In defense of the self-taken portrait
Okay, so I get it. People generally don’t like people like me who stand in the middle of the gym / hair salon / restaurant bathroom taking photos (yes that’s plural: several attempts at several angles, with several expressions) of themselves before they shuffle off to a corner, frantically tapping at their smartphones to update Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, pretty much any badly spelt media-sharing platform that allows a photo upload.
I get it that some think it’s self-involved and crass, that making such a blatant show of your vanity can be seen as ridiculously self-absorbed and ostentatious, that it’s just goddamn irritating that you’re blocking the bread aisle in the supermarket, or wherever it is that you’ve decided you suddenly absolutely need to take a photo of yourself.
But see, here’s the thing—I think selfies are fantastic. I think they’re a marvelously good thing for moving forward in the way of self-love, body-confidence and contemporary efforts to redefine what beauty means to each of us.
I think it’s great that people feel confident and happy enough about themselves to create these little home-made insta-shoots of themselves and insta-post them in an insta-instant.
Now I know, as a big self-professed selfie junkie, that there’s that tendency to take up to 78 photos of yourself before you find just that perfect, pouty, dewy angle that you’re happy enough to post, which hides your double chin/shows off your new fake eyelashes/catches your hair bouncing in the wind. But here’s the thing: whether we do take 78 photos of ourselves or we take just one, we get to decide what we feel best and most confident about posting up for the whole wide, nasty, critical world to see.
With any selfie, we maintain agency throughout the whole process of posing, selecting, editing and posting.
I love that. I love that millions of people around the world are taking the positioning, posing and posting of beauty into their own hands. I love that people are smiling and confident and happy in their selfies. I love that you see people’s personalities through their photos because it’s really them, snapping themselves.
Most of all, I love that it’s an honest, real-time capture of people’s best and often most personal and important moments. You’re not just taking a photo when you’re taking a selfie, you’re capturing all the emotions, feelings, sights, memories, smells and sounds that go with it.
A selfie is a precious personal moment as much as it is ‘just’ a portrait.
Every one of my own selfies has a story that goes with it so when I look at them, they’re not photos of myself—they’re mini time capsules of the days I was about to head out to a funky fashion event, preparing for a posh, important press conference, on holiday, drinking beer as I met an impossibly hot Belgian or just finished a triple-whammy workout at the gym. They provide instant pick-me-uppers, bring me right back to those exact moments when I felt ready to take on the world by my own sheer, self-deluded gorgeousness alone.
I like that anybody—whether you feel dreadfully awkward, too fat, too thin, too pale, too tanned, not made-up enough, drunk—can take a photo, smack it up on Instagram with a couple of silly hastags and insta-instantly garner a bunch of likes.
It uplifts me tremendously to see and know that people are looking at and appreciating other people, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing.
Selfies provide an opportunity for people to feel beautiful about themselves, in their own skin, without first being horribly airbrushed by someone else who’s dictating how our ‘flaws’ should be erased or body parts modified. Even better, it provides an opportunity for other people—sometimes complete strangers—to let you know that they think you’re pretty damn awesome too.
It’s fantastic that we’re now telling ourselves and each other what we like, not being told what is desirable or not and beating ourselves up if we’re anything less than that Guess model plastered up on the billboard outside my house.
I also really, really like that while some people clearly look hideous (and I still can’t really tell if that’s deliberate or unfortunate), they look so damn happy being, posing, looking exactly as hideously as they do.
That’s the best part of a selfie, I think: the platform its allows for us to laugh at ourselves, embrace and show off what we love best about ourselves (even if it does take 78 attempts) and gain back control over what we believe to be beautiful, no matter how silly, odd, muffin-topped, blah or wheee! we might be.
And damn anyone who doesn’t agree enough to hit that like button.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise