, or coming-of-age narrative, which both charts the emotional journey of her break-up, and which sees her literally ‘come of age’ as one of the greatest rappers of her generation. It is by exposing more of her real self – by coming of age on record – that she does her most interesting creative work to date. From a number of key tracks on The Pinkprint, the overall bildungsroman status of the album’s narrative is clear, rendering it both a story in itself and an important moment in the ongoing story of Nicki Minaj’s artistry.

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The Pinkprint begins with departure. Its main subject matter, after all, is a painful break-up, and the first track All Things Go (which, even from its title, at once confronts the listener with dynamism and change) feels like a refocussing on the things that actually matter to Nicki Minaj: herself; her soul; her family. This ‘refocussing’ is at the core of The Pinkprint, and Nicki’s public actions seem to reinforce this: when she won the BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist after the release of this record, she brought her mother onstage with her to accept her trophy.   

The first bar Nicki spits on All Things Go, and, therefore, on The Pinkprint, is “I had to reinvent.” Here, she refers to both the aesthetic reinvention in the months before The Pinkprint was released, and to the creative reinvention that the record represents. Both of these were likely spurred on by the emotional changes that her break-up forced her to make. In a jarring removal from previous work, The Pinkprint becomes personal very quickly; less than a minute into All Things Go, she states that she’s okay with the fact that she’ll only have one life, “as long as seven years from now I’m taking my daughter to pre-school.”

She puts aside the lyrical wizardry that made her famous in order to speak candidly about her life as Onika. Having already given the world two records’ worth of alter-egos, punchlines and linguistic acrobatics, on The Pinkprint she has nothing left to prove. The only thing left to do, therefore, is be herself. Her bars on All Things Go – which feel less like lines from a rap song, and more like simple statements of fact – reflect this: “I lost my little cousin to a senseless act of violence”; “I love my mother more than life itself and that’s a fact.” She also discusses her relationship with her brother, stating “I know Jelani will always love me, and I’ll always love him,/And I’m just his little sister, not Nicki Minaj when I’m around him.” From the very first song, The Pinkprint acknowledges that ‘Nicki Minaj’ and does not fully represent the person who is speaking – at least not anymore. It breaks down the many layers of bravado that Nicki has spent her entire career building up, and, finally, is honest about her experiences and vulnerabilities.

This honesty dominates the next two tracks, I Lied and The Crying Game, which, in directly discussing her break-up, expose the very nuanced nature of Nicki Minaj. Though she is known for her mercurial changes of voice and tone during tracks, they don’t feel performative here; they are more driven by genuine emotion than by a desire to entertain. Over the course of these two songs, Nicki is by turns angry (“I’m just abusive by nature” (The Crying Game); “I’ll be smashin’ windows and cuttin’ them break lines” (I Lied)), vulnerable (“I lied to keep you from breaking my heart” (I Lied)), violent (“blood drippin’ out ya arm on my Asian rugs” (The Crying Game)) and unsure (“is it too late to talk?” (The Crying Game)). Her voice changes to showcase these varying states of mind, as she switches from aggressive rapping to gentle singing, sometimes in the same breath, representing with her voice the wildly emotional early stages of a breakup.

However, the initial shock and confusion presented by I Lied and The Crying Game are not the only feelings a person experiences at the end of a relationship, and they’re also not the only ones which are related on The Pinkprint. The record’s fourth and fifth tracks are Get On Your Knees and Feeling Myself, which feature Ariana Grande and Beyoncé respectively. The former is a brazen assertion of sexual dominance, and Nicki enlists Grande for an injection of feminine power after using the opening of her record to recount the turmoil caused to her by her now-ex boyfriend. However, of these two tracks it is Feeling Myself which really stands out. A celebration of self-love of all kinds (masturbation included – Nicki don’t need a man to please her as long as she’s got her “jack rabbit”, a fact underlined by the amazing crotch-heavy music video and tour choreography for the song), it serves as a reminder, both for her listeners and for herself, that having escaped a toxic relationship, she is ready to focus again on what she does best, as she states almost monosyllabically: “bitch never left but I’m back at it.”

Feeling Myself, then, is an important aspect of The Pinkprint as bildungsroman: it signals a new chapter of the record, and a rediscovering of the self, post-trauma. Moreover, though, it is also hugely significant in terms of Nicki Minaj’s coming-of-age as a performer. The track is the second of two collaborations with Beyoncé – the first of which put this entire process into motion. Interestingly, in this new part of her career, wherein she is as much Onika as she is Nicki, Minaj sometimes requires others to confirm her legitimacy – she is, after all, occupying creative territory that she has never ventured into before. When, on ***Flawless (Remix), Beyoncé announced “Onika,” she endorsed this new element of Nicki Minaj’s art form with her cultural capital. On Feeling Myself, Nicki acknowledges her place as the Queen of Rap, but does so in a way which also requires the say so of other respected musicians: “Go ask the kings of rap / who is the queen of things of that / nature.”

Moreover, the title of the record itself, The Pinkprint, is a reference to and attempt at association with The Blueprint, the seminal album by Jay-Z, the other half of the Knowles-Carter juggernaut. In associating herself with and gaining the approval of the most respected people in her business, Nicki Minaj negotiates for herself a new level of legitimacy as an artist, and The Pinkprint sees her coming of age in this sense, as well as in terms of its own narrative.

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The final six tracks of The Pinkprint can easily be placed into two groups. The first comprises of Trini Dem Girls, Anaconda, and The Night is Still Young, all of which are upbeat party tracks, and represent the part of the breakup story wherein a newly single Nicki goes out and drinks hella Nicki Minaj-brand Myx Moscato. The Night is Still Young, however, is also important in the larger story of Nicki’s ascendancy: it’s reminiscent of Starships, the huge, omnipresent hit single from her second LP, and its placement on The Pinkprint might well do service to a part of her career that critics like the influential DJ Peter Rosenberg had previously shamed her for, because it was viewed as a move away from “real hip hop.” However, singles like Starships (and indeed, like The Night is Still Young) are what gave Nicki real crossover appeal, and proved her to be a heavy commercial hitter as well as a great artistic rap talent. Both are required to become a star that shines as brightly as Nicki Minaj.

