My Selfie-Confidence Trumps Your Narcissism

There are times when I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate universe, a world where Donald Trump is celebrated for his lack of empathy and overt arrogance while women are slut-shamed on social media and called “narcissistic” for taking a selfie.

But then I remember that it’s just another day in patriarchy.

In patriarchy, no one is really all that concerned about a cis, white, straight male strutting around, stroking his ego, and ruthlessly attempting to crush anyone who makes him feel like less than the absolute most superior being in the universe.

Trump could be a stand-in for Narcissus himself, but cis, white, straight men are used to being able to indulge in self-grandiosity at other’s expense. No one finds it shocking when they do so because patriarchy has established that as a man’s prerogative.

However, women daring to self-validate—that indeed is a threat to society.

If women began to learn that they could appreciate themselves outside of the male gaze, they might decide that they don’t need to cater to the male gaze.

If women discovered that they could recognize and declare their own value—that their value came from within rather than from without—they might discover that respect and humanity is something they deserve simply because they are, not because it is “generously” bestowed upon them from the menfolk.

If women were able to love themselves and continue to love others, they might figure out that they don’t need to sacrifice their own well-being in order to be in relationship with others.

Selfies give women control over how they reveal themselves to the world and power to self-determine their own sense of who they are.

In the face of such a threat to the control of the other half of the population, patriarchy could only respond in a handful of ways—convince women that selfies are still about the male gaze and gaining approval from men or, when that fails, shame women for being self-absorbed.

If patriarchy is so threatened by women who self-validate by snapping a little picture, imagine what would happen if women became conscious of the power they have at the tip of their fingers….

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But First Let Me Take a Selfie: Capturing Life’s Moments

I took so many pictures when I was a young teen. I had boxes of photographs from disposable cameras with photos of things that I didn’t even remember.

But I struggle to remember to take pictures as an adult.

With cameras built into most cell phones, it should be easier to snap a picture of almost any moment in my life, yet the majority of the pictures on my phone consist of parking spaces I need to remember or images of that water stain I need to tell my landlord about. Pictures that are for practical purposes but have no emotional meaning for me.

The camera has become ubiquitous and thus invisible. Back when I had to go out and buy a disposable camera, I was aware that something special was coming up. Carrying it around with me while out with friends or on a vacation helped me remember to put the view finder up to my eye periodically and press the button.

Now, I rarely think about my camera.

Maybe that’s just me. I’m not a photographer. Photography requires a certain mindset, I mindset that steps out of a moment long enough to take a picture of it. Photography has always struck me as somewhat disruptive to inundating myself in what’s happening.

But I want it to be me. When I see pictures that others have taken, I love the way they take me back. I love the way they give me access to people and things I can’t physically return to.

I have a friend who takes tons of photos. And seeing our happy, sometimes drunk, but always smiling faces in the pictures reminds me of the magic of those moments in a way that memory alone can’t. Thanks to her, I have a stockpile of mementos of our time together, and I treasure them.

But were you to look through my photo albums, it would seem as though she were my only friend because I and my other friends never think to take pictures together with our ever-present, ever-ready cameras.

This past week, my partner and I were on vacation, and I made a concerted effort to remember to demand a few selfies with him throughout our site-seeing adventures. It’s the first step in my mid-year’s resolution to start documenting the people and times in my life more.

Life is fragile, and the blissful moments fly by so quickly. But pictures freeze those moments, just a little bit, providing a memory-portal to help me travel back for a visit.

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!