I am trying to be a little more organized, since I’m going to have a baby in about five minutes, and in honor of this effort, I sat down to weed through the old photos on my computer. Apparently, I used to take a lot of selfies (before they were known as selfies). You know, back in college, when I had more time on my hands. And before college, when I would just sit around in my room in front of the long mirror some evenings, wearing a thrift-store gown or the new shirt I thought was the coolest thing ever, or occasionally nothing at all, and snap about, say, two million photos.
And then I guess I grew up and didn’t have so much time and most of the pictures of me began to be taken by other people. So there are a lot less of them. And also, I discovered: they are a lot less flattering.
I mean, seriously, I have looked bad in some of the most important photos of my life. It’s a thing my face likes to do, to keep things lively. One eye will be squinting, I’ll have a sudden, inexplicable double chin, and a bit of a hump on my back. Wait…I’ll think, caught off-guard, That hump definitely wasn’t there when I put on the wedding gown, was it?
I’m used to it. I look a lot of vastly different ways in the photos people take of me, and many of those ways are at least vaguely upsetting. Particularly when I remember feeling attractive that day. Particularly when I really liked that outfit, or dancing at my wedding, or whatever silly thing I thought I might look decent doing.
These other people taking my picture did not take the time to learn my good angles. They didn’t tenderly adjust the lighting. They were busy, purposeful. And in many of the newer photos, it’s just not working out that well for me.
But at least I am not being all teenaged and Myspace and duck-faced about documenting my existence, right? At least I am spared that embarrassment.
The phenomenon of selfies has gotten press recently, as older people discover that they are a thing and the New York Times cranks out some stuff about Young People These Days and Their Constant Facebook-ing. Everyone seems annoyed or amused by the term, and there’s some tsking and some analysis about how kids are really self-involved and What Does This Say About Society and The Twitter-Generation? And there’s some muttering about Webster may be adding the term to the dictionary and What Does This Say About Society?
So I’m going to take a stand. I’m in favor. Long live the selfie!
You know why? Because they look good. Even if other people find them ridiculous (and often rightfully so), the person taking the selfie is frequently left feeling pleased. The angle looks right—the lighting is perfect, the bad shots have been ritually deleted.
The person taking the selfie is often a girl. And you know what? I like it when girls feel good about the way they look.
Yeah. Guess what? I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it until I’m blue in my lopsided, one-eye-squint-y face: We live in an environment where enormous amounts of pressure are placed on very young girls to look a certain, cute, skinny way. And that pressure doesn’t just go away when we grow up. It doesn’t automatically evaporate when we find love or get a great job or become a mom or turn forty or get rich or win a Grammy or accomplish our career goals or grow old.
I’m going to suggest to my grandma that she take a couple selfies. She still gets upset at the way she looks in photos.
In a culture that continues to emphasize how we look, sometimes to the point of it feeling like the most important thing about us, capturing ourselves looking good can feel really meaningful. It can feel critical, even. And who better to do that than ourselves? I think it’s cool that girls are turning their cameras around and celebrating their beauty.
What’s the objection? “Get over yourself?
Sure, says the selfie, When everyone else gets over me.
And it isn’t wrong. The world has not gotten over girls.
It’s not that I support image-obsession and think that everyone should sit around all day in front of the mirror snapping photos on their phone instead of doing actual things in the world. But taking selfies doesn’t always have to spell out self-obsession. Sometimes it’s just about controlling the images that people see of you. And in a Facebook culture, where you might find yourself frantically untagging after many a party, it’s important to create a balance.
I have a folder called “me, pregnant” on my computer, and it’s the pictures that other people have taken of me as I get bigger and bigger. Some of them are OK. Some of them are not even close to OK. Some of them make me want to curl around my enormous belly and never show my face again.
Looking through the photos I wondered what my daughter would think of them someday. It seemed depressing. But maybe there was a lesson to be learned here? Something about humility and self-acceptance? The harsh realities of growing up? The nature of pregnancy? Nope.
“Damn,” I said aloud. “I need to take more selfies.”
And I did. And you know what? They are great. And you know what else? If taking some photos of yourself that make you feel pretty and good isn’t considered a good thing, maybe we need to stop analyzing quite so much and reevaluate how we’re defining “good things.”
Because if liking the way you look in them isn’t a completely solid argument in defense of the selfie, I can’t say that I know what is.