The party, however, has to end, and the comedown from this first trilogy of songs is represented by those which succeed them, and which finish the album. Pills and Potions, Bed of Lies and, finally, Grand Piano all revisit the failed relationship at the heart of the record, but their approach is more considered. It is wearier but wiser; still disarmingly honest (on Pills and Potions Nicki confesses, “I still love you”; on Bed of Lies she discusses “contemplating overdosing”), but with more perspective than the album’s emotional openers. The Pinkprint is structured as a story in and of itself – that is, as a bildungsroman-type narrative – and when, on Grand Piano, Nicki states “the people are saying that you have been playing my heart like a grand piano,” there comes a moment of realisation which brings that story full circle. As she sings the last refrain of “play on, play on, play on,” there reappears the sense of continuation that began the record on All Things Go. The man she loved can “play on” all he likes; she’s just not listening anymore.

Nicki Minaj, then, ends the story of The Pinkprint by making a statement about moving forwards. And, therefore, in the story of her career, The Pinkprint becomes a stepping stone – the tool by which she has revealed an entirely new aspect of herself and her art. The “play on” refrain that ends the album, then, might also be viewed as an invitation to herself: now that she is established as both Onika and Nicki – as a rapper who has truly come of age – there is no limit to what she might “play on” and do. 

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I ate some food in another country and all u got was this self-indulgent list

I went to New York City recently and I spent a considerable portion of my time eating vegan food because I am a vegan who eats food. New York is a wonderful place for a visiting vegan because there are so many really great places which cater to you extremely well, so I thought I would do what I believe is a public service and tell you about some of the v good things I ate when I was there. I also really just love talking about food so there’s that. Anyway.

(note: my photos are not brilliant because most of the time when I was taking them I wanted to get it out the way so I could eat the food. Think of them more as candids than beauty shots.)

The Cinnamon Snail at the Pennsy – Midtown

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New York is full of some of the ~finest~ vegan burgers around and the Cinnamon Snail – the little food truck that could, which now has a permanent location at the Pennsy, a food court at Penn Station – is right up at the top of the list. At the Cinnamon Snail I ate something called the Beast Mode Burger Deluxe which sounds like the favourite meal of a man named Kevin who drinks only Monster Energy, lives in his mother’s basement and whose hobbies include getting online to call women ugly, but is actually just a really great vegan burger. It’s served on a pretzel bun (I wish everything was served on a pretzel bun), and the burger itself is made of seitan seasoned in ancho chilli and grilled in maple hickory BBQ sauce (are u dying yet). It’s topped with jalapeño mac and cheese (surely u must be), a rly tasty chipotle mayo, chilli coconut bacon and some extremely pointless rocket/‘arugula’. Bellissimo *kisses fingertips*.

Champ’s Diner and Dunwell Doughnuts – Brooklyn

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You know that part in Twin Peaks where Gordon Cole screams I WANNA WRITE AN EPIC POEM ABOUT THIS GORGEOUS PIE? This waffle was my Gordon Cole moment. I wanted to shout about it, I wanted to construct loving rhyming couplets about it – its fluffy interior; its initial chewiness; the way the tart, ripe blueberries ever-so-slightly resisted my bite before giving way to juice which harmonised just right with the maple syrup, and the great hunk of cream on top which made me feel more romantic joy than any declaration of love ever has. Obviously I didn’t because it would have been weird. But, it’s how I felt, you know.

Champ’s Diner is an entirely vegan spot in Brooklyn, and it was the restaurant I was most excited to visit in New York because I love fried food and I love having the choice of an entire menu, rather than one or two limp vegan options. I went there for breakfast on my first full day (when I Experienced the waffle), and then a few days later I went back for dinner. The entreés looked huge, so I decided to play it safe and go for a couple of appetisers served as a main course – mozzarella sticks and bacon cheese fries (God Bless America, where a massive serving of cheese fries is an appetiser)– and an Oreo milkshake (what can I say I love fake dairy products).


The fries were great: positively doused in cheese sauce which was accompanied by lil bacon strips that are way superior to anything I’ve tried of that ilk in the UK. So far, so good. The milkshake was pleasingly ice-creamy, and my addition of cookie crumbles was, I am happy to report, a wisely judged one. But I really just have to talk to you about those mozzarella sticks. Man. Did my heart love until now? Look at their beautiful golden brown glow, the way the cheese oozes out a little bit, teasing you with all the dangerous, seductive energy of a deep-fried food item. These were fake mozzarella sticks for the ages; crisp on the outside and filled with a horrifyingly convincing and probably chemical-laden cheese-like solution (idk what they put in vegan cheese and I do not care to either) which even stretched when you bit into it – the difficult-to-achieve gold standard of non-dairy cheese (for the Real FakeCheeseHeads™, I’m pretty certain this was Daiya Mozzarella style).

A true testament to the human spirit of innovation and many vegans’ insistence on still being able to give themselves heart disease without eating animal products, Champ’s was easily one of the best places I ate in New York, and probably ever. Dine there and be forever changed.

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(this book is called E! Entertainment, it’s by Kate Durbin and it is properly amazing/has pink pages)

I have grouped Dunwell alongside Champ’s because they’re just around the corner from one other (pro tip: go to Champ’s and then have Dunwell for dessert. Don’t say I don’t treat you right.) Dunwell is an all vegan doughnut shop and I had breakfast there on a couple of mornings (no parents no rules.) Over the course of my trip I had three doughnuts from them – original glazed, maple glazed, and chocolate with sprinkles, fyi – and I don’t think I could choose a favourite. These guys are like the Elvis of doughnuts, in that they are completely massive and extremely American (those being Elvis’ only two discernible characteristics.) I would not recommend going here if you do not want to be pining for the doughnut you ate there for the next month. (Also, the almond iced latte is really good and very generously sized. Also also, if you’re only visiting Manhattan, they just got a new shop on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, so now you have no excuse.)

By Chloe – SoHo

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It tends to be the done thing at By Chloé to get a burger. Their burgers are very hyped, in that way which attracts people like me who love hype. But, by the time I visited I was kind of burger-ed out, still sort of jet-lagged and a bit hungover, so there were only two things for it: pancakes and, erm, mac and cheese with shiitake bacon. I know. All the terrible things you think about me I have already thought about myself.

But because I am not a complete animal, I started with the mac and cheese (savoury then sweet, ya dig?) – it was rich and creamy and very good. I imagine that the sauce, which was really generously portioned and quite silky (this meant that it didn’t do that thing of clinging to the pasta when it all ends up tasting quite dry and bitty) was made from cashew nuts, if that is of interest to you. Then to the pancakes, which were blueberry pancakes served with maple syrup. I don’t have much to report on them other than that they were extremely yummy and light and fluffy as pancakes should be, and I would eat them every day if I could.

PIZZA WARS: Vinnie’s Pizzeria vs. Screamer’s Pizzeria – Greenpoint, Brooklyn

 


I stayed in Greenpoint in Brooklyn during my visit, which just so happens to be vegan pizza central – there are two excellent vegan/vegan friendly pizza places in the local area (I think there are also more to be honest I just didn’t get a chance to visit). For a long time, I think Vinnie’s was the vegan pizza spot to beat in Brooklyn – I’d heard a lot about it even here in the UK; their specials are inventive and change daily, and they cater extremely well to vegans despite not being a vegan spot. However very recently, New York’s very first all vegan slice joint, Screamer’s Pizzeria, opened its doors. As a woman of the people who is always after a SLICE OF THE ACTION (I literally wouldn’t even be mad if you closed this tab right now), I decided to make the necessary trips to both, to decide once and for all on Brooklyn’s reigning vegan pizza heavyweight.

I went to Screamer’s (their pizza is the one on the left) on both the first and last days of my visit, and both times I copped a slice of their pepperoni pizza. The pepperoni – which is specially made in Philadelphia by the purveyors of Screamer’s’ sister restaurant, the almost mythical (in weird, food-obsesso vegan circles, at least) Blackbird Pizzeria – is truly some of the most delicious, convincing fake meat I’ve ever eaten. It reminded me of the kind of pepperoni you would get on a Domino’s pizza and that is honestly the greatest compliment I could ever give some pepperoni. Salty, a little bit spicy and joyfully greasy, it’s so convincing you’ll be double-checking the ‘vegan’ sign outside. The pizza itself is huge in that amazing New York slice way, smothered in vegan cheese (again, pretty sure it’s Daiya mozzarella style), and it’s got that dense, chewy crust that makes you blush a little bit because it’s just so purely, unadulteratedly good. What I’m trying to say is this: if vegan pizza were Catholicism, Screamer’s would be its Vatican City.

So, it kind of goes without saying that Vinnie’s, whilst great, doesn’t quite measure up. On my visit, I had a Daiya slice with Tofurkey sausage, garlic spinach and some red peppers (pictured right). It was delicious, but the bite was a little harder than at Screamer’s, the crust a little tougher – it just didn’t quite sing in the same way. This said, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of anything available in London so I have no real business making these comments. I would love a Vinnie’s in London. Kickstarter that shit.

Superiority Burger – East Village

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I lose my cognitive ability to form complex sentences when I think about Superiority Burger. Truly can’t even talk about it because I get too emotional. Best burger of my life. So meaty. So delicious. Unreal hash brown potato mustard scallion side thing. They have a photo of Divine on the wall. Superiority is correct.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream – various locations

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I followed my frankly revelatory trip to Superiority Burger with a quick visit to Van Leeuwen which I had heard on the grapevine was the spot for vegan ice cream. Can confirm that the rumours are true – I had a salted caramel cone and it was very ~indulgent~ and just the right amount of salty. V good.

Beyond Sushi and Hotel Tortuga – SoHo and East Village
These two places have nothing to do with each other, other than the fact that they were both recommended to me by my pal Dan who is very knowledgeable about vegan food in New York, and very helpfully sent me some recommendations. Thank u Dan u did God’s work.

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I went to Beyond Sushi for lunch the day I visited MoMA because it’s really nearby and I am very lazy so I got to do two cool activities in one. I got two dishes because I was On Holiday and being exceptionally greedy when you’re abroad is the English way: I had the ‘seasonal’ dumpling which happened to be filled with BBQ jackfruit when I visited (*extremely smug face*), and a genuinely magnificent mushroom sushi roll. I don’t know a huge amount about sushi but I know that I could have eaten like five of those rolls. Beyond Sushi has a bit of a rep as the best vegan sushi around and through my many mouthfuls of mushrooms, I would have had to wholeheartedly agree.

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my son. my literally exploding son.

On the Sunday of my stay I had a pang for Mexican food and I was hanging out in the East Village, so my travels brought me to Hotel Tortuga which is everything you might expect from a Mexican place in the East Village (i.e. super tacky, super friendly, super help yourself to some sorta stale tortilla chips in the corner.) They have a huge veggie menu and options to make your dish vegan by adding vegan cheese and sour cream for $1.50, so I went for a burrito full of vegan chorizo in a spicy sauce with guac, refried beans and all the fixin’s. It was lit (however for the sake of my poor body I hope to god that my first born child weighs less than that burrito did.)

