After two weeks spent pickling my insides with slushy strawberry daiquiris and shrivelling under the Croatian sun – I find that sun cream, once applied, determinedly seeks out recesses (eyeballs, belly button, that weird hammock betwixt thumb and forefinger) leaving the rest of my body sans protection – I am back.
It’s a good job I am experienced at sitting inside all day and whistling on my sister for food, because I haven’t heard a peep from anyone with tips or advice on my mandated quarantining (mistrustful, uppity friends and colleagues aside). Not a text, not a phone call, not a raised eyebrow in the arrivals hall.
Nonetheless, my siphoning off from society is, apparently, a necessary evil, so here I am, playing model citizen, mushing my nose against the windowpane and lying languorously about the place.
But then disaster struck. On Wednesday I roused myself to find that Kim Kardashian West had announced the end of her long-running reality television show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
How could this be? The grinding west coast vocal fry of the Kardashian sisters has been a constant, comforting backing track to my life and, more specifically, to those formative teenage years.
But alas, the Kardashians are not the honest, funny, all-American mega rich kids they used to be. In fact, upon further examination, it appears they have become the embodiment of everything I hate about our digital world.
Firstly, and objectively, the programme is total trash and you should never watch it, ever.
Part of the reason for the show’s cancellation, and why it has been attracting lacklustre ratings, is that it is too slow. Everyone knows that someone had a baby and someone else had a breakdown months before it ever appears on the box in your living room. The programme is simply not quick or snackable enough for our new, instant world.
But the big problem is not conceptual. I don’t care if they want to document their lives. Even if you think they’re talentless waste-of-spacers, curiosity is ingrained in human nature; people want to know about people. And they have exposed a huge range of issues, from mental health, divorce and fertility, to drug abuse and cultural appropriation, and gained massive notoriety in the meantime.
No, the harm is not in the documenting, but in the editing.
Essentially, I have found the Kardashians’ social media to be a dystopian reality: none of the faces in their photos actually exist. Not only have they had professional makeup (or glam as they call it), and even more professional surgery, but they have almost always edited their images beyond recognition, thus portraying to an audience of young fans a definition of beauty that is not only unachievable, but computer generated.
The impacts of being bombarded day after day with unrealistic standards of beauty range from low self-esteem, to eating disorders, anxiety and depression. But they are not just unrealistic standards; they are fictional, impossible, crafted by robot airbrushing elves in the digital backwaters.
Worst of all, the Kardashians’ content exists only to be commodified and monetised. The sisters are proof that your appearance and exposure online, regardless of its existence in reality, is your worth. And that translates into flashy bags, cars, and very real cash dollars. All of a sudden, you can make something out of nothing.
Happily, a new law proposed by Conservative MP Luke Evans, could force social media users to label images where faces or bodies have been digitally altered. In an ideal world, celebrities would lead by example and not manipulate images. With my more cynical hat on, I sincerely hope the law gets the go-ahead, and we can inject some reality into our feeds and reverse some of the damage already done.
Yes, without my rosy nostalgia goggles, the simulated faces of the Kardashian sisters seem damaging, inauthentic and creepy. As for the show, it’s been a far-cry from ‘reality’ for a long while.