Selfies are a product of our generation, bred from the rise of the iPhone. But do they represent something more; the redefining of self image?
As we grow up we’re bombarded with oppressive and contradictory beauty ideals about what to wear, how to look and how to present ourselves. We’re expected to spend hours in front of the mirror getting ready to look effortless and natural. Most importantly your appearance is always for the benefit of others, presumed to be the opposite sex, which is why women get heckled in the street and people believe what you wear makes you responsible if you’re assaulted.
Everywhere we look models pose for us from the covers of magazines, celebrities are snapped by paparazzi, and once you’re old enough to sell your soul to Facebook, you live in constant fear of being tagged in unflattering photos taken in McDonalds at 3am. Our appearance is becoming increasingly important yet we no longer have control over our own self image, instead we’re objectified unflatteringly by other people’s cameras and told to suck it up. The only thing worse than not looking conventionally attractive enough, is vanity. The consensus seems to be that our digital portraits are strictly to be taken by others, because taking a selfie is lame and self-centred, right?
Wrong! The selfie is a radical rejection of these stupid oppressive social conventions. The selfie says defiantly ‘This is how I look, and I like it.’ It allows people to choose how they present themselves and define who they are. Why should we be at the mercy of other people’s poor photography skills? We live in a social media bubble where everything is inevitably shared, so if you think you look good, then go ahead and document it yourself. The selfie isn’t always about digging for compliments or begging for attention; putting one out there in the first place takes guts, but what’s so wrong in wanting a little bit of appreciation anyway? Compliments are nice.
Selfies can be liberating for the subject and the viewer, the images we see in the media portray such a narrow view of beauty; selfies give a platform to those who defy unrealistic beauty norms presented from another person’s point of view. Besides, it’s not even always about how you look, a selfie is a way of documenting a cool trip you’ve been on or person you met, and who else is going to take a photo for your scrapbook? Selfies can be a form of artistic self expression, self-portraiture is a classic art form and are you gonna tell Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo off for their selfies? I don’t think so.
Why are selfies a bad thing? Because no one cares. No one cares about you, sat there, pulling your best duckface, wearing a beanie and holding a starbucks with your name written on it in pen. If seeing your own face frozen in LCD splendour on your smart phone screen is that important to you, then fine. But when you chirpily post it on facebook, that’s an admission, however implicit, that you think other people want to see it. Believe me when I say they don’t.
So this is a bit of a generalisation. There are two ways you can go with a selfie. The first is to be totally candid, to put a picture you’ve taken of yourself on social media because you like the way you look in it. When you see a nice picture of yourself it makes you feel good; that maybe you aren’t utterly repulsive to every sense after all. And then if other people ‘like’ it on Facebook, you feel good again, because that is them saying you look nice and everyone could use a bit more of that.
What I object to is taking a selfie and then trying very hard to pretend you’ve taken it for some other completely arbitrary reason. Case in point; a fellow I have on my Facebook who I shan’t name posts loads of pictures of himself, that he’s taken. Usually he’s scantily clad and he’s actually rather good looking so I am loathe to stop him. But what really ticks me off is how far that man will go to pretending he isn’t posting a picture of himself gurning with his shirt off because he wants people to acknowledge that. Often the adjoining caption will be something like, ‘Love this vase’, or ‘This mirror is lush’, or ‘Oh look at that, my shirt fell off, and my camera suffered a software failure and took a picture of me looking hot with a sepia-tone filter LOL.’ And don’t get me started on the hashtags. #noonecaressostopphotographingit
Selfies are interesting, culturally speaking. Apple knew what they were doing when they put a camera on the iPhone’s front casing. On the one hand it’s just a totally legit means of self-gratification for a generation with no esteem. On the other, it’s a sharp demonstration of millenial vanity and simple pettiness.