Red Bamboo – Greenwich Village

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Three words for you pals: vegan, Buffalo, wings. Yeah. Damn these were the shit. Red Bamboo is an all veggie place in Midtown and I’m pretty sure its speciality is East Asian food. I, however, opted for something a little closer to home with their wings, which I’d read really good things about online, mostly because you can’t go to New York and not get Buffalo wings at least one time, it is the law. Served with fries, celery and vegan Ranch, the wings were dressed in Buffalo sauce and they even came with a little wooden pick inside instead of a bone which I loved because you can get me to love anything if you make it into a novelty. What I was really bowled over by, however, was the texture of the fake chicken – they somehow made it almost stringy, just like well-cooked chicken, and it was easily up there with the most convincing fake meat I’ve had. Also as an aside it was also mad affordable – I went in for lunch and got this as a lunch special and it cost me EIGHT DOLLARS. So so so worth the trip.

Confectionery! – East Village

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You ever have a vegan macaron? Well you absolutely should, and you should get it from Confectionery! which is a super cute all-vegan bakery on the same street as Superiority Burger. What a street. These guys are crisp, then chewy like all the best macarons, and they’re so unbelievably flavoursome – I got chocolate and vanilla and the chocolate especially was *so* good. Also, it was an especial treat because I hadn’t eaten a macaron since before I went vegan. If u like/miss ~patisserie~ u will really like this place.

Toad Style – Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

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Finally I just wanna give a lil shout-out to Toad Style which I think is a relatively new sandwich place. It’s a bit out of the way for most as it’s in Bed-Stuy, but I was hanging out in Brooklyn one day and I decided to make the visit because I’d heard rave reviews (they were recently featured in NY Mag’s Cheap Eats section). I made the right decision. For my meal at Toad Style I got a pulled jackfruit bun and some cheese fries (can you see a pattern) – the jackfruit was excellent because it was really delicately flavoured in the exact same way as pulled pork, and the flavour grew as you ate it which I am always really impressed by. A little bit smoky, a little bit vinegar-y and tart, it was really awesome even though I am sometimes not entirely convinced by jackfruit. The cheese fries were greasy and salty in the best way, and they came in a huge serving with a really deliciously thick, cheesy sauce. Toad-Style have a small-ish menu of really well done vegan sandwiches and sides, and I really hope they’re still there next time I visit because there’s an oyster mushroom bánh-mì with my name all over it.

I’m done now. Writing this was an emotional rollercoaster because I can only describe my feelings towards this food as irl love. If any of u need me I’ll be walking around my house wailing like Miss Havisham, except instead of being weird and sad about some man I’ll just be screaming about pizza or burgers or something. Peace.

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some shit about vegan skincare

I would like to begin with a disclaimer: I am not trying to reinvent myself as a beauty blogger. I would be very bad at that considering I am only now learning how to properly apply concealer. Rather, I am writing this as someone who voraciously collects skincare products, and who also prefers those products to be cruelty free and vegan (i.e. not tested on animals and without any ingredients derived from animals), and would like to share my thoughts on that, as well as some product recommendations if that’s your thing – my mom recently told me that my skin looked ‘lovely’ and ‘very clear’ so if that is not a ringing endorsement of my expertise I am not sure what is.

I feel like at the minute there is a growing interest in vegan skincare, mostly due to an emerging awareness that animal testing and ingredients in the beauty industry are objectively unnecessary. It is the year of our Lord 2016, we have hoverboards and Jaden Smith; I’m pretty sure we can a) figure out whether something in a moisturiser is going to be harmful without pouring it directly into the eyes of a rabbit to just check real quick, and b) use synthetic versions of animal ingredients like lanolin* because, if I can be so real, wearing ‘a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals’ (ty Wikipedia) on your face seems kind of icky.

Howeeeeever, I think a big problem that a lot of people tend to have with animal-friendly skincare is that it often doesn’t feel like it’s quite as effective as the usually bigger-name alternatives. Another issue is that when brands do use their cruelty-free status as a selling point, it’s common that they’ll emphasise that to the detriment of aesthetic of the products and packaging (like, I may be vegan but I’m also 22 and obsessed with Kim Kardashian, and my most pressing life goal is to one day own a Range Rover so excuse me if I don’t want to purchase this cleanser with pictures of bamboo on the box xo). Now I am no marketing expert, but I’d say that people buy skincare products for a reason that lies somewhere between necessity – you gotta wash your face – and TREAT YASELF – you wanna wash your face with a product that leaves it feeling soft and smooth like a well-groomed mini pig – so if what cruelty free brands are selling doesn’t feel special or luxurious even in some tiny way, it’s not going to be as attractive to the consumer as similarly priced, non-cruelty free items that do.

What I’m basically saying is that whilst I’m aware that a lot of people are interested in making their skincare routines cruelty free, I fully understand the misgivings surrounding that. That is pretty much why I am writing this post. I absolutely love indulgent (or at least indulgent-feeling) skincare, but I also really dislike using animal derivatives, so because of this I have amassed a pretty good knowledge of vegan products which fulfil my two major criteria:
1) the product must be super effective
2) the product must make you feel like a luxury bitch.

I feel like I can share this knowledge to spread the Gospel of Actually Not Terrible Cruelty-Free Skincare, and maybe inadvertently save some bunnies if what I say is persuasive enough, so lemme talk about my favourite products for a hot minute:

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REN Skincare Clarimatte T-Zone Control Cleansing Gel and T-Zone Balancing Gel Cream (aka ‘cleanser’ and ‘moisturiser’)
I am putting these two first because they have been a major landmark on my personal skincare journey. When I started using this stuff in February it was the part in a young adult novel where the main character has a coming of age experience, only the main character was me, and the experience was AMAZING SKIN. REN is all round great (they’re cruelty free and their vegan credentials are v good also – they list all of their non-vegan products, which is only about four or five items from a huge range – on their website), but as someone with combination/oily skin, the Clarimatte products are the standout for me. The packaging is super simple and ‘minimalist’ or whatever, which I am personally very into as a fetishist of the Scandinavian, but I think what I love most about these products is how they feel – the cleanser is a clear gel which comes in a functional pump bottle and foams up nicely when applied to the face, and the moisturiser is a super lightweight not quite-cream not-quite gel which absorbs into the skin really quickly, so it doesn’t feel like it’s resting on your face, which can be a bit off-putting when you’re already prone to oiliness. I use them both twice a day, with Aesop B and Tea toner – which, tbh, meh – and at night, a salicylic acid product that I will discuss shortly, in between, and I love them like a mother loves her babe. One time a few weeks after I started using them I caught my reflection in my bedroom mirror and I couldn’t believe how even and creamy my skin looked. I think that is what good skincare should do for you.

