Reflections of the Self

Published November 23, 2013 by sleepydumpling

So y’all probably heard the hullaballoo yesterday about the anti-selfie post on that bastion of white-lady fauxmenism, Jezebel.  No, I’m not going to link to it, it’s a big stinky pile of poo poo written by a privileged thin, white, able-bodied, cis-het woman who seems to think it’s only acceptable to post pics of yourself online if you’re flashing how you’ve bought new shit (not that I have a problem with people sharing pics of stuff they’ve bought – I do it myself, it was just her attitude, ya know?)  and that if you do post pics of yourself online, it’s a “cry for help”.  Yeah I know, puke-city right?  If you really must see it, you can go find it on Jezebel.

So born from the backlash to that awful Jezzie piece was a Twitter hashtag #FeministSelfie born of this twitter conversation between @convergecollide and @thewayoftheid:

Not only did the hashtag inspire a plethora of awesome selfies by women all over the world, from all walks of life (most notably a lot of marginalised women awesomely self representing – PROPER diversity!) but there have been some very good posts about how selfies are important and how women should not be shamed for sharing selfies.  I’ll post some links at the bottom of this post, and please share any others that you know of.

I wrote about the power of selfies back in June (what can I say, I’m a visionary :-P) but I was thinking about how I’ve grown since I started posting selfies, and I got to wondering what my first selfie was.  I went back through all of my digital photos this morning to see what I could find.  The first thing I discovered is that I have digital photos going back to my first digital camera, which was 2001.  My first phone camera kicks in about 2003.  However, my first selfie doesn’t happen until December 2009!  Which tells you just how long it took me to be comfortable with a) willingly having my photograph taken, and b) posting a self portrait of myself online.

Here’s my first ever selfie:

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December 2009

I remember just why I took this photograph.  I was trying to capture in my camera how my hair looked at the back with my awesome new colour (thus the mirror behind me) and I snapped this photo.  For the first time ever, I liked a photo of myself.  My hair was an awesome colour.  I looked comfortable and happy.  I was learning to be comfortable in my fat body (I had started blogging about being fat about six months before) and I wanted to share this photo to show my friends my new hair colour, especially my friends overseas.

Forward through to last week, and a countless number of selfies since, and here one of my most recent selfies:

IMG_1506

November 2013

Snapped while I was sitting up the back of a meeting room, waiting for my turn to give a presentation to a bunch of my colleagues.  I see something very different in myself and in my expression in comparison to the first sefie.  My confidence is stronger.  I gaze into the lens far more relaxed than in the first photograph, and I didn’t bother to try to make the angle “flattering”, just tried to get the shot composed with good light and not chop half my face off.  Even in my choice of hair style and glasses tells me how I’ve changed over the years.  My style is now for me, not to appease others.  I scrape my hair back off my face to keep me cool and comfortable instead of using it to try to “hide” my fatness.  My glasses say “We’re here!” not “I want to disappear.”  I let my double chin be seen.

This didn’t happen by magic.  It happened because I took selfies and got used to seeing myself from all different angles, and more importantly, I saw other women’s selfies.  I saw women represented by themselves who are NEVER represented in the media.  I saw women of different ages, races, sizes, ability, gender presentation, level of income and sexuality.  I saw some women who looked like me, and many who didn’t.  I saw women who didn’t look like those I saw in magazines and on television or at the movies.  I saw women who are fat, or had wrinkles, scars, or pimples, or are hairy.  I saw women who had no makeup on, and those who use their makeup as expressionist art.

I still love seeing selfies and I love taking them.  I love capturing my moods and moments in selfies.  I like seeing selfies of all the people around the world I talk to but have never met, so I can get to know them a little better.  I even like stranger’s selfies, because I get to see lots of different types of people, and how they choose to present themselves to the world.  Best of all, I love seeing my friends change and grow in their selfies.   I love watching them grow into themselves and into confidence.

The idea that selfies are a “cry for help” or purely attention seeking behaviour is complete bullshit.  Yes, sometimes they might be.  But the overwhelming majority of them are self reflection and self representation.  They are pictorial questions to ourselves, asking “Who am I right now?”  They are snippets of communication about who we are, and how we want the world to see us.

And there is absolutely no shame in that.

Other selfie posts:

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30 comments on “Reflections of the Self

  • Can I just say that I love your glasses? Because I love them.

    I never got into taking selfies for the sole reason of my not wanting someone from my offline life finding out what I do online (mostly people from my old church), but other people seem to be having fun with it, even the attention-seeking ones, so, I say rock on. :D

    And even if people do take selfies for attention, it’s got to be one of the more harmless methods of doing so, even if it might annoy some of their friends on Twitter or Tumblr if they post them very frequently.

    • Thanks Rubyfruit – they are pretty fab glasses, but sadly they have just been made redundant – I had an eye test last week and need a new prescription. Wait until you see my new ones… they’re awesome!

      The easiest answer to people who are annoyed by selfies on Twitter or Tumblr… they can unfollow! It’s that simple!

