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.


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!


Authentic Movement: A Lesson in Following my Heart

This past weekend, I went to my first herbal conference, though hopefully not my last because it was a ton of fun. While I was there I decided to attend a class about working with plant allies. I’d developed an unusual bond with catnip over the last year, and I wanted to see if I could find a way to understand what made it particularly special to me.

I didn’t pay attention to the class title until I got there: “Authentic movement.”

For those who are equally unfamiliar with this type of movement, the best way I can describe it is movement meditation that involves going into a trance-like state in order to listen to your body’s urges (hence the “authentic part”…you only move when your body wants to). Since this class was focused on plant allies, it started with inviting the plant of your choice to accompany you on this mental journey.

I’m definitely not opposed to meditation or trances, and I’ve had my fair share of “visions” and revelations during meditation. But when I heard what was about to happen, my first thought was, “Oh hell no!”

I couldn’t imagine doing that in front of people, not just because it sounded potentially embarrassing but also because my experience with spiritual vulnerability has taught me to never let my guard down around others. When it came to spiritual groups, I lived by the motto: Never let anyone get you into a state of anything less than guarded.

However, I allowed myself to linger when the teacher explained that we’d all have our eyes closed during the exercise (no one would know I looked like a fool) and that her job was to create and hold safe space for us in our process.

I was still thinking I wouldn’t be comfortable doing anything, but at the very least, I figured I could learn what it was about and take it home with me if I really needed to be alone to feel safe.

To my utter surprise, I didn’t sit in the grass, hugging my knees to my chest the whole time. Not too long after she rang the meditation bells signaling the start of the exercise, I found myself releasing into my traditional meditative safe space. Part of me prowled the perimeter of my mind like a tiger, ready to pounce if I felt even the slightest hint of invasion or danger, but I slowly surrendered the rest of me to the movement.

Since visions are intensely personal, I won’t share what came to light in my soul here. However, I did want to talk about some of the secondary lessons I learned from participating in this class and stepping out of my comfort zone.

The first, and perhaps most obvious lesson, was the importance of listening to my body. As awkward as the idea of authentic movement sounded when I started, I realized later that it was nothing more than an exercise in intuition.

There will always be a cognitive, logical side to decision-making, and we hear about how to strengthen that aspect of our mind all the time. But there is also an intuitive side to decision making that we rarely talk about as a society. How do you know that you just applied for the right job? How do you know that this particular car or house is the one for you? How do you determine when it’s time to re-enter school? Or when it’s time to leave?

Sometimes, the logical side and the intuitive side coincide well, and the decision is easy. Other times, they clash, and what might seem like the best move to outsiders feels like the wrong move to you. Do you listen to your mind or your heart at those times?

Can you even tell the difference between your heart and your mind during those times?

Intuition was distrusted in the IFB. I was taught to fear and suppress it, yet I often found it to be my most accurate guide. Looking back with the awareness that comes not only with time but also with healing and distance from the brainwashing, I can see how my intuition protected me and led me, first in the small ways that informed me when people couldn’t be trusted with my truth, then in bigger ways when it led me out of the IFB even before I fully realized the magnitude of what I had left. Right now, I’m just beginning to grasp the depth of my intuition in protecting myself from my own truth until I could handle it.

However, my skill in listening and recognizing my intuition has been sketchy. I don’t always understand the subtle cues or hear the early warning signs. I can talk myself out of my feelings or deliberately ignore them in the effort to follow another’s expectations.

But the authentic movement showed me what it could be like to practice actually listening to myself. Rather than following someone else’s guided meditation or sitting still trying to empty my mind of useless thoughts, I can block out the outside world and go deep, deep into myself until my own impulse is all I can hear, see, feel, and understand.

The implications of this for my personal practice and life are exciting, to say the least, but I can’t help but also think about the implications for healing within a psychological setting. For anyone who has ever had their autonomy violated or their personhood crushed, I see tremendous possibilities for empowerment and reclamation through authentic movement.

Of course, in order for authentic movement to work, safe space is absolutely essential, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next week for that part of my revelation. My body is telling me it needs to repay the sleep debt it acquired over this magical weekend!

Uterus, Vagina, and Vulva! Oh My Yoni Party!

For the most part, last year I went on a mission to find and celebrate holidays that weren’t tied to my Christian past. However, as the year came back around, I found myself feeling bored with the idea of choosing between Imbolc or Valentine’s Day—neither of which hold much allure for me.