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RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream (aka ‘makeup remover’)
I know people say you shouldn’t use coconut oil on your skin because blackheads or something but whatever I’m a maverick, and it hasn’t caused me any problems thus far. This ‘coconut cream’ is a super refined coconut oil, and I mainly use it to remove makeup. It is especially good for getting stubborn waterproof mascaras off. I usually spoon a bit onto a cotton pad, rub it on my face to warm it up, and then swoosh it about until all of the makeup is gone. It does a super nice job without leaving my face feeling sad and dry which I think a lot of makeup removers can be guilty of. Also RMS Beauty in general is a really great, interesting, ethical company whose aesthetic is very clean and doesn’t make me want to cry, so they get bonus points for that. They aren’t entirely vegan but a number of their products are, including this one. Another good thing about this coconut oil is that you can use it for any number of purposes; it does the job as a body moisturiser, a hair mask, something to sheer out your foundation or give it a dewier finish, and probably lots of other things that are beyond the feeble powers of my mind to ever even imagine too.

Superdrug B. Pure Micellar Water (aka ‘makeup remover 2: 2 Fast 2 Makeup Remover’)
‘WAIT A MINUUUUTE’ I hear u cry, in the style of a television detective who has uncovered a loophole in a petty thief’s alibi. ‘I thought she had oily skin. Why is she using an oil as a makeup remover? This makes no sense, my entire world view has been smashed to pieces.’ That is literally what I hear u cry, so let me explain.

For a while, I tried using the RMS Coconut Cream on its own as my sole makeup remover, and whilst I was still happy with the results, I noticed that my skin was feeling a little too oily in the mornings, even after I had done cleanser, toner, moisturiser and a virgin sacrifice. So, I introduced this Superdrug Micellar Water, which I used by itself before I switched to the coconut oil, back into the fold. I am v pleased to report that they work together wonderfully. They are the Mary Kate and Ashley of cruelty-free skincare – each perfectly serviceable individually, but total flames when photographed together wearing Rodarte (lmao idk).

Once I’ve got the majority of my makeup off with the Coconut Cream, I pour some of this onto a cotton pad and quickly swipe it around my face. The reason for this is twofold: firstly, it gets off any makeup that I might have missed, and secondly it removes any excess oil, meaning I still get the benefits of the coconut oil’s natural moisture without the morning oiliness problem I was having before. Would recommend these two products together especially if you have combination skin because I find that they balance each other out really nicely.

I also just wanna say a quick word on the B range from Superdrug before I move onto the next thing – whilst I was generally a bit disappointed with their makeup selection, the skincare is really good, affordable, and like all of Superdrug’s other own-brand products, *completely vegan*. This is obviously a very cool and important move from a massive chain whose clientele tends to skew young, and it also doesn’t hurt that the products are genuinely effective. Worth a go I think.

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Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid (aka ‘exfoliator’)
I have #skincaretwitter to thank for this one. After many years of using scrubs, acid exfoliators have recently been brought to my attention and after a look at the extensive Paula’s Choice site, I narrowed my search down to this one, which is recommended for skin on the oilier side. My main motivation for wanting to try this was its promise to ‘unclog and diminish’ oversized pores, because I have some very visible pores on my cheeks. I don’t really understand the science of any of this, and I have literally no idea how salicylic acid works beyond the fact that it’s an excellent exfoliant, but I can tell you that this is a very good product which yields really pleasing results. After a few weeks of wiping my face down with a cotton pad full of this stuff at night after cleanser and toner (you can use it twice a day but if you are going to use it in the morning it has to be followed by some kind of SPF product, and, put simply, I am too lazy for that), I noticed my skin looking brighter and less congested. I much prefer using this to a scrub because it’s way less messy and also a lot more regular, so you can keep on top of your exfoliation which I am sure is deeply important to us all.

FYI, Paula’s Choice is another really great skincare brand and they note that they don’t animal test on the front of their bottles, which are again functional, simple and fairly minimalist. They’re not entirely vegan, but they list their vegan products on their website, which is kind of them.

Okay I’m going to shut up now but those are some good products and brands that you should look into if you don’t already know them. I think what they have in common is the fact that they are all trying to bring cruelty-free skincare up to date, which is of course very admirable, with products that are as attractive as they are effective. I hope that even these few products show that cruelty-free/vegan skincare which actually works and isn’t hideously ugly is actually out there. In the name of the cleanser, the toner, and the oil-free moisturiser, Amen.

*elf which is one of my most fav makeup brands recently rolled this measure out throughout their entire range which means that all of their cosmetics are not only ridiculous quality for the tiny amount you pay, but also 100% vegan

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“How About Now?”: Drake and Temporality

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“Thought you had it all figured out back then girl, but how ’bout now?” asks Drake on How About Now, a track from his If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape, which leaked in October 2014. “‘Cause I’m up right now,” he swipes. “And you suck right now.”

These three bars tell us everything we have needed to know about Drake as an artist, and as a concept, over the course of the last year. Isolated, they speak to his personal idiosyncrasies (from which he has built a brand) and touch upon his broader lyrical concerns. In particular, they expose his current temporal standing. On each of these lines, for example, Drake uses the word ‘now’, revealing his most major preoccupation; that is, the present moment. On the first line he references the past – ‘back then’ – gesturing towards what I would deem his romantic fascination with what has gone before. But, with all this talk of the present and the past, Drake leaves no space for the future.

