The Case for #Selfies
I have my picture taken just about every day. I post at least one photo of myself to social media just about every single day. Still, when it's time for me to drop my bimonthly selfie, I do it with clenched teeth and say a silent prayer that I won't be on the receiving end of any needlessly mean comments. A recent article by Leandra of Man Repeller fame consciously called my own selfie habits into consideration. She mentioned that the comments she's gotten on her selfies since becoming a mom were different— read: somewhat judgmental. We've all experienced that sort of negativity in one way or another, but having the sentiment framed in such a quantifiable way gave me some interesting things to think about, mainly, what do I hope to accomplish by sharing myself in this way?
Sometimes it's because I like the way I look and want to tell others that it's okay to be confident. Sometimes it's because I don't like the way I look and I'm needing a bit of validation. Other times, it's because I'm working with a cosmetics company and my contract requires me to share a shameless photo of my mug for all the world to see. No matter what the motivation may be, I think it's perfectly healthy to practice the art of self-portraiture in this way. Some may call it attention-seeking, others think it's vain. Like everything else though, I'm trying to divorce society's perceptions and stigmas from my own opinions.
Selfies as a form of art have come a long way since the ubiquitous high-angle shots and semi-obscured-by-flash mirror pics of the mySpace era. Selfies are no longer a mere vehicle for misguided teenage angst confined to the fringes of the internet but a permanent fixture in our complicated culture. Everyone has an opinion, and these opinions vary from the predictably curmudgeonly response of, "narcissistic, navel-gazing millennial entitlement" (paraphrased) to "strangely liberating." On the rise and evolution of the selfie, Vulture had this to say:
"It’s become a new visual genre—a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Selfies have their own structural autonomy. This is a very big deal for art."
I'm going to access a former self by tapping into my long-forgotten art student side to provide some historical context. You don't need a degree in art history to know that most of art's most famous works have been created by men, and even up until the 1900s, there were very few "great" women artists. (Referring, of course, to the popular term and not saying that no great female artists existed.) Men were calling the shots and men were making the art. This means that, for a large chunk of modern history, men unequivocally controlled the image of woman across a myriad of mediums. Even in this modern era, critics of the male variety are quick to denigrate female artists for the sake of outdated convention. Part of this gender disparity is because pre-modernist art was inaccessible to those without access to its training system. Self-taught artists existed, but without the internet or clever marketing, their art was rarely seen. The system was skewed in an overwhelmingly male-leaning way and out of this hegemonic control came a phenomenon we now know as "the male gaze."
"In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting the world and women in the visual arts and literature from a masculine and heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure."
It's not up to me whether or not to deem individual instances of the male gaze as intentionally perverted or malicious. I'm sure some are, but I'm also sure others were just going along with trends of the general artistic zeitgeist throughout history. However, we can all agree that with the advent of accessible means of creating portraiture has disrupted the traditional role of men as the gatekeepers of artistic expression. Women are no longer beholden to men capture and share— not to mention, profit from— their image. Because art is defined as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination," selfies are art. An art form that's maligned as a gross presentation of vanity more than anything else. But why? Women took the paintbrush, the quill, the camera, the chisel out of men's hands and rather than being celebrated for doing so, our art form is mocked. Because the masters of this medium are primarily teenaged girls, their artistry is not seen as valid but, rather, vapid.
The quandary is this: women are debased for not being pretty enough, but also debased for caring too much about being pretty. So, what do we do? We get better and giving and accepting compliments and we say, "SCREW IT." Knowing I couldn't be alone in this, I asked some amazing, courageous people in my community to share with me their favorite selfies and why they decided to post them.
"This particular selfie is my favorite because it was one of those rare moments that I just didn’t care. I loved the way I looked."
Chrissy Donnelly, GeekOwl
"This particular selfie is my favorite because it was one of those rare moments that I just didn’t care. I loved the way I looked. I’m typically really self conscious about being legally blind in one eye (around bedtime my eye sort of does what it wants because its tired and that is when I took this). I wasn’t in a special place or doing something amazing. Just loving my new glasses.
