We’ve been talking about selfies for a while now, I know. I thought I might one day be bowled over by movements like #365feministselfie, but my feelings have only intensified. I’m that wet blanket who only begrudgingly ever speaks the word, and I object when people call pictures with more than just themselves in them “selfies.”
I’ve tried to come up with a word I’m more comfortable with, but “us-ies” just sounds wrong, and “groupies” are already a thing, and “self-taken group picture” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. So, with regards to both the name we call them and the phenomenon itself, I just accept that my dissent is in the minority. Here it is anyway:
1. Not every moment needs to be captured and shared in a picture.
Social media is teeming with selfies, and more and more TV shows are featuring them as commercial bumpers or full-blown features in what always feels to me like forced placement of “what the kids are doing” resulting from a producers’ meeting. Talk show guests are now shown on “selfie cams” while waiting to appear, often with cutesy on-camera frames provided by the graphic department.
Fine, that’s showbiz mainstays trying to stay relevant. More insidious to me, however, are the constant selfies I see posted online, the duck-faced images that I often perceive as begging for attention or compliments that have become what’s relevant in the first place.
Many have hypothesized about whether selfies are an indicator of psychosis or an act of defiant individualism, and our country presently stands divided over President Obama’s cunning use of a selfie stick, which I admit rubbed me the wrong way, but which I certainly didn’t think of as the national shame some have painted it as.
What I do think is that social media has made it s0 that anyone can see their pictures in forums once reserved for models, actors, and yes, presidents, and that is exciting to a lot of people. Savvy selfie-ing can become a career unto itself, and even if not done for financial gain, it can provide huge amounts of “likes,” favstars, re-posts, and compliments in mere moments.
To quote Keane, I don’t want to be adored. I crave affection, like any of us, but I’m terribly uncomfortable with compliments that don’t feel earned or achievement-based. I shudder at being complimented for my looks by a stranger online, but complimenting my makeup job or something I’m wearing makes total sense to me — that is a skill or a tangible item and I can process that more easily.
Many of the selfies I see posted are simply someone very close to, almost glaring into, their lens. And for what? I despise purely attention-seeking behavior, and I don’t like to put my image into the world without a distinct point of view, or information, or the intent to entertain. I’ve been performing since I was a child and my first thought is often that so many people seem to selfie with nary a care given to grooming, facial expression, what their surroundings look like, or composition of the image. What’s the use?
2. So many of them are altered anyway.
I’ve stood next to people far more comfortable in selfie culture than I am as they snap a pic and immediately press a bunch of buttons on their phone to alter it before posting it online.
As uncomfortable as I often am with my physical image, I hate filters more. To me, if you’re going to alter a pic, it no longer counts as an image of yourself and becomes instead an artful rendering. Nothing wrong with an artful rendering, of course. I just think it takes it out of the Empowerment category and more into the Look At Me slot.
Kim Kardashian, Selfie Queen, will soon release Selfish, a book of her selfies reportedly topping 350 pages. Yet, both she and the Queen B Beyoncé employ Photoshop artists, and sometimes that work is unfortunately evident in the posted picture. Why bother? Just post properly Photoshopped pictures and call it what it is: a photo shoot with professional work done.
This is, of course, a slippery slope. In my opinion, an unaltered selfie taken under professional-quality lighting with a professional-level hair and makeup job could be described the same way. I want to get on board with the selfie-as-empowerment angle, but with so many shenanigans going on, it’s hard to tell what’s what.
I’m a huge fan of shenanigans, by the way. I’m just upfront about it, and I tend to have an all-or-nothing mentality. I’ll post a pic and tell you how many tracks I added to my hair or mock my “casual candid” if I’m obviously in full hair and makeup. I’ve also posted completely bare-faced pictures; the whole thing is so unpleasant to me that makeup isn’t a deal-breaker.
Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” video comes to mind. The song and video intend to convey a needed message about self-love, but to me, (ostensibly the ideal audience for the video, which features traditional markers of beauty in a pageant setting contrasted with things we do the get there), it only goes halfway.