This ignorance of the future in How About Now, I would suggest, is symptomatic of Drake’s current relationship to the future in general, both in terms of his catalogue of work, and when we consider his specific position in popular culture. For this reason, I want to argue that as a cultural concept, Drake cannot be conceived of as existing in the future – he is too entirely owned by the present moment, too nostalgic for the past, and too slow to conceptualise his own future, at least in his public output. The outward persona of Drake, then, usually struggles to assert itself past the moment in which it exists, both for its audience and, I would suggest, for itself: if Drake cannot place himself in the future, then neither, as those who consume him, can we. In order to illustrate this position, I will provide closer analyses of Drake’s relationships with the three prongs of linear temporality (that is, past, present and future) and work through some examples which highlight what I see as his very particular handling of time.

It is important to note that Drake’s attitude to the future has not always been this way. This can be observed even on a very superficial level, through a look at his recorded output, and the titles he has given each of his pieces of work. Drake’s back catalogue can be divided into two significant sections: those albums and mixtapes released between 2006 and 2012 (a time-frame which I will call Drake’s “Ascendent” period), and those released between 2013 and the present day (the “Risen” period). During the “Ascendent” period, Drake released two albums, 2010’s Thank Me Later and Take Care in 2012, as well as three mixtapes (Room for Improvement (2006), Comeback Season (2007), So Far Gone (2010)). In the “Risen” period, he has so far released one album, Nothing Was The Same, in 2013, and two mixtapes – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015) and What A Time To Be Alive (2015), the latter in collaboration, ironically enough, with the rapper Future.

As we can see from the titles of the works released during these periods, there is a marked shift between attitudes to time in each. The “Ascendent” titles (that is, the titles of those works which were released whilst Drake was on his way to becoming the musician and public figure he currently exists as), have a general trend of reference to the future. The album titles imply especially extended timelines – there is the idea that Drake will be around “later” for us to thank him; that we ought to “take care” until he sees us next – 
whilst those given to the mixtapes also signal growth or development or change, all of which require a conceivable future at least at some point.

The “Risen” titles (that is, those given to works released since Drake has become so astronomically famous, and has developed a clearly identifiable brand), fairly obviously, seem temporally stagnant by comparison. “Nothing Was The Same” is a phrase in the past tense; “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is concerned with present time, and, most tellingly of all, “What A Time To Be Alive” refers specifically to the present moment, Drake’s playground.

As Drake has become more famous – that is, as he has “risen” – he has also become a brand, as most musicians who become as popular as he now is do, too. However, in Drake’s case, I would suggest that his brand has been so successful that it has gained a life of its own: it has been so successful that ‘Drake’ is no longer Aubrey Graham. Today, then, Drake is simply an idea – one which is embodied by Graham, certainly, but which no longer necessarily needs him to exist. And if Drake now exists as an idea, rather than as a person on the same temporal trajectory as all other people, then it is difficult for us, and moreover, for himself, to conceptualise him past the present moment – for how can an idea, in and of itself, have a tangible future in the same way that a person does?

A past for Drake, however, can be conceived of. This is due to the fact that we have the “Ascendent” period as a point of reference, and also because even in his current output, Drake appears to be fixated on days gone by (I would argue that this is due to the ideation of Drake which somewhat eliminates him from the future, as outlined above). A useful example of this can be taken from the late 2015 single Hotline Bling, on which he discusses an ex-girlfriend and her late night bootycalls. The song has a three word refrain which is repeated frequently: “you used to.” This repetition demonstrates that here, and often elsewhere too, Drake is caught in the past. As so much of his material focusses on ex-lovers this is unsurprising, and his approach to discussing these exes on his tracks has evolved into an important part of his brand (in this way, Drake’s past feeds into his present, but yet again there is no place left for the future.) Curiously, Drake has built a reputation for being ‘petty’ – that is, for taking something of little consequence and making it into something more. In his mentions of ex-girlfriends, this often takes a specific shape, involving a framing of himself as an important part of experiences which otherwise belong solely to the women he discusses. On Hotline Bling, he complains that “ever since I left the city, you/started wearing less and going out more”, and on the aforementioned How About Now, he implores his ex to “remember when you had to take the bar exam?/I drove in the snow for you.” This ‘pettiness’ exposes not only Drake’s hang-ups, rooted in the past and aired in the present (Drake is not at all afraid to wear vulnerabilities, however minor, on his sleeve – this is another crucial part of his unique brand) but also his very specific kind of misogyny. And because this misogyny usually appears to emerge from a place of caring rather than a place of pure objectification, and also because it is so very petty – laughably so, in the case of the How About Now lyric I cited – it often only serves to endear him further to fans, who accept his (at this point) knowing pettiness as an expected part of the Drake model.

Indeed, a crucial factor in the separation between the man (Aubrey Graham) and myth (Drake) has been Drake fans, specifically in terms of their use of the internet, and Drake’s subsequent responses to them. Drake is potentially the most quintessentially 21st Century recording artist currently working – his understanding and manipulation of the internet as a method of building reputation is second to none. For example, the rise of the “Drake the type” meme (whereby fans would tweet about overly sentimental or, that word again, petty behaviours, stating that “Drake the type” of man who would act in these way, due to his unusually sensitive lyrical content) in his early career may have been a death knell for a less shrewd rapper, especially considering the traditional hyper-masculinity of rap music. Drake, however, used the meme to his advantage, and instead of working to subvert its portrayal of him, he played up to it in his both his lyrics and his public actions (the internet took particular delight in seeing photographs of him using a lint roller on his clothes during a basketball game). This is just one of the many ways in which Drake engages with the fast pace of the internet, and fully embraces and understands the importance of the present moment.