I had also become aware during the last couple of months that my understanding of the female body was severely lacking. Although my introduction to menstruation was certainly better than some, I wouldn’t say that it was the best time of my life. My sex education was almost non-existent. And my anatomy—well let’s just say that my aversion to tampons for the first five years of menstruating stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know where they went.

Obviously, I’ve gained a bit more knowledge about “the facts of life,” but my knowledge still has significant gaps. When I heard about some people who have vagina parties for girls in honor of their first period, I fell in love with the idea. I may be well beyond my first period, but I wanted to have that celebration. I decided that, in honor of a different V-day, this month I would educate myself on my body and host my own version of a yoni celebration.

This post is as much a chronicle of my journey as it is a review of products and a how-to place for others who may feel inspired to honor their bodies in a similar way.

I draw quite a bit of inspiration for my own emotional and psychological cycles from Goddess stories which often place a huge emphasis on the sexual maturation of the Goddess, so right from the start I felt it important to take a spiritual as well as secular approach to my preparation for this holiday I was creating.

I started by writing an ode to my vagina . . . which grew into an ode to the whole feminine system within me. I’ll admit that it was awkward at first trying to find ways to praise my breasts, womb, and vagina, but I’ll never be able to describe how affirming it was to verbally acknowledge the importance of those parts of me to the whole me—that these were parts that were there for me, not just as decoration for sexual partners or as nurturing tools for potential offspring. I had never realized how detached I was from my reproductive system until I went through the process of claiming it as an integral part of me.  And although I don’t want children, I gained a new appreciation for the uterus as a place of creation, not just procreation.

My burst of creativity carried over into other forms of art, starting with a crayon illustration of the Goddess Innana, along with the symbols of her awakening, the snake and tree (yes, they do resemble the Genesis account of the fall of man, but ironically the story of Innana, which views the snake and fruit as symbols of spirituality, existed long before the Genesis story did). A few goddess figurines and clay vagina sculptures later, I was feeling ecstatic about the beauty and intricacy of the female body—my body!

I dedicated my altar to symbols of the goddess without focusing on any particular Goddess and spent the month using my meditation time to honor the various aspects of the goddess within me, connecting the physical to the spiritual. I played mother and child to myself, alternating between visualizing descending into my womb to be nurtured and actively doing the nurturing. I read books, both on the feminine spirituality and on the female body, and I hugged my plush uterus (more on that below).


Surprisingly, the spirituality part was simple in comparison to the party-planning. I cannot believe how effortless it is to find party decorations, food ideas, and games that pay homage to the penis, but coming up with similar items themed towards the vagina—let’s just say we’ve got a long way to go.

Despite the scarcity of resources, I managed to create quite the themed party. For your own inspiration, I shall include a basic break down of the party. I hope that by documenting what I did here I can save some other poor soul the frustration of trying find information that isn’t readily available.


Food was, by far, the easiest to come up with. A picture of vagina cupcakes has been floating around facebook for well over a year, and I found this awesome video that showed me how to make my own. Tacos were obvious as the main course, and from there it was just a matter of finding fruits and foods associated with women. The sacred yoni ceremony in India that partially inspired me in the first place treats honey, milk, and yogurt as sacred elements. Since raspberries and yogurt actually aid reproductive health, I felt like it was a double win on theme. I ended up making whipped cream in place of milk because, let’s face it, unless you’re ten, alcohol is more fun at a party than milk. The whipped cream went really well with the raspberries. Pomegranate martinis with cherry garnishes were incredibly easy themed drinks to make. And any number of aphrodesiacs could have served as filler foods for a larger party.


The games were much harder. Many shower games are so focused either on giving birth or getting married, but I wanted to honor women without reducing their bodies to relationships, sex, and birth (not that those things are bad, but women are rarely encouraged to celebrate their bodies for their own sake).


The first game I thought up was “Cramping Uterus.” It was a basic twist on hot potato that used a plush uterus instead of a potato. After I had bought the uterus, I found another variation on the hot potato game called “Pass the Vibrator.” You can even get a special one that has randomized vibrations to make it easier to play if you don’t have someone designated as music master. I liked that idea because I love the way that it acknowledges the sexual drives of women without taking the emphasis off of women as individuals. Perhaps next year I will use that variation.

I also developed my twist on Scattergories, creating my own special list with items like “things that look like vaginas” and “something you buy for your lady bits.” It was such a simple yet fun game and could be tweaked in any number of ways, depending on how political, outlandish, or scandalous you want to get.

