To begin, I want to consolidate the more obvious, surface reasons why I take photographs of myself:
1. I feel attractive in some way and want to record that.
2. Some sort of pivotal moment or experience has occurred, and I want to document it.
3. I’m wearing a new outfit that I want to remember.
4. I’m at a loss for anything else to upload to Instagram.
5. I have a vision I want to fulfill photographically—y’know, just art stuff—and I am my
most available model.
At the crux of my selfie habit is a need to solidify myself in time, and ultimately, the desire for people to know I exist.
This still from Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film Daisies comes to mind. Instead of marching down the street shouting “We exist! We exist!,” we have social media, where we can remind our peers of our being. We can also remind ourselves.
A psychologist once taught me a couple methods for combatting my anxiety. One was to clasp my hands together to assure myself of the permanence of my physical self, which I wasn’t keen on at first. Despite it making me look like an old lady politely riding a tram, though, it has been and continues to be helpful in solidifying and grounding me in my body. It’s a small gesture that comforts me, allowing me to focus on my own warmth and presence, rather than my spiraling thoughts.
Sharing a selfie has a similar effect—it’s calming and helpful to my thoughts because it presents a simplistic vision of me in front of my eyes, a vision that I can comprehend and feel control over. It’s like shouting “I exist! I exist!” to anyone who generously chose to have me on their Instagram feeds.
The typical negative reaction to the selfie tends to begin with the flawed notion that openly liking the way you look is a bad thing. And that taking and sharing a selfie, and being aware of your own hotness, immediately makes a person “not as hot.” (See: “You don’t know you’re beautiful/that’s what makes you beautiful.”)
The selfie also is dismissed as a way to seek attention or validation. In “real life,” it’s often presumed that girls are seeking validation/attention from boys. In that way, it makes sense why young girls who share a plethora of selfies are criticized for it—because many of the people criticizing them are used to providing the validation, not watching them get it elsewhere.
There’s a huge wave of women ready to lift each other up through the appreciation of each other’s self-portraits. Rarely do I feel more cushioned by my girlfriends than when I post a selfie. Some I know in real life, and some I only know online, but I have formed mutual relationships with them based on positivity and validation.
When I was 15, maybe, I had this friend from Pony Club who’d just gotten a new phone—a pink Motorola Razr flip phone, one of the first phones with decent camera capabilities. As she showed off her new prized possession to me, I noticed her background was set to a photo she’d taken, you know—of herself. Back then, this struck me as strange, and as something you just, like, DON’T DO. Now I see her as a bit of a self-esteem hero: She looked hot, and she knew it, and it made her feel good to see that picture of herself looking hot on her background when she coolly flipped open her Razr. When I ask myself now what the hell is wrong with that, the answer is a resounding NOTHING.
Since then, I have shared many selfies online—which has eliminated any mystique I may ever have possessed, dismissed me as a “serious artist” in the eyes of some people, and made my occasionally low self-esteem and need for validation very apparent to a large number of people—and I will continue to campaign for the destigmatization of the selfie by taking and sharing many, many more.
Selfies are about reminding the world and ourselves of our physicality. They are unapologetic symbols of power, which is why they come up against so much criticism. They scream “WE EXIST,” and allow us each to leave our own, exceptionally attractive, and heavily curated legacy. ♦