As I stated when introducing this essay, I would suggest that Drake’s relationship with the present is one where he is now completely defined by it, to the point where he is unable to exist meaningfully outside of it (that is, he is unable to be conceived of in the future, because he is so deeply ‘of the present’), other than when he is recalling the past in a manner which, as we have seen, resonates with the current state of his brand. His brand, in turn, is constantly re-enacted in the present moment, largely via Drake’s own output on social media and his fans’ reactions to it, or vice versa.

The significance of the present for Drake can be demonstrated variously, however I plan to use two examples, both from 2015 – so far the height of Drake’s “Risen” period. The first takes root in the beef between Drake and Meek Mill. After Mill tweeted accusing Drake of using a ghostwriter, Drake responded with a diss track called Charged Up. This is a pretty standard response from a rapper to someone who has fired shots at him. However, three days later, Drake released another diss track, Back To Back, thereby sending the internet into a further frenzy as many commentators suggested that he was suffering from a case of espirit de l’escalier (that is, ‘the spirit of the staircase,’ or, the feeling that occurs when you argue with someone and, just as you’re leaving, you think of the perfect comeback despite being too late to deliver it). Such a case it may have been, but I would suggest that it was also very carefully calculated, and used to strengthen the Drake brand. By looking as far as he could into the future (a few days), Drake showed an understanding of what I will call the “future-present,” that is, the present moment as it will exist in the near future on the internet and social media: by releasing the second diss track, and being accused of espirit de l’escalier, he only served to underline his “pettiness” more, to the great pleasure of fans who largely found the episode extremely funny.

This idea of the “future-present” is also relevant to my second example of Drake’s ‘of-the-moment-ness’ – that is, the October 2015 release of the music video for Hotline Bling. The clip involves a number of prolonged shots of Drake dancing, un-choreographed and, for most people’s money, kind of badly. These shots serve two purposes, which are to some extent interlinked. First of all, they seek to underline his sometimes corny persona (as previously expressed by fans through the “Drake the type” meme), and secondly, therefore, they are crying out for the internet to respond to them. And respond it did – as Jon Caramanica writes in his New York Times feature on the music video entitled Drake: Rapper, Actor, Meme, the video is “important at its full length, but even more so in the screenshots and few-seconds-long GIFs that it’s designed to be broken down into. It’s less a video than an open source code that easily allows Drake’s image and gestures to be rewritten, drawn over, repurposed.” Thus, yet again, Drake’s engagement with the present moment, and particularly with the “future-present,” allows him to conceive of his reception in terms of how it will happen in real time via the internet, rather than on the level of legacy.

Drake opens 2011’s Make Me Proud with the lyric “I like a woman with a future and a past.” It is ironic that on the cusp of his “Risen” period, Drake should be so specific about his preference for the potentiality for long-term development in a girlfriend, when his own, as ‘Drake,’ at least, was soon to disappear. These days, when Drake refers to a future, it’s an immediate one – whether this be in the sense of a “future-present”, or explicitly, on a song like Hold On, We’re Going Home. There is little sense from his public persona that he is planning for the future, because he is far too ‘of-the-moment’ and draws most of his material from the past. Perhaps, then, what we can hope for Drake is that his unique engagement with the present, and the influence of the past on that engagement, will be what he is remembered for in the future.

 

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A Portrait of the Artist On Fleek: Self-Awareness, Canonicity, Feminism and Kim Kardashian’s “Selfish”

<> at SiriusXM Studios on August 11, 2014 in New York City.

“when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art.”
– John Berger, Ways of Seeing

When I first held a copy in my hands, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish instantly put me in mind of a Bible. It is a squat, thick book with a hard cover sleeved by a glossy protective sheet; in appearance and feel, it is reminiscent of the missals kept in the schools and churches of my childhood. This initial, uncanny similarity is the first of many potential engagements that Selfish makes with patriarchal canon (I will outline some others over the course of the next few hundred words), despite the fact that Kim Kardashian – hyper-modern; populist celebrity; woman – is exactly the type of cultural producer that traditional ideas about cultural achievement excludes. Yet, suddenly, art critics are lauding Selfish, and Kim Kardashian is quietly becoming Kim Kardashian the Artist as well as Kim Kardashian the Celebrity.

Whether the similarity between Selfish and a Bible is intentional or just something I made up (though bear in mind that she is married to a man whose art flirts consistently with ideas about religion and canon), there is so much in and about Selfish – a book composed by Kardashian of her selfies, dating between 2006 and 2014 – which can be thought about in terms of questions of intentionality. Is the book intended as art, or is it to be taken, as implied on the surface level, as simple personal autobiography? Is it political in any sense? And, perhaps most importantly, can it be considered a self-aware exploration by Kardashian into her own position as celebrity and media phenomenon? I want to address these questions, and in doing so will suggest that Kim Kardashian’s Selfish is a revolutionary and thoroughly contemporary art book, which is in conversation with both popular culture and the intellectual canon. It makes these links by challenging ideas about what art is allowed to be, interrogating the ways in which we view women’s bodies, and actively engaging with perceptions of celebrity in 2015.

Firstly, though, I want to address the most obvious counter-argument to the one I’ve outlined. In general, Kim Kardashian is viewed as unintelligent, and therefore it is perceived that a person like her could not make a work which has any of the qualities that I have suggested of Selfish. People think that Kim is unintelligent for many different reasons: because she is a reality TV personality; because she takes pleasure in her own appearance; because she once allowed a man (who she trusted and was in a relationship with) to film her having sex with him; because her mother is her manager; because her husband is Kanye West. Because she made a book out of her selfies.

It is easy, however, to dismiss this counter-argument – which centres so much around misogyny and canonical male-centric ideals about what constitutes intelligence in Western society – with a simple list of Kim Kardashian’s achievements. She is a highly successful businesswoman with projects in various sectors; she is, arguably, the star of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the highest-rated show airing on the E! network in the US; she is a skillful and in-demand model. In order that she could accomplish all of this, she also overcame the extreme violation of her trust and privacy when her ex-boyfriend decided to sell their sex tape.

