The popular feminist website Jezebel recently ran an article that claimed that selfies, pictures that people take of themselves and generally put on social media sites, are “a cry for help.” I won’t expend any more of my energy describing the rest of the article, because I think we’ve all given Jezebel enough. I will say this, though: it was written in response to a popular strain of feminist conversation on the Internet, in which selfies are posed as a radical act of self-love.
I know this sounds intense for a sentence that contains the word “selfie.” Let’s make it intense, though. Let’s come at the selfie trend (not that we haven’t all been doing this since the age of Myspace mirror pics) from a different angle. Jezebel’s idea of it is essentially a bunch of young women caught up in a culture of enforced beauty who are desperate for compliments that will validate their existence, which is just charming. I refuse to believe that women don’t realize what they’re doing when they post pictures of themselves on the Internet, as if we’re not all self-aware enough to know that we’re being sold an idea of what we’re supposed to look like. I’ve never met a woman or a girl who wasn’t aware of this.
To change up the game, though. Let’s start here: taking pictures of yourself is a way to take your image into your own hands. Not only does this increase self-awareness, but it allows you to explore your own conceptions of what beauty is when you’re the one controlling it. Taking time to figure out what makes you feel good about how you look isn’t vain. It’s powerful, even if that involves makeup or every single Instagram filter, one on top of the other. This is particularly true for marginalized people who have less opportunities to feel traditionally pretty, people with bodies that don’t fit easily in the mainstream but fit perfectly in a camera lens.
Now, let’s make it less intense. Sometimes, you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and you just look awesome. You’re having a great hair day, your skin is glowing and you feel great about yourself. You are one flawless son of a gun, so you take a picture and tweet it out for the world to see, because why not? You actually like yourself, and that’s amazing.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. You wake up in the morning, and you just look absolutely terrible. You spend the whole day feeling gross because the way you look doesn’t fit who you want to be in your head. So, you get home and you fix your hair and cover your face in makeup and take approximately 600 selfies. It doesn’t change who you are, but if it makes you feel better, then you shouldn’t be discouraged from doing it.
Would it be ideal to live in a world where looks didn’t matter at all? Yeah. Do we live in that society? Not even close. If you want to protest that by boycotting the cosmetic industry and trying to spread a message of self-love that has nothing to do with looks, then, by God, you do that. But you can’t make people love themselves if you make them feel shallow by doing one of the acts that already helps them. If you see someone taking or posting pictures of themselves and your first reaction is to call them desperate, to act like they’re holding back some kind of revolutionary change, then you’re definitely not a part of the solution.
Are selfies completely free of issues? Of course not, but demonizing them to the extent that many people do in daily discourse is not the solution. If you look cute today and you want to take a picture of yourself and show everyone, do it. You’re a fabulous work of art, and if somebody doesn’t like it, they can unfriend you. You don’t need someone who’ll make you feel lesser for liking your own face. It’s a nice one, and you should show it off as much as you can in whatever mediums you deem appropriate, you beautiful force of nature.