I like positive reinforcement as much as the next lady. We all want to feel attractive and desirable and in this climate of share-everything-you-do-all-the-time, it’s easy to get caught up in the selfie game. I mean, who hasn't taken a dozen photos of themselves, just to post the least ugly one on Instagram and pretend like our at-home look is fresh-faced in booty shorts instead of makeup-under-the-eyes in XXXL wine and pizza stained t-shirt and no-elastic, hold-em-up-by-hand sweatpants?
And because we’re dealing in a currency of “likes” in social media networks, you can’t simply post a sexy selfie without the intention or hope that it will be publicly appreciated. Imagine if that photo you spent an hour posing for in your sports bra, just to get the most perfect, “natural” shot, just hung out there on the internet, like-free? Embarrassing, right? Does everyone think you’re ugly? Cries all around.
So it isn’t only the desire to look hot instead of gross, but it’s the desire for others to tell us how hot we look. “If you look hot in the forest and no one takes a photo and puts it on the internet and calls you a #babe, is there any point in looking hot?” is the age old philosophical quandary, I think.
Let's not pretend that most of us aren't a little vain. Let's also not pretend that women, in particular, aren't socialized to believe that their main thing is to look attractive. I'm not here to chastise the thousands of girls and women who spend an inordinate amount of time taking flattering, sexy selfies. (Hey, even I know how to get the perfect shot of my ass.)
What I'm saying is directed primarily at men and it’s this: So you see a shot of a girl sexy-posing on the beach or in her “workout” outfit. (OH PLEASE, do you really need to document your exercising? And also, OH PLEASE, no one looks good when they’re actually exercising. Give it a rest.) Maybe you legit appreciate the perkiness of her boobs or maybe you just think you're being nice by giving her a compliment and helping her to avoid the traumatic humiliation that is an unliked selfie.
But before clicking that little heart button, I want you to ask yourself this question: What's the message you're sending to this woman and the world around you with your seemingly innocent “like?”
This small action has a bigger impact than you might think.
Women learn, from the time they are children, that being pretty is the most important thing they should be. Little girls are complimented on their hair and their outfits and little boys are praised for what they do. “Don’t you look pretty!” sends a much different message than “What a strong/fast/smart boy you are!” As we become teenagers, we learn that men look at us and we learn that being looked at is a compliment -- that this means we are attractive and desirable -- and that being desired by men is our primary role as women.
If you look at the ratio of photos posted on Instagram of women trying to look sexy posing in bikinis, underwear, sports bras, etc. to comparable shots of men (or, actually, just photos of men, period), it’s quite astounding. Men simply don’t appear to need the same positive reinforcement that comes from public confirmations of physical desirability. I’m sure you’ll find all sorts of exceptions to this rule but I see a freakin' lot of sexy lady bikini shots in my feed and zero “Just at the beach with my hot sexy bros #beachbody #babes” photos.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to be desired. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look attractive. There IS something wrong with feeling like our most valued quality is our body and that we have to be objectified in order to feel temporarily good about ourselves.
When men, in particular, “like” sexy selfies they are both teaching and reinforcing an already pervasive and damaging rule fed to us through popular culture, advertising, film, capitalism, porn, and just straight-up everyday life as women out in public spaces. That is that our worth comes from being the objects of male desire.
Instead, choose to “like” the photos that are witty, interesting, smart, stupid, or that include puppy dogs and donuts. We should be encouraging girls and women to be interesting/ethical/smart/funny human beings -- not American Apparel models.
At the end of the day, any self-confidence gained from male "likes" on our sexy Instagram selfies will inevitably turn into insecurity. That kind of confidence is temporary and relies on something we have very little control over. Youth and beauty are fleeting, and women’s (learned) obsession with our appearances has led us not to love our bodies, but to hate them -- to continually look for flaws, to compare ourselves to other thinner, younger, more beautiful women (and there will always be thinner, younger, more beautiful women) and to feel like we’re never good enough.
I'm putting the onus on men for this one: Don't encourage women to seek your approval by objectifying themselves. Unfortunately men have a lot of the power in the selfie trade. (And don’t front like you post sexy selfies for yourself, ok?) They are buying what women are selling, though the currency is “likes,” not cash. So I’m offering men an easy way to use their power for good. Not only that, but seeing some girl’s thong pop up in my feed all like “doug_man1 liked caseybabyxx’s photo” makes you look like a creep.