And she made a book out of her selfies.

That last one is important. As we can see, Kim Kardashian’s intelligence is not of the ‘traditional’ sort. All of the accomplishments listed above are in industries which have developed rapidly during the twenty-first century (indeed, even Kim’s major business successes have been in fashion and technology). They are also in industries which are largely populist, rather than elitist, and which skew towards interests viewed as ‘feminine.’ Thus, she represents a type of contemporary cultural achievement which goes against all of our previous notions about what cultural achievement is.

One of Kim’s major cultural achievements is her contribution to the advent of the selfie. Undoubtedly, she is the crown princess of the form; she has, as her book attests, been taking selfies before selfies were selfies. She currently details her every look publicly via her Instagram feed, always mentioning the designers she is wearing and the hairdressers and make-up artists who have helped craft her vision. The detailed attention to matters of appearance in Kim’s selfies exemplifies the reason for a great deal of the backlash against selfies in general. They are frequently labelled as vain and shallow, due largely to their entirely visual nature and their primary status as a means of expression for young women, a group whose interests are constantly and systematically derided by Western patriarchy. When the word “selfie” was inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary (itself a prescriptive tool of patriarchal canon) in 2013, its inclusion was met with contempt. This was due, I suspect, to a concept linked with young women, and visuality, and supposed narcissism, being given a place within a canonical site of intellectualism.

Kardashian, through the very title of her book, directly engages with this view of selfies as exercises in vanity and self-obsession. At the same time, she also plays knowingly with specific perceptions of herself within contemporary Western culture. In the same way that “selfie” infiltrated the dictionary in 2013, Kim Kardashian has used her selfies to create a book – again, part of the usual apparatus of academic canon and traditional intellectualism. In itself, her transfer of the selfie, usually confined to social media, to the printed medium (always including staples of the form like pouted lips, makeup #onfleek and showing in the image itself the phone camera used to take it) completely frustrates previously held ideas about what the printed page should look like.

It is possible, then, that in redirecting previously held canonical notions by interrupting the canon with such brazen femininity, Selfish can be understood as a feminist text. In its content, too, Selfish can be read as taking a somewhat feminist stance, inviting women (and indeed, all people who enjoy selfies) to revel in their own appearances. It presents selfies as acts of self love – radical in a society which condemns appreciation of oneself based on appearance. In one caption, Kim writes “I loved how I looked and how that made me feel,” demonstrating an outright refusal to be shamed for feeling good about herself. In this sense, Selfish feels highly political (though whether this is intentional is both another question entirely, and far less important than our perception of it as such).

The joy that Kardashian takes in her own body is central to Selfish, as is the level of control she exercises in depicting it. There is an entire section, demarcated by black pages (in contrast with the white pages of the majority of the book) which is devoted to nude and nearly-nude photos. In this section, she includes photographs of her naked body which emerged on the internet without her permission, thereby reasserting her own agency and taking pride in images used to shame and embarrass her, as well as incorporating a number of underwear shots which give us what seems to be an intimate glance into her private life – some of these photos were clearly initially conceived as sexts.

This is where Kim Kardashian the Artist must reconcile with Kim Kardashian the Celebrity, and it is possible that she uses her standing as the star of a reality television programme – often the site of overshare – in order to interrogate ideas about celebrity and exposure. Kim Kardashian made her name by giving fans an intimate look into her personal affairs via her television show. She continues to do this through sharing with her reader these seemingly private photographs, but ultimately she is only showing us what she wants us to see. This is a clear aspect of her artistic project from the outset of Selfish.

The very front cover of the book depicts Kardashian as the epitome of Western heterosexual desire – full lipped, large breasted, wet-haired, yet also fully and very obviously made-up. However, this cover image also partially shows Kardashian’s outstretched arms, indicating that the photo is very much a selfie, because of the physical action of placing the camera in front of one’s body that a selfie requires. The inclusion of her bodily positioning in this image (it could, after all, easily have been cropped) implicitly suggests the control that Kardashian has over it – she is presenting only exactly what she wants her reader to see, whilst also underlining that she herself is the creator of this image, and, therefore, of her own image in the public eye. And whilst it is important to remember that Kim Kardashian is a conventionally ‘attractive’ woman, and therefore has a number of privileges which relate to that status, the images in “Selfish” are interesting because they positively present a woman in control of how her own body is viewed. They are also telling in terms of that woman’s self-awareness of her own celebrity status.

The overarching statement that Selfish makes is that Kim Kardashian is entirely in control of how we see her. Everything about the book – its self-awareness, its potential feminism, its diversion of canonicity – contributes to this central idea. The short foreword states that the photographs included were chosen from “thousands of selfies we considered for publication,” hinting at a strong curatorial position in the space between familiarity and overshare which made the Kardashians famous. The great achievement of Selfish, then, is that it allows Kim Kardashian the Artist and Kim Kardashian the Celebrity to exist simultaneously. It is not a derisive departure from celebrity by a woman who has outgrown her past, but rather it is indicative of Kardashian’s legitimacy as a new, contemporary type of artist who embodies the concept of celebrity and is in a unique position to engage seriously and critically with it.

Whilst as a figure, Kim Kardashian is clearly divisive and sometimes problematic, her achievement with Selfish is currently unmatched in contemporary popular culture. In one tome, she challenges widely held ideas about art, intellectualism, self-presentation, the body, and celebrity, whilst also remaining relatable to her fans in doing so. And for a woman whose mere presence in social consciousness is frequently met with derision because she makes money using her looks, that’s probably a job well, and carefully, done.

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Beherrschung

I took some (entry level) photos in Berlin. I was struck by how political a place it is and I think there is an interesting contrast between the messy, vital politics happening at street level, and the uniformity and straight lines of lots of the architecture.

Berherrschung is the German for “control”; “restraint”; “composure”; “command.”

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