I have been posing in front of cameras since I was a young one. Mostly for myself, but gradually for others. I don’t remember if Photo Booth or Best Buy digital cameras came first — but it was born of the impulse to see how I could look in different lightings and angles. The internet, cell phones, and social media grew and expanded as rapidly as I did every year of my childhood. I adapted with it and tried out new ways to represent myself. I’m not sure if it made me love being a subject, or made me discover my love for being a subject that was already there... I can’t separate the socialization of performing femininity from the personal exploration, but this my take on why is that is okay.
When front facing cameras came into development by reason of entering a new era, young people gained more creative control than ever. From then to now, selfies help us experience and celebrate our physical form. We can be as wild, improvised, unplanned, and creative as we want to be. They are intimate, beautiful, and empowering.
For some, being in front of a camera is something they’d never get the chance to explore or overcome if it weren’t for their private selfie camera. At first they may feel awkward; however, soon some may realize that there’s a great sense of play to be found with oneself. It makes that feeling of using your physical form as a visual creative outlet more accessible to more people.
I wonder: Why is there a common initial association of vanity and self obsession around this? Why is it automatically a threat to see people loving themselves?
Calling vanity on someone to minimize their creativity and glow is not new. Women (/not cis-men) have long lived in the space between being encouraged to perform femininity but not be feel self satisfaction because of that. Famous art critic and writer John Berger comes to mind for his words addressing western nude paintings of women, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her,” wrote Berger, “Put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting ‘Vanity,’ thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.” - (you can checkout more expanded thoughts on Berger in i-D articles here)
When we criticize, are we considering that we live in a society that tells us we’re not complete in every way? I know for me and my friends, we have carried the weight of incompletion our whole lives. It is often an inner war to tell your insecurities to fuck off and celebrate yourself. It’s major that we have a tool to celebrate ourselves in an instant that lives in our pocket.
All justifications aside, what if a bitch is cocky? Serious question. If society does not want young people to aspire to an appearance-driven lifestyle, then why don’t we teach them to have agency to step in and out of whatever roles they want? Why do we shame the role of being an empowered subject?
People have said to me, “Well, yes but there’s a fine line between self-appreciation and self-obsession.” Even then, in the realm of self obsession (of the physical), I still don’t see the threat. If someone only posts pictures of themselves, it’s ridiculous at worst. As long as they are not hurting people, it is truly none of my business. I know a lot of the times, people who do this are hurting others by participating in an exclusive culture that intentionally performs an unattainable lifestyle, but blaming it on the selfies would be missing the point.
Most importantly, I wonder how many violent egos are we silently letting get away with abuse of all sorts while we obsess over taming the egos of people trying to love themselves? The male ego often doesn’t operate performatively. It is disguised in indifference and lack of accountability. Enduring emotional abuse and gaslighting from this truly drains us of our confidence and direction. It takes a lot of strength to persevere. Posting selfies online is a way of reclaiming yourself after being made to feel invalid.
This concept is too big for this article, but I’ve never felt comfortable to hear people having opinions on how people (usually not cis/het-men) dress or don’t dress, act, dance, etc in relation to their perceived ideas of promiscuity. I don’t want to be in rooms anymore where people are vaguely offended or putting people down who are working it on their social media.
I am not saying that self representation on social media should be equated to living a real and full life outside of it, but when we reduce it to being inherently shallow, we’re glossing over a lot of people’s struggles, mostly that of women/people of color.
I know I owe a lot to selfies and my online representation. Sometimes the selfie in the bathroom at my predominantly white institution was the only honest self expression I had that day. I know my friends and I worked very hard to get where we are, and we don’t let each other forget. We’re constantly affirming each other’s appearance and constantly striving to harness how beautiful we are. Loving myself is a tool to decolonize. Loving myself is how I reclaim my displaced identity. Our physical is not all that matters, but we absolutely need to love the shit out of her/them/him.
You don’t need a reason. Your existence is enough. You don’t need to explain why you deserve to feel good about yourself. You can be a cocky bitch if you want to and I will always celebrate you, celebrating you. If I feel threatened by that, I will take that up with my insecurities (but that’s a whole nother think piece, or ten).
Experimenting with selfies has given me a tangible way to track my progress of self confidence and agency. It helps me to move and flow within that turbulent struggle. Whether or not selfies are your thing, I hope everyone can embrace that being a subject can be empowering and informative.
I will continue to interrogate when I have the impulse to criticize others and myself. I will continue to address the internalized misogyny that tells me we don’t deserve to be dripping in empowerment and self love. I am trying not to be discouraged by the systematic tangled equation that deeply misunderstands this concept. I will continue to try to find the words and concepts that can help us better understand the territory of our own empowerment.