  • i take pictures of myself all the time (i didn’t realize they were called “selfies” until just recently). in the past few years, i have gone from dying my hair various colors & cutting it butch short to letting it grow out in its natural silver grey & the change is wonderful. why is taking pictures of yourself a “cry for help”? i don’t feel like i’m crying for help. i just like taking pictures & it’s fun to hold the camera out in front of me & smile. i take pictures of everything, my cats, my son, the woods in which i walk, the city in which i live, whatever i want. personally, i think i take better pictures of myself than anyone else does.

    • It’s funny isn’t it silverapplequeen that some people think it’s acceptable to turn the camera on everything in your life except yourself. If you do it’s a “cry for help” or “looking for attention”. Silly really.

  • Ooh pink hair :). Pink hair is awesome!
    I’m asking my family for a camera phone this Christmas so I can take more pictures of everything including myself! I am baby-stepping myself with this, I started putting pictures up of myself on Facebook, mainly because I didn’t want to do the typical middle aged Mum hiding from the camera thing ( I am not stereotypically attractive but as I believe that everyone is beautiful why should I hide?) and I think that selfless could be my next step :)

  • I started taking selfies as a way to get used to seeing myself, after seeing so many posts of other people doing just that. I failed in my goal to take a pic of myself everyday, but what I did do was very helpful. I still struggle to accept my double chin, large stomach and narrow hips, but I’ve gotten better about not shying away from photos with friends.

    And frankly, what’s wrong with a little attention seeking. If you want attention, how else are you supposed to get it? Goodness knows my cats are not shy about seeking attention. ;)

    • Linda keep appearing in photos – selfies or otherwise. The more you do so, the more you get used to seeing yourself in all kinds of angles. And you slowly but surely grow less self-critical as time goes by.

      And there’s nothing at all wrong with looking for attention. I am more bothered by the assumption that people posting selfies are ALWAYS looking for attention… they are so much more than that.

      • Thanks! I think the stomach/hip thing comes from just not seeing many women in the media who look this way, coupled with struggling to find clothes that fit well over that part of my body. Whether it’s pants that slide down or shirts that ride up, I end up feeling like I can’t dress the way I want to. I’ll figure it out eventually. :)

  • The self-portrait is a long-standing and noble tradition. Rembrandt did it, Van Gough did it, Frida Kahlo did it, and I don’t believe any of them did it just to show off their shiny new toys o’ privilege.

    Selfies are modern, populist, self-portraiture, and as such may – indeed, should – be used to say what the artist/sitter wants to say rather than what one self-proclaimed social critic thinks they should.

    All of which is a more elegant way of saying, ‘lady, behold these middle fingers and twirl for about a thousand years.’

    • Notice that it focuses on selfies of women. I suspect it is a way of shutting down women and ‘keeping them in their place’. I know it was a privileged etc white woman saying it, but I think she was reacting with her training of ‘women should keep quite and not draw attention to themselves’. I still struggle to put myself forward because of this training and I suppose if I weren’t aware of the problem, I might resent other people who were doing it.

      • You know, Linda, I hadn’t really thought about that aspect until you wrote that, but it’s an excellent point. And throughout history, the self-portrait has been a primarily masculine format. In fact, Kahlo was the only woman I could think of off the top of my head who used it often.

  • Hi there,

    I see your point in how selfies are empowering to you, but as you said it took a long time and some personal growth to get to that place.

    Whereas the point of her piece is that a lot of people (especially teenage girls) post selfies in order to see how many likes they get. The more likes = the hotter you are. And they use this as a gauge of their self worth. Her saying it’s a cry for help is referencing how effed up society is that girls think they self worth is measured by this.

    Also is it a bit hypocritical of you pointing out that the author is thin? Is that really relevant?

    • See I was willing to have a discussion with you about the legitimacy of young women seeking cultural approval, and about the way young people pose in photographs shifting through the generations in a way that we that are older don’t always get, and sometimes think of as “silly”.

      But you REALLY fucked up with that last sentence. Shove your thin privilege denying attitude up your arse. Or at least go and educate yourself before you turn up here and call me a hypocrite for pointing out systems of privilege.

  • This post really helped me consider selfies in a different way. I never interrogated my thoughts on them before, but had I tried to articulate them, they probably would have sounded like the Jezebel article. But your post and the others you linked to make such a powerful point about how selfies can help us (and especially those of us who are marginalized) claim visibility.

    In all honesty, your posts have helped me see a lot–including my own privilege–and have encouraged me to check my judgmental tendencies. I really value the writing you do, and how it forces me to see how I’m not always as empathetic and compassionate as I’d like to think!

  • Did anyone find out if those girls were looking to be considered hot? I didn’t read the article, so I’m asking. If so, that’s really a conversation that should take place between the individual girl and her parents/guardians.

  • 1. Lovely article and photos!
    2. I read somewhere that the Venus of Willendorf and similar prehistoric sculptures were selfies by female artists.
    3. All this talk of the selfie tradition in art is inspiring me to try *painting* a selfie (and making it look like a phone pic).
    4. A friend suggested the word “usie” for selfies that include other people.

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