It is presently fashionable to admire authenticity in celebrities, or at least the appearance of it. Actor Dwayne Johnson talks about his depression in the Hollywood Reporter, while Jack Antonoff explains the origins of his germophobia to New York Magazine. Jennifer Lawrence’s star rises on the strength of both her performances and the perception that she’s a “cool girl,” a role that purports to be natural but is actually profoundly high-maintenance.
In the midst of all of this soul-bearing, I have actually found myself attracted to artifice, to the stars who try too hard and to the moments when the facade of authenticity slips.
The most recent example of this is a photo from the wedding of reality television personality Kim Kardashian to rapper and aspiring multi-hyphenate Kanye West. The image of the couple kissing in front of a wall of flowers is one of the most popular ever posted on Instagram. It is the sort of thing that makes florists salivate come wedding season, a picture of apparent spontaneity to launch a thousand aspirational Pintrest boards.
It is also totally staged. In a recent interview with Page Six, West acknowledged that the picture had become a source of stress on the pair’s honeymoon because of how much work it took to recreate the aesthetic of Annie Leibovitz, who West said had initially committed to shoot the wedding.
“Because Annie pulled out, I was like, ‘Okay, I still want my wedding photos to look like Annie Leibovitz,’ and we sat there and worked on that photo for, like, four days because the flowers were off-color,” West told Page Six. “Can you imagine telling someone who wants to just Instagram a photo, who’s the No. 1 person on Instagram, ‘We need to work on the color of the flower wall,’ or the idea that it’s a Givenchy dress, and it’s not about the name Givenchy, it’s about the talent that is Riccardo Tisci — and how important Kim is to the Internet. And the fact the No. 1 most-liked photo [on Instagram] has a kind of aesthetic was a win for what the mission is, which is raising the palette.”
This is patently nuts, although perhaps a healthy reminder that grooms get over-invested in achieving high-maintenance visions of wedding perfection, too. But it is a sort of crazy that is moderately endearing, and certainly more honest than insisting that looking fabulous is essentially effortless.
Part of being famous is being attractive (or if not attractive, hate-able in a way that exerts its own magnetism). And being attractive (or despicable) is a job. If you are Dwayne Johnson, it means working out until you hurt yourself. If you are Jennifer Lawrence, it means talking about your junk food habits and drinking while working out to make sure they never show on her body. And if you are Kanye West, it means that you spend vastly more time processing your personal experiences for public consumption than it actually took to have those experiences in the first place.
None of this is to say that we should feel sorry for any of these tremendously rich people. This is the job they have chosen, and these are some of the requirements of it. And DIY culture, which has convinced so many of us that it makes sense to spend endless hours and large amounts of money recreating things that otherwise cost impossible amounts of money, probably means that West’s revelation will not hold back some determined couples from trying to replicate the effect of this shot.
Even if confessions like West’s can’t dismantle the toxic idea that celebrity lifestyles and bodies are something we can and should aspire to, they are still valuable for one reason. West’s weird brag to Page Six revealed just how obsessed he is with his public image, and with the idea that his new wife plays a significant role in American culture. That kind of braggadoccio and insecurity may not be cool, or kicky, or aspirational, and it certainly is not normal. But it is awfully real.