Before I get into this post, there are two things I want to say first:
- I am sad that going back to school is totally wreaking havoc on my posting schedule here. However, I am loving school, so don’t feel too bad for me. I just want to acknowledge that things are different for me right now.
- When I have no good title ideas, I just repeat a word three times. Somehow it seems more clever than using it only once. I don’t know why.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to talk about the selfie. While the word selfie was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, my spellcheck here is underscoring the word with a tell-tale squiggly red line. This tells you that this is still a new concept. Not every dictionary is down with the word. Not every person is down with the word. We’re still figuring it out. We’re also still debating the selfie’s significance, and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Selfies are particularly controversial in feminist circles. The authors of articles like Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help. and Putting selfies under a feminist lens suggest that the selfie is a product of a culture that objectifies women. After all, the selfie is the province of young women. Why, many people wonder, do these young women feel the need to post photos of their faces on social media for other people – perhaps most especially males – to see? Seeking external validation isn’t a sign that we’re empowered, it’s a sign that we lack self-esteem.
Other feminists disagree with this take. They argue that selfies can be empowering, particularly for women who don’t normally see themselves portrayed in the media – that is, women of colour, women larger than a size six, transgender women, and so on. Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista found that sentiment of becoming visible compelling enough to launch the #365FeministSelfie project. She wrote, “… taking a selfie and posting it means REALLY looking at yourself. And hopefully at the end (or much sooner!) you will find it less painful and more enjoyable. I don’t want to turn us into Paris Hiltons, but rather individuals who don’t cringe when we need to take a photo.”
I heart Instagram big-time. So, when I noticed that people in my feed were using the #365FeministSelfie hashtag I looked into it. The explanation I read was that by posting photos of themselves, these women were attempting to make themselves more visible, and portray a broader definition of beauty. I liked that. I started posting photos of my own (although not quite every day). So far, I’m enjoying it.
It turns out there’s a lot to be said for the selfie. I don’t have to ask someone else to take my photo – I can do it when I’m at home by myself. I can get the angle I like, with the background I want. I can show myself how I want to be seen.
Is it narcissistic or objectifying? It could be, if I allowed myself to get caught up in how many ‘likes’ my photos get, or in making sure I look my absolute best in each photo. I feel that both of those things go against the grain of this particular project, though. It’s about showing women as we really are. It’s true that as a straight white woman (and a natural blonde, no less), there are plenty of people who look like me in the media. However, I don’t think that means I don’t deserve to be seen. The point is we all deserve to be seen, with makeup or without, wearing our best clothes or our pajamas, with perfectly-coiffed locks or messy morning hair. We all deserve to be seen on our own terms.
I have succumbed to the selfie trend, but I don’t think it’s a sign that I’ve lost touch with reality. I think it’s a sign that I’m participating in modern culture, and enjoying the challenge of documenting myself (almost) daily, just as I am. It’s also something I can do in very short snippets of time while my life is busy. I can see what other people are posting, and take part myself, in the two minutes I have before my class starts. Perhaps that, more than anything, is why I’m enjoying it. It fits my life right now, and allows me to document this time of great personal change.
Here’s what my #365FeministSelfie stream has captured so far:
Where do you stand on the selfie? I’d love to hear your thoughts.