I can't even remember when I started taking selfies. It was probably when we lived in CA. I remember getting my hair colored and sending a photo to my sisters. There was no editing option. I think I had to actually flip my phone around, take the picture and hope for the best.
Ah...how times have changed.
I have an iPhone 6 now - one of the enormous ones. It's not even the latest and greatest, and I can crop pics, run them through filters and certainly take a picture without turning the phone around.
I have social media accounts now, too, that allow me to post pictures of myself and anything else I find amusing for the world to see.
It's not about sending my sisters a picture of my new hair color anymore.
It's about giving the world the best version of myself, even if that version is buffed and whittled and only an interpretation of my reality.
A few years ago, I stopped taking so many selfies. This happened for two reasons:
1. I found myself more often depressed by what I saw on the camera than I had in the years before. I began noticing wrinkles, dry skin, age spots, gray hair and thinning eyebrows. I began using more filters. I began cropping and re-taking the photos. It was all a little nightmare of worry, anxiety and self-criticism. Then, once the picture was up on Facebook or IG, it was the inevitable compare/contrast and waiting to hear what people might think, regardless of myself telling myself I didn't care what people might think.
2. I realized nobody cared. Honestly. The only people who truly want a picture of me I can count on one hand. They're my family. And even they don't want daily sweet pics of me.
So, for the most part, I stopped. Occasionally, I'll put a selfie on my blog, but even then, it feels strange, like I'm dipping my toe back into that myopic world of simultaneous self-congratulation and self-criticism, the two feelings too intertwined to be discernible.
I realized that if I have to present the world with a filtered version of myself, something had gone wrong.
I've seen a lot of people argue that selfies are empowering.
Leandra Medine wrote about it over at Man Repeller.
With a huge following on IG, Medine admits to regularly (daily, I believe) posting selfies, which she argues are 'honest and raw even when they're not.'
Here's what Medine writes:
I really like looking at them. I find the digitized self-portraits honest and raw, even when they’re not. They tell a story that is either eminently literal or one that requires a bit of investigation — that demands its viewers look a little deeper than the screen’s depth. Selfies take courage. They require you put yourself out there in a climate that publicly rejects vanity but secretly revels in it. And if not courage, selfies take a sense of self-satisfaction: I’m proud of how I look, one might say, here’s a photo to prove it. Even if pride holds no place: This is how I look, and I’m sharing it. Point blank. When someone posts what I will call a decorative facial selfie, I wonder, What are those sunglasses? That necklace? Those earrings? You are a dream! I don’t just really like looking at selfies, I’m nuts about them.
But...after giving birth and continuing her selfie habit, Medine found the comments on her posts increasingly negative and judgmental. People suggested she get off her phone and spend time with her babies. People began questioning her motives. People seemed to think Medine shouldn't have time for or the desire to post selfies once she became a mother.
Readers, that's a whole other issue.....or is it?
While I don't think motherhood should prohibit a woman from doing anything, least of all taking her own photograph, it does beg the question: if we're taking time to document our lives (or clothing, hair, make-up choices) via social media, what are we not doing with that time?
Are we not talking to our kids?
Are we not reading a book?
Are we not paying attention to the road (I take a lot of selfies while driving or in my car, which I attribute to the better lighting and the feeling that it gives a carefree, I'm on the road and have a life vibe I like to portray)?
Are we not actually eating our food, talking to the person across the table and engaging with our surroundings because we're too busy taking pictures of ourselves, our meals, our latte art and everything else?
And what about that nagging feeling that posting selfies is desperate, attention-seeking behavior?
An article over at Everyday Feminism argues selfies are empowering and reflect self-love rather than desperation.
Writer Erin Tatum argues, "Selfies challenge the idea that you need a justification to be seen. You’re announcing that you exist in the world and are going about your day."
She goes on to argue that selfies can reshape the way we view ourselves (via these filters, lighting and angles) in a positive way, and she writes, "I might put on nicer clothes or do my hair, but it’s also about the psychological benefits of working through your insecurities. I look good and I know it. Your telling me I look good is going to make me feel even better."
It's hard for me to even copy/paste that last sentence and not cringe, particularly as it's written on a blog (magazine) about feminism.
When did someone else's opinion about us (especially when the 'us' they're commenting on is distorted and unrealistic) become a way to feel better about ourselves? Isn't that a precarious foundation upon which to base our self-esteem? And even if it's not the foundation, per se, do we want it to really have any impact at all?
Also, why are women significantly more likely to take selfies than men? Is this female empowerment or attention-seeking behavior in a culture already biased towards a woman's physical appearance rather than her intellectual contribution?
As I write this, it's clear where I stand in the selfie debate.
I don't think taking, editing and posting pictures of oneself is the highway to enlightenment, empowerment or mental wellbeing some argue it is. I don't even say that with the possibility I'm wrong and perhaps don't 'see the light.' I say it with conviction.
According to the Child Mind Institute:
Curation of a perfect image may not only make others feel inadequate, it’s unhealthy even for those who appear to be successful at it, notes Dr. Bubrick. “Kids spend so much time on social media trying to post what they think the world will think is a perfect life. Look at how happy I am! Look how beautiful I am! Without that they’re worried that their friends won’t accept them. They’re afraid of being rejected.” And if they are getting positive feedback from their social media accounts, they might worry that what their friends like isn’t the “real” them.
I think these effects extend beyond teenage years and childhood. Though adults are a bit savvier when it comes to social media, and at least we can perhaps more readily acknowledge the unreality of this virtual reality, I think there is a level at which we're all affected.
And I think our own distorted image is where it begins.
When I see my pictures online, filtered and buffed and cropped and edited, and then I look at myself in the mirror, I can't help but think the real-life version is a little less-than - a little duller, rougher, less appealing.
And then I think:
Why am I even thinking about any of this at all?
There are real problems in the world. There are real people doing real things and real people hurting, rejoicing, engaging and working really hard to change circumstances, send kids to school, buy food and generally survive.
And I'm worried that my eyebrows are thinning?
So, there it is. How do I want to spend my time? How do I want to engage my intellect?
Or, perhaps the better question is: how and where do I want to invest?
I realize I've gotten a little stroppy here. The soapbox is slippery, to be sure. I'm not a huge fan of blog rants in general, and I realize that one has gone down that dangerous road.
Perhaps the issue of selfies takes a sharp turn at middle-age, when what we see reflected back isn't society's ideal any longer. Maybe I'm just grumpy and becoming set in my ways.
Or maybe we all need to turn the cameras off, put down the phones, log out of social media a bit and live life unfiltered, unedited, no glossing over or retakes or proper lighting.
And yes, I realize that now if I ever post another selfie, I'm going to be taken to task.
It's so hard to live the dichotomy.
In other news, I've started a new book, am planning our summer calendar like a woman whose kids are out of school next week and found another wine I like.