January 27, 2015

Diagnosing the Selfie.

Monica Kerby article photo


Catching Light: In Your Hands to Hold.

Anytime a word becomes the kind of popular to score a coveted spot in the Oxford English Dictionary, backlash is almost guaranteed.

We collectively giggle for all elusive 15 minutes and pack ourselves back up into important lives, efforts to separate our enlightened selves from the otherwise pandering majority.

We uphold our growth in tended soil, not shallow sand.

The “Selfie” is a cultural phenomenon that owes its roots to our ever-accessible and handsy phone culture, sporty status symbols and conveniences of the privileged.

When I was a kid, my dad bought one of the first ever VCRs, which meant he lugged a news studio-type camera on his right shoulder to tape us, while he wore a bag bearing an entire VCR machine on his left shoulder. He walked through every gate of every National Park and beyond wearing this contraption in an earnest attempt to capture iconic American family milestones.

Did you play with a Polaroid camera as a kid, write dates and messages and draw horns on old ladies to share with your friends, or did your mother, like mine, make popcorn on the stove as you and your sister piled up in the living room to watch mere minutes of film, or reels, on the wall? Maybe you had to help your dad move the dinosaurian TV or the leaden couch, so your family could sit on floor pillows to view your silent handshake with Mickey Mouse on a blank “screen.”

Technology is a fascinating and misunderstood facet of our modern lives, and it always has been. We no longer live in caves and write with sticks. That is something to celebrate!

In recent years, it’s come to my attention that professionals of my ilk, psychologists, et al., have given the selfie a bad rap. We collectively agree, at least in certain circles, that the selfie is a narcissistic act performed by individuals with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and self-image problems. I happen to agree with that theory in a number of ways, but, overall, I cannot support diagnosing a selfie.

Psychiatry remains a male-dominated field. In its infancy, psychiatry pitted Freud against Jung in heated debates about sex and aggression. The mental health field has evolved well beyond its Cavemen days, so why the pathologizing of a developing concept that hasn’t even learned to crawl?

I am compelled to defend a thing that is rather beautiful to me.

I love selfies! I love seeing others’ selfies, and I love to take my own—and I want to tell you why.

In my clinical therapy practice, I work with gorgeous women with even more intensely beautiful souls, and they often hate themselves. They feel chronically guilty and are ever in need to apologize. They speak of perceived inadequacy and documented maltreatment.

They watch the news and are flooded with crafted images of Hillary Clinton’s cankles and Sarah Palin’s hair-pile. Monica Lewinsky is pegged as a whore. To her young fans, Rhianna defends paparazzi photographs that plainly reveal her as a victim of domestic violence. She blows it off like she just ate a cupcake or something. In fact, women apologize for eating cupcakes!

We watch Beyonce carve out the image of “feminist,” as we simultaneously turn up the volume to her husband’s music. Jay-Z built a career on objectification of women: money and cash and hoes.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll are the transformative lyrics of a definitive cultural identity. This is how we thrive, dancing through a richly woven tapestry of sound and orgasm, choreography and questions, lamentation and confession.

These are the inherently conflicting philosophies of a civilized society, and I celebrate them with you. Pop culture is our public art gallery. Facebook and mommy blogs are provocative Renaissance nudes, assuring us of what we think we know and disturbing us into action, our shared gluttony, feasting on images. They get knitted into our neurons, blue wildflowers blazing through neon Texas highways.

So when a beautiful, strong, unapologetic woman takes a selfie and Instagrams it to the world, I celebrate with her. A light in her eyes, a wrinkle on her lip, hair flowing as Medusa and shoulders strong like Athena’s that chant for the Muses, “I love who I am becoming.”

When I take a selfie, I am writing a love letter to myself. I am permitting permanence to my inner homecoming, a virtual Polaroid, etched into the cloud. I declare that I can finally admit to myself that I am beautiful and worthy and strong, and, if I tap “share,” why do I need more therapy?

If you catch a Selfer in mid-act, smile at her. She will be awkwardly clutching her phone to steady something she may be enjoying for the first time. Maybe you will also catch her stretching her arm a little further or smiling with a tad more ease.

The pleasures of our bodies are soft animals to nurture, not to pathologize into extinction.

There are already plenty of takers lined up to document that gig, I promise.



Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

 Author: Monica Stevens-Kirby

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Author’s Own



Read 5 Comments and Reply

Read 5 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Monica Stevens-Kirby