Selfies, Feminism, and Women’s Bodies

I found out recently that selfies are a tool of the patriarchy to control me. It was news to me since I thought they were, you know, just a self-portrait like humans have been creating for ages, but requiring much less talent.

Self portrat of feminist selfie

But Erin Gloria Ryan was there to set me straight with her Jezebel article on the ‘cry for help’ that selfies really are.

Selfies aren’t empowering; they’re a high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.

Until I read that, I had no idea that selfies were so different from other photographs! I was horrified to realize that they weren’t just another way of commemorating my life and devastated to find out that they were a misogynistic plot to dehumanize me.

What is it about them that makes them such an insidious weapon of oppression?

Erin explained it in a single sentence, and after you read it, I think you’ll feel as silly as I did at how obvious the truth is.

They’re literally just pictures of a woman’s face not talking.

Okay, so maybe not so obvious right away. But since I don’t know of any pictures that talk, I have to assume that the problem is the presence of just a woman’s face. I’ve apparently been naïve in assuming that pictures of women’s faces aren’t any different from pictures of men or even of groups, but Erin points out that they’re obviously a cry for affirmation.

It’s so embarrassing to have my motives exposed like that on the Internet for everyone to see before I even knew them myself. I’m tempted to doubt that I’m driven by insecurity, but she’s clear that there is rarely ever another reason for posting a selfie . . . except for when there is another reason.

She admits (under the self-proclaimed fear of death) that the Marines who showed off their trigger skills with a camera after completing training weren’t taking patriarchal selfies. They were inspiring to anyone who doesn’t have a death wish.

But such non-patriarchal selfies are as rare as the threat of death from Marines with hurt feelings.

If selfies were typically jubilant post-achievement photos snapped by women proud of what they’d accomplished, then Simmons’ assertion that selfies are ‘tiny pulse(s) of girl pride’ would be apt. But the typical selfie is not taken by women who have just completed Iron Man Triathlons or finally finished reading Infinite Jest (caption: Me N DFW 4 eva! XOXO #blessed #reading #smart #rip); selfies don’t typically contain job offer letters, successful grant applications, their face in front of a gorgeously rendered still life the woman drew by hand.

A week thumb's up following the GRE. Guess it's a good thing my face wasn't showing so that people know it was a picture based on my achievements and not a cry for affirmation about how pretty I am.

A weak thumb’s up following the GRE. Guess it’s a good thing my face wasn’t showing so that people know it was a picture based on my achievements and not a cry for affirmation about how pretty I am.

It’s good to know that I can post a selfie if I took it after doing something impressive . . . because self-worth shouldn’t be appearance-based, just performance-based. Unfortunately, I’ll have to readjust my perspective on self-esteem, because I was under the totally ridiculous assumption that everyone has inherent worth and deserves to love themselves as they are, regardless of their appearance or accomplishments.

Erin goes on to list one other exception:

Some women I follow on Instagram, for example, post pictures of themselves wearing cool sunglasses or lipstick or hats, which I feel is not technically a selfie because the point of a pure selfie is “HERE’S MY FACE” and not “here’s a cool hat/lipstick shade/pair of sunglasses.”

Take note, women, this one is important. Taking pictures of yourself is totally patriarchal and oppressive, but taking pictures of yourself to show off another object—now that’s feminine power!

Advertisers had it right all along! Here we see an acceptable, empowering version of a woman's face from Dolce and Gabana. Note that the empowering part comes from the fact that, even though she's not talking, she's showing off this awesome new lipstick color!

Advertisers had it right all along! Here we see an acceptable, empowering version of a woman’s face from Dolce and Gabbana. Note that the empowering part comes from the fact that, even though she’s not talking, she’s showing off this awesome new lipstick color!

I’m so glad that Erin drew my attention to this issue because I realize that I’ve been completely hoodwinked about the innocence and inconsequentiality of selfies.

Needless to say, I’ve immediately adjusted my approach. I’m deliberately posting more than usual.

This one I took specially for Erin to express my gratitude. I've removed my face since that seems to be the what makes the picture dis-empowering. I hope she likes it. I'd be devastated if she didn't give me the affirmations of my self worth that I so desperately need after posting this picture.

This one I took specially for Erin to express my gratitude. I’ve removed my face since that seems to be the what makes the picture dis-empowering. I hope she likes it. I’d be devastated if she didn’t give me affirmations that I so desperately need after posting this picture.

But as I head into this new body war, flashes blazing, I really want to know, why the FUCK is everyone so intent on erasing women’s bodies?

Patriarchy, religion, modesty culture, and now feminism?!

To quote Erin: “Just stop.”

Stop telling women that their bodies are inconsequential.

Stop telling women that their bodies do not belong to them.

Stop telling women to ignore their bodies.

Stop telling women to dissociate from their bodies.

Stop telling women to be ashamed of their bodies.

STOP!

Even if selfies were a symptom of a negative view of the self (They’re not. And if you think they are, hop over to this post to see what I have to say to that!), shaming women isn’t going to fix the problem. It just adds to the shit-pile of expectations that women are already trying to navigate as it is.

I don’t want a feminist campaign that seeks to fight body-shame and body-objectification by erasing my body. I want a feminist campaign that encourages me to live in my body as a part of myself. I’m sick of the projections and generalizations. I’m sick of the shame. Selfies aren’t a tool of the patriarchy, but body-shaming sure as hell is!

 

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3 thoughts on “Selfies, Feminism, and Women’s Bodies

  1. Anne says:

    I love the snark!
    I also really appreciate what you said about feminism (and everyone else) trying to erase women’s bodies. I know several well-intentioned feminists who overemphasize that women are not their bodies and encourage others to ignore the fact that they have female bodies…. I don’t know if that’s the best way to put it, but I feel that what they do in ignoring the physical aspects of womanhood detracts from their confidence and pride as women.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I agree. There’s nothing wrong with teaching girls to be more than just bodies, but there is something very sad about teaching girls to divorce themselves from their bodies.

  2. Hit the nail on the head. Well done! It’s ridiculous to assert that a selfie is a tool of the patriarchy. For a start, I’m pretty sure WOMEN invented them… you’re correct about teaching girls to divorce themselves from their bodies. It contributes to things like body dysmorphia, at the most frightening and intense end of the scale, and re-inforces the belief that women are bad because of their bodies. Thanks for posting!

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