Friday, November 22, 2013


A day later than everyone else, I just finished reading Erin Gloria Ryan's Jezebel piece on selfies.

While I understand her skepticism, as someone who wishes to one day have gain and maintain a following partly through promotions, I recognize selfies as part and parcel of having a public persona.

There is an unfortunate tendency for women doing self-focused or self-promotional activities to be labeled as shallow or bitchy. Women aren't the only ones using the internet as a promotional tool. And they are far from the only people doing it excessively. Part of me agrees that self promotion in general on the internet has gotten out of hand. But really, what do you get when you pump your youth with confidence, college education, and then stick them in an environment where there's not enough jobs for us all. 

Ryan says:
Retaking a photo 12 times until your chin looks right is in no way analogous to asking your boss for a raise.
You know what? I am my own boss, and sometimes when I feature at events a good photo means a little bit more cash at the end of the night. But really? So few of my immediate friends are in positions where they can even consider asking for a raise. We're not not asking for that raise because we lack the stones, we know the money ain't there. Nobody is fucking promoting us. So we got bored and started doing it ourselves.

If the reckless abandon of self promotion is really such a big problem why not go to the root of it? Why not ask harder questions about why young people feel so driven to turn so much of their lives into self-promotional efforts? Really, selfies are not the problem here.

I personally, rarely take selfies. I usually get bored 5 shots in when I realize it's hard to take a flattering photo of myself. But when I do, it's not just because I want people to like me (I do), but sometimes, it's the best way for people to know more about me. And it can help me promote my work. I am a writer and I am hard-pressed to admit it but sometimes a photo demonstrates what my words just can't. This is excruciatingly clear today, 22 days into this blogging project and I want to quit.

Text reads:
Today I'm struggling to get out of the house.
Today I am struggling to get to finish a sentence.
Today it seems even making a list isn't easy.
Today I am sick,
but I don't know if I am sick because I'm stuck in the house,
or if I am stuck in the house because I am sick.
I've written 2,000 words today & not a jot of them and good at all.
But I keep going. And today part of my keeping going is showing you how I feel.

tired and a twinge disillusioned
Yes this is a pretty picture, but being pretty is not the point (for me). This photo is honest and speaks about me, my mood, and my tastes. But it took me about 10 failed pictured to get to even this one overexposed, smudgy-mirrored, ghost-chin-y picture. 

To me the selfie provides a really good metaphor for the fact that most of the time when we try to represent ourselves or our ideas to other humans, we fail the first 10 times at least.  A calculatingly shot selfie is no more or less artificial than the first 'ugly' frame shot and discarded. It just feels closer to true for the person taking and sharing the selfie. (just like the 1,600 words I wrote before this).

Unfortunately truth and beauty are culturally linked in our brains. I'm all for divesting truth from the oppressive concept of beauty, I believe we can all be more than just hunger for beauty and approval. But more immediately than that, I want to respect the truth that someone is choosing to share with me when they post a selfie.

Yes the people who take selfies often do replicate narrow oppressive beauty ideals. Yes those ideals and the way they are taught and enforced are fucked up. But this issue is bigger than selfies. Calling people who attended to their appearance and are complicit in beauty culture "shallow" is needlessly divisive (and I say this as a plaid wearing, make-up rookie). 

The markers of beauty culture are not the root of issue. A thin person is not personally at fault for a fatter person's insecurity. One person's beautiful selfie isn't what's going to make someone else feel insecure. That insecurity comes from the learned habit of comparison and self-sabatoging criticism that we teach everyone (but especially girls when it comes to appearance). Through selfies, we are only seeing a symptom.

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