Selfies are ubiquitous in our society. However, there is a great deal of criticism surrounding selfie culture, that it breeds narcissists.
As far back as I can remember, people in my life have been quite scathing, labelling me, both explicitly and implicitly, as narcissistic, attention seeking and self-obsessed. The assumption was that I must be posting selfies because i was desperate for validation and for others to fill some self created beauty affirmation void. The conversation around taking selfies is largely negative and disparaging in nature. I certainly found this to be true on a personal level.
The alternative, that a woman like myself was simply self -assured in her appearance, amongst other attributes, seemed too far fetched a concept to grasp.
Being satisfied with yourself has been passively instilled in girls from a young age as wrong. Display too much confidence and you’re a ‘bitch’, and ‘in love with yourself’. It is impossible to please everybody.
Girls and women are subject to huge sexist pressures when it comes to selfies. I feel the pressure to satisfy both ends of a huge spectrum. Both expected to present a beautiful, confident image of myself, but concurrently traverse extreme criticism if I’m perceived as too self buoyant, too sexy, or too manicured.
Narcissism has become a buzz-word of sorts these days, used to describe unlikeable traits in a person. It’s a word blindly thrown around and incorrectly used in what I believe to be a harmful fashion.
I for one have been on the receiving end of being dubbed a narcissist, or whatever that implied, many times. There have been countless instances where I have forced myself to politely laugh along, though actually furious and often in shock at the audacity of people freely criticising, abusing and insulting, all guised under the pretence of humour and all about how I chose to express myself.
Very few saw me as a self empowered feminist making a decision about her body as opposed to a vain, self-absorbed narcissist. The empowerment aspect of selfies was completely overlooked. I think it’s because it started to make people squirm and feel uncomfortable.
Social media has allowed the public to reclaim photography of themselves as a source of empowerment. A whole world has opened up as a resistance to the barrage of perfect images that we face each day and provides a chance for everyone to be seen with no justification. How awesome is that?
I found that there were subsets of people who hated seeing happy, liberated people. Individuals who wished they had the strength to behave or feel the same way. Unable to reconcile themselves with the simple fact that this behaviour of taking a selfie may be a reflection of a self assured individual, the instinctive response is hate.
For me, this judgemental construct built around selfie taking highlights exactly the kind of superficial assumptions people make about women (and some men) based solely on image.
Assumptions that involved stripping power from women. Where women are perpetually seen as victims. The assumption being that all girls take selfies because they’re insecure little bitches who need validation all the time, not because they might be able to revel in their own reflection or feel good about a photo of themselves. How preposterous and idiotic a suggestion!
In a world where industries feed like blood thirsty leeches on the ‘perpetuation of women’s inferiority complexes with a vested economic interest in keeping girls’ self-esteem low’ , people would still rather see women stay quiet rather than outwardly celebrate themselves.
Is there a component of self-approval? Undoubtedly so.
But what is actually the problem with this?
Human beings have long been driven by the need for approval and self-affirmation – albeit on a smaller scale. There is nothing new about this, of course. The desire for a pictorial representation of the self goes all the way back to early handprint paintings on cave walls more than 4,000 years ago. In a fast-paced world of ever-changing technology, it could be argued that the selfie is simply a natural evolution of those hands dipped in paint.
Just look at reaction to a woman like Kim Kardashian-West being ‘audacious’ enough to show public contentment with her body and her appearance. The public show an alarming level of contempt and disdain. What message does this convey to women whose bodies do not conform to society’s ideal standards? To me it’s a wonderful thing to see all women, real women, portraying themselves outside of the controlled exposé of beauty and image in our media. It’s forcing change in representation.
Of course, the counter argument must be presented. There are a very real group of girls taught from an early age that they can only feel good about themselves through the approval of everyone else, especially men, and should be willing to change how they look in order to achieve acceptance at all costs.
I am very aware that for every girl who posts a selfie from a place of security, there is a girl using it to receive the validation that she cannot give herself, and it’s worrying. I know girls who spend hours painstakingly editing out blemishes and adding filters after filters and remain unsatisfied with the end result. Women and girls who spend hours stalking other women, wondering why they do not look like them, and feeling as though this invalidates their own beauty. I am not denying there are problems that have been created from this culture.
But here is the thing.
Every girl is different, and context matters.
This culture of people who are overly eager in coining all social media as problematic, and positioning girls as passive targets instead of ‘agents of their own lives’ is an issue in and of itself. The palpable sneering and contempt for selfies may well be influenced by the fact that society views them as a predominantly young, female creation, which somehow immediately devalues it.
“When we’re talking about what is acceptable for women in terms of constructing an image, we should avoid these arguments because it’s probably an extension of more patriarchal demands. Women should be allowed to portray themselves in a way they feel enhanced by. This is just a natural progression of experimenting with the changing interfaces of being young and one of these interfaces, yes, is sexual identity.”
It’s also important to recognise this issue cannot be clearly be classified as good or bad. People are arguing that its either this or that. Either this portrayal of oneself is ‘sex-positive and body accepting’ or that girls are perpetuating ‘harmful narratives about women’s bodies’. In reality, it can be a little of both.
Women are most definitely unfairly pressured to display their bodies, and women are also allowed to make choices about those bodies.
Narcissist, vain, arrogant; these are not words that should be thrown around so lightly at women and girls. These words assume superiority over others; to hold oneself in a position that would enable you to look down upon those around you. That’s not what I am thinking or feeling when I post a selfie.
Sometimes, taking a selfie can be a means of simply seeing your merits, aesthetic or otherwise. It’s to be able to say, “I have worth,”, or, “I am beautiful” and not purely in the physical sense . There is a profound difference between self love and self obsession that needs to be recognised in a case by case basis. Taking a selfie can be a harmless way to recognise yourself as the beautiful individual that you are, to take a stand against the fact that we have been taught to hate ourselves
‘People think if you take pictures of yourself, you’re self-obsessed but that’s like saying if you write a diary or an autobiography, you’re self-obsessed. Not necessarily. A selfie is a format and a platform to share who you are.”
My appearance, yes it is one aspect of who I am as a woman.
And it’s one aspect that I will celebrate amongst my other accolades, through taking a selfie.
Also, my boobs will not be this perky forever so I better get them out there whilst they aren’t hanging down by my knees. (juuuuuust kidding).