Friday, January 24, 2014
in defense of selfies
(secretly just making this post so i could slip in that selfie)
recently i've noticed a lot of articles floating around social media both for and against selfies, and as a long-time selfie anti-fan i decided to add my voice to the fray. as far as i can determine, selfie detractors generally claim that the surge in self-taken photographs appearing on social media is a sign of the overwhelming vanity and frivolity of today's youth, or that it's a symptom of the commodification of female beauty and indicative of most young women's complicity in their own objectification. i've also heard some people say, stupidly, that taking selfies is a sign that you don't have anyone else to take photos for you.
on the other side, there are the selfie crusaders claiming that criticism of selfie culture is a subjugation of healthy body image and self esteem, an attempt to police and control the ways in which female bodies are publicly presented. many of the people who argue in favour of selfies say that for the first time in forever, girls and women (and presumably everyone else taking selfies) are taking power away from mainstream media images of the ideal body, and showing themselves in what they perceive to be their best light, whether it's with makeup and photoshop or straight out of the shower. essentially, that the normalization of self-taken photos puts control of body image back in the hands of the people most affected by mainstream media images of the ideal body, presenting 'realistic' bodies in public and affirming the validity of many different looks. it's a self esteem exercise, according to some recent proponents of selfies in social media, that allows women to present themselves as they want to be seen and when they want to be seen.
my argument isn't much concerned with either of these viewpoints, though, as i see the validity of both. as with fashion and makeup and any other self image exercise, selfies can both promote complicity with the current system of patriarchal objectification and rebellion against it. instead, i want to support 'selfie' culture for the simple reason that it promotes self expression and honest photographic communication. like breaking the fourth wall in a drama production, taking a selfie removes the mediating third-party gaze of the photographer so that the subject faces the observer directly. when you take a selfie you look directly through the camera at your intended audience (whether that is yourself or your facebook friends or the entire internet). we can talk forever about how vincent van gogh laboured for hours over his autoportraits and what that means about his vanity, but we are missing the important point that he was both the artist and the subject of the art. maybe not all selfies are art but they are all taken by someone who wants to immortalize themselves in a moment - maybe to see themselves as others might see them, maybe to record an event or mood, maybe just because they think their lipstick looks really good. and maybe they just want a photo of a moment they are experiencing all alone - which can be a very empowering thing.
in a society where people are required on a daily basis to spend hours on their appearance just to make themselves socially acceptable, the idea that it's just too vain to immortalize one's appearance is downright silly and insulting. is it vain and silly to take a photo of a loved one, or a beautiful landscape? it says something about critics of selfies that they consider an image of a face, self-taken, to be a sign of vanity. someone who is not shallow themselves recognizes that a face is not just an object for consumption but, quite literally, the most effective communicative tool a person has, the figurative window to the soul. maybe we should be grateful that now, we can open that window to whoever, whenever, without forcing them to look at us through another person's eyes (and lens).