After hours of searching online, I finally came across two games that actually had my theme without my needing to convert it in any way. The first was reproductive bingo. I added my own personal touch by turning the free space into a uterus and replacing “bingo” at the top with “vulva.” I used sweet tarts as the pieces and drew words randomly out of a cup. I have to say that out of all of them, this is probably the one that I had the most fun with, both in the practice-play with my partner and later with the group.

Reproductive Bingo

The other game was “Pin the Ovaries on the Uterus.” I came across it on this site actually dedicated to menarche parties. There was no question about buying it, and I can affirm that it is a wonderful game that was well worth the purchase. However, I would caution buyers to make sure they have plenty of time and the willpower to follow through with updates. The game didn’t arrive until the day before my party. Early in the week, I tried to get updates on whether it had been shipped, but the website isn’t well maintained. I found two customer service emails that differed slightly. One didn’t go through; the other I never got a reply from. I was finally able to track down a customer service email address that worked through the transaction detail on my Paypal account. While I am happy with the purchase and don’t think it took too much time to arrive, I also feel it only fair to warn customers of the hiccups of contacting the customer service with questions or concerns.

I actually didn't cut out the ovaries because I wanted to save them for another time. Instead, I cut out cardboard iud's to pin on the uterus.

I actually didn’t cut out the ovaries because I wanted to save them for another time. Instead, I cut out cardboard iud’s to pin on the uterus.


I was first introduced to this tampon craft site by a group that was ridiculing the site for being gross. I chose a craft from here out of rebellion to the ludicrous aversion I saw expressed towards cotton with strings as much as out of true admiration for the creativity there. The site is filled with wonderful ideas for every season. For my party, I chose to make the bleeding heart earrings.

The other craft I developed myself because I really couldn’t find anything else. I printed out a large uterus from the web and used it as a stencil to cut out two felt pieces. Using a hot glue gun, I sealed the bottom and sides of the uterus and attached pipe cleaner fallopian tubes. I stuffed the uterus with a bit of cotton (which you can buy or steal from an unwanted stuffed animal) and sealed the top. I glued puff balls to the ends of the fallopian tubes and voila—a stuffed felt uterus. It turned out quite cute, and with the extra felt and pipe cleaner pieces, you can add little decorations and designs to make it as unique as you want.

Stuffed Felt uterus


In addition to littering my apartment with all the goddess crafts I’d made earlier, I also decked it out with origami vaginas. I will warn you that they are hard to make, even for experienced folders. None of mine really came out that great, but I used the ones that looked passible.

I was also blessed by the gift of a milkweed pod vagina.

Milkweed Pod Vagina

It’s beautiful and delicate and totally something I’m going to try to make when I can hunt down milkweed pods. I wish I knew the name of the person who made it, but if you do decide to throw a vagina party, you can probably make your own “nature vaginas.” Flowers, painted eggs, seed pods—so many natural things can be used as symbols of the reproductive system (and I received several as gifts today too!). Or, if you really don’t feel crafty, you can see if there is an artist in your area willing to make something for you or you can just splurge for some of the slightly pricey but definitely beautiful items on sites dedicated to yoni art.


All great parties include goodies to take home. Gift bags were actually really simple to compile. I made origami orchids, which were much easier than the origami vaginas and still reminiscent of female anatomy. I found fantastic vagina straws at Spencer’s that added a fun little memorial to the party. I also tried to include some practical pampering, throwing in some Raspberry Leaf tea (remember raspberries aid in women’s reproductive system health) from Traditional Medicinals and some womb and uterus massage oil from Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes. A few other stuffers like flower bookmarks and flying wish paperI was ready to make myself a gift bag just for the joy of opening it!

I also tried to keep prizes relatively approachable, things that would remind my guests of the party without making them feel like they needed to hide them in the back of a drawer. I found a fun lip-shaped bath fizzy, a couple of journals, and a necklace—one prize for each of the games. Of course, prizes can also include crafts like a knitted uterus if you knit or clay sculptures.

Overall, the party was a hit. I didn’t invite a whole lot of people because, to be honest, I was slightly afraid of how people might react. It’s not a mainstream idea, and I think even some of my invitees were a little worried about how awkward it might be. But it was such fun for me and the people who came that I am ready to make this an annual holiday. Perhaps next year I will have the courage to invite some of my friends that I wanted to include but chickened out on asking.

In the meantime, I’m glowing with happiness. My body feels honored; my mind feels more connected. I’ve learned amazing things about my physiology and have had an incredibly empowering afternoon. As weird as the idea may sound at first in a society that generally tries to turn the female body into something vulgar, I encourage every woman to consider setting herself free of that and learning to celebrate the amazing body that she has.