As with anything else, I accept that my perception is skewed by my personal experience with things in the video, but it feels like if you’re gonna “go there,” really go there, or don’t bother. If you’re gonna post a picture of yourself online in which you’re casually holding your phone up that’s actually been through nearly as much post-production work as a magazine cover, why bother?
These days, lots of non-celebs are joining Kim K. and Beyoncé in altering pics that are then presented as though they “woke up like this.” I don’t mind Photoshop use at all, only when it presents a detrimentally misleading image, which is, of course, subjective. I just don’t like inauthenticity presented as intimacy.
Yet again I’ll reveal myself to be a grumpy cultural dinosaur; the omnipresence of selfies has also changed what we think of as a picture. Just as language is suffering by being chopped into ever tinier bits for easy digital consumption, we’re now used to and craving those bizarre selfie angles and framing, like in Ellen DeGeneres’ famous group shot that actually did break the internet during last year’s Oscars.
I would rather see a picture taken in a beautiful ray of sunlight than one taken in your bathroom with a sunlight filter slapped on it, even if that means posting fewer pics while you either seek out or wait for a beautiful ray of light.
3. I’m jealous.
I grew up in makeup and heels and workplaces with professional lighting, and it’s jarring to watch the world’s aesthetic shift so far from that. When I’ve privately moaned about this, some people tell me to check my “pretty privilege;” that not everyone looks like me or whatever. That’s not at all what this is about.
I’m not going to bother to link to my past xoJane articles here where I mention my low self-esteem regarding my looks and body because there are almost too many to mention. I’m upfront about it and I’ve come a long way with it, but I’m still working on it.
While items one and two above are true, I’m also honest enough with myself to say that the hideous undercurrent of my hatred of selfies is that I wish I could feel good about mine the way other people seem to. It’s hard enough for me to look at a picture that someone else took without seeing pure flaws, but to be the one taking the picture and then choosing to share that feels insurmountable at times.
As a performer, I’m used to being in character, and I’m fine with pictures in that context. I modeled for a teensy time in my youth, and though I’m not cut out for it, I could bear with it because it’s work. Snap away when I’m working, and then let me be my intimate, fully exposed self in private and in person with my loved ones.
There’s now a new, third ocean swirling between public and private life, and I have trouble navigating it. I’ve been told flat-out by industry folks that I need to post more selfies. I’m roundly mocked and shunned for not using Instagram (yet — I fear I may cave soon). I’ve even repeatedly asked my dear xoJane editors to let me use random landscape pics or pictures of objects with my stories instead of myself.
People don’t seem to understand how uncomfortable it is for me to publicly share pictures of just me. But even my language there betrays my aggression, because the root is that I often think of myself as “just” me in a negative sense; that I am not enough. Not enough to be seen and liked just as I am.
These emotions are ugly, but they’re real and they’re mine and I have to call them out by name before I can truly change them. Setting the Kardashian–esque ones aside for a moment, I see a subset of selfie culture that is truly changing the world, and I envy what looks like freedom.
The selfies that read as authentic to me are putting faces to the immeasurable range of human beauty beyond the tiny sliver the mainstream tells us is beautiful. When I can cut through my struggles, I actually can see, in so many selfies, the revolutionary act of self-love that’s so hard for me to fully embrace. When my years of programming cause me to respond negatively to seeing a pic with “nary a care given to grooming,” as I haughtily said above, I’m training myself to truly feel that grooming probably matters less than I was taught.
I’ve made a concerted effort to post more selfies. I swore them off for a while, on the basic premise that I’m a grown-ass woman and I don’t have to do something I don’t like. I certainly don’t need to “be like the cool kids,” and I don’t crave increased attention in that way. However, as cranky and curmudgeonly as I am about it, it’s that throbbing cavity of low self-esteem that needs to be repaired, however much the process itself hurts.
I’m excellent at grooming; it’s self-love I need to get better at. Selfie away, kids. You are beautiful. I’ll try to catch up.