Recently, a man remarked to me, not in an unkind way, that his girlfriend checks herself out in every reflective surface she passes.
"Oh, really?" I replied. "Is she vain or insecure?"
"Kind of both, I think," he said after a beat.
Feel that, sister.
See, I consider myself a pretty good-looking person. Except for when I don't. At those times, I consider myself to be the most unattractive woman ever to have trod the New York streets, a monster upon whom it is literally difficult to fix your eyes. I have that bungee cord, high-low self-esteem -- I'm either everything or nothing, and I make my way through the cycle multiple times in a day.
Subway ride to work, freshly made up, feeling fly! Mirrored wall in bad elevator light on the way up to the office, I DISGUST MYSELF. Up and down and up and down all day long because I'm missing that important internal anchor of an inherent sense of self-worth.
(It's the same reason the comments section fucks with me so badly. Someone says I'm great, I feel great! Someone says I'm horrible, I feel horrible. There is nothing solid in here.)
For someone like me, behaviors that can be read as vanity are often actually markers of insecurity. In particularly dysmorphic times, I'm checking myself out in every reflective surface to make sure that I am OK, to remind myself that I have not, in the last few minutes, become hideous to look upon, that the proportions of my body are still of the general size and shape favored by humans.
In high school, it was constant vigilance for the hair out of place, the smeared eyeliner, each its own brick in the wall of my eternal self-consciousness. After I lost 100 pounds in college, I would sometimes have to bolt for the bathroom in the middle of class just to check that I hadn't somehow instantaneously regained it all.
Mirrors told a truer truth than the voices inside my head.
In some way, the selfie serves the same function for me today. The iPhone is the new bathroom mirror, at least judging by how many of my friends use it to apply their lipstick. When I briefly had blond hair and felt insecure about it, I took photos of myself constantly, trying to convince myself through photographic evidence that it looked OK. (It wasn't for me in the end.)
On days when I feel defeated by the fact that I've gained 30 pounds in the last year and half my beautiful dresses won't zip up the back, seeing a photo of myself, in this body, in which I like the way I look is incredible therapy. (Alternately, seeing a photo of myself in which I do not like what I look is like soul murder.)
Of course, extreme insecurity is in itself a kind of egomania -- I'm the piece of shit at the center of the universe is the somewhat gross expression I've heard used in recovery groups. And I'll be the first to admit that my Instagram account is 90% photos of my face, breasts and butt because I mostly think those things are nice to look at, at least when I'm in control of the angles.
Most of the time, I post a selfie because I think I look pretty -- today/in this light/in this lipstick/in this outfit.
And that's the part about selfies that seems to make people angry, at least judging by my perception of the zeitgeist that is based on random dudes who tweet things like "Girls, stop posting pictures of yourself!" I always respond, "NEVER, TOO PRETTY." (Like I said, I got that yo-yo self-esteem.)
Women are encouraged to cultivate a pleasing appearance since birth, but never to show satisfaction with their efforts. We're to be always quietly striving without seeming to be, never feeling like we measure up. What makes us beautiful? When we don't know we're beautiful.
Well, in a world where women spend decades just learning to fucking like ourselves, I consider succeeding an accomplishment, not an embarrassment. So I plan to continue posting pictures of myself looking fly to my various social media accounts. And anybody who doesn't like it can kiss my photogenic ass.