In general, I initially started taking selfies with other people, and then I guess I initially started taking selfies of just myself for my blog because I did a lot of beauty stuff at that point. I think now-a-days its more to just capture the moment. If I’d ever remember I’d love to do a 365 days selfie to see how much I change in just one year!"
Tonya Russell, A Journey To Fit
"I'm insecure, but I know that if a friend was too insecure to post a selfie, I would tell her do it anyway."
"I take the occasional selfie because it forces me outside of my element. I'm insecure, but I know that if a friend was too insecure to post a selfie, I would tell her do it anyway. It's my version of self-compassion. I oftentimes will have on an outfit or lipstick I love, and I end up getting questions about them."
Follow Tonya on Instagram
"I do them because I work with kids and they bring me so much joy."
Rachee Fagg, At the Table with R and R
"I'm a children's librarian in Delco and I do a thing called #selfieswithbabiesinlibraries on Instagram. I don't have a favorite because the babies are all so stinking cute. I do them because I work with kids and they bring me so much joy."
"It’s not narcissistic, it’s just self love and there’s no shame in that."
Katrina Miranda, one half of URSA FINE
"I don’t think anyone should ever shame a selfie. It’s not narcissistic, it’s just self love and there’s no shame in that. If anything, more people should take the time to appreciate the molecular magical puddle of stardust that culminated in the living breathing being that lives in this time and space."
"I love seeing women love themselves and think 'you know what? I feel good! I look good!'"
Alex Gervasi, KIISFM LA and Q102 Philly
"I think there’s a weird stigma around selfies because women are supposed to accept compliments, but the moment we embrace ourselves... we’re conceited. I’ve become so pro seflie because I love seeing women love themselves and think 'you know what? I feel good! I look good!' I never want to be against self love!"
Sarah Ramirez, Shades of Sarah
I take a good amount of selfies — with my dogs, with fun filters, whatever. I won’t apologize for taking selfies, though I know the guys I date don’t appreciate my selfies nearly as much as my mom and friends do. They’re also great for jogging my memory. I remember taking this selfie at the counter of the diner at Reading Terminal after a very long day. I was feeling my makeup, hair and my new hat though, and that was good enough for me.
"I won’t apologize for taking selfies, though I know the guys I date don’t appreciate my selfies nearly as much as my mom and friends do."
"...they always take me back to a time, place, and feeling."
"I love capturing what real life looks like and what I looked like in that moment. I've been taking selfies since middle school (before it was cool) and love capturing the beautiful and messy moments, because they always take me back to a time, place, and feeling."
"I think sharing selfies is great and I always make sure to like a friend's!"
"There's a few reasons I like to share selfies. One is because I enjoy doing fun eyeshadow looks, I like to share them. Another is the obvious reason, because I think I look good and want some attention. I think sharing selfies is great and I always make sure to like a friend's!"
Follow Rebecca on Instagram
"Selfies as a fat women are vital when it comes to reclaiming agency."
"Selfies as a fat women are vital when it comes to reclaiming agency. To be able to celebrate yourself in a society that spends so much energy asking you to shrink down and take up less space is such a beautiful and powerful thing. For me, they are proclamations of self love + confidence + treating yourself as kindly as you would treat your best friend."
Kelsey McKee, Bells + Whistles
"I’ve never taken a selfie that I’m truly 100% happy with, but I upload them anyway because I almost kind of feel like I have to to have a successful Instagram & to show people who I am/what I look like."
"I think this is my favorite selfie because it’s my most creative. I’ve never taken a selfie that I’m truly 100% happy with, but I upload them anyway because I almost kind of feel like I have to to have a successful Instagram & to show people who I am/what I look like. Sometimes people will say “why don’t you ever show your face in your pictures?”, so that kind of puts the pressure on to upload selfies. Since I’m never really happy with just a plain old picture of my face, I always try to add something like flowers or....well I think I’ve only ever done flowers but you get the point."
What do you think? Love 'em or hate 'em, I think it's safe to say that selfies are sticking around for a little while. As for me.... well, you know how I feel.