In the very recent past, representation of the feminine was dictated and dominated by the hands, purse-strings and opinions of a very few.
Since the onset of mass-media, the likes of agents, casting directors, ad executives and producers have overseen the only public images of women that saw the light of day.
And prior to mass media, we got to collectively “enjoy” the vast expanse of the oh-so-Dark Ages: nearly 2,000 years in the West of women being depicted—almost always by men—as either virgin saints, whores, witches, or not at all.
As a result, the many archetypes of the magical woman, the faces of the Goddess—have been either relegated to near extinction or carefully controlled, manipulated and exploited by the dominant powers-that-be.
Enter the current age of the selfie, one of the outcomes of the incredibly powerful technologies that are rapidly interconnecting and changing our world. Suddenly, every girl and her mother has a camera in her hand and Facebook and Instagram accounts at the ready. And, I personally think it’s really kind of great.
I know, I know. Selfies feed our shallow culture, encourage poor body image, engender internet addiction and are generally annoying. There is no doubt that there are a potentially infinite number of ways to misuse the selfie, and in the process, to fall unceremoniously and with increasing velocity down the slippery slide of self-disempowerment and destruction like a drunk hussy at a water park.
There are the “look at my butt” selfies, the “out drunk with my boyfriend’s best friend” selfies. Then there is the dreaded, dreaded fish pout. There are million ways to really screw this up, all of which are no doubt happening.
But, looked at from just a slightly different angle (and perhaps squinting just a bit), does anyone else see the incredible potential of millions of women having the power to publicly represent ourselves…any way we choose?
Now let’s talk about the “self” part of the aforementioned selfie for just a moment. What exactly is it? In my experience, a woman is not exactly a person, in the usual sense of the word. I would say most women, myself included, have a radically complex relationship with selfhood. In fact, if a woman is paying close attention, she may recognize that she is—at least—a million people, entities, beings and consciousnesses.
She is an ocean, raging as it gives birth to a tsunami. An entire landscape, set on fire. A broken star, its scattered light flung clear to the edge of unknown universes. Often, she finds herself to be the great maw of darkness and emptiness where “self” is supposed to be. And not infrequently, she is a confused and curled-up little girl mystified and hurt by her own multiplicities in a world that cannot seem to handle them.
Frequently, the question is posed to her: where is she to take all these many, sometimes decidedly weird “shes”? Can she sport them at the grocery store, or the local PTA? Can she let them play and dance and be in the workplace, or while carrying out the demanding roles of wife and mother, or while visiting the in-laws? Where is the safest space for her to gaze upon her own odd reflection, in order to see, and recognize, and maybe even make some sense of, its strange and shimmering beauty?
Does she have a place of her own? Maybe and maybe not. But far too often, not.
That is, for me, the space the selfie holds. Maybe I’m feeling pretty that day, and want to capture my delight in the curves of my own features and flesh. Just as likely, I’m channeling some rare and exquisite form of darkness not witnessed on the Earth for a few thousand years, that fervently wants to be seen. Just as likely, I’m taking the photo to capture myself wondering who the fuck I am.
There are the selfies that capture elation, true self confidence. Also those in which the Stepford me takes over and feels the need to smile vacantly like a cheerleader high on far too much Diet Coke. Captured is the fragile me nervous about the number of “likes” she’ll get, and the me that, like Kali, could casually chop the heads off a hundred men all before breakfast. The profound realization is that all these me’s, are Her. They are an ephemeral emergence, just moments, not meant to stay. That what is we are, if we can be said to have a self: a brief hello and a broken goodbye, a beautiful earthquake.
Thus, the selfie, when elevated to an art form, is like any other personal mythology: part truth, part fantasy we tell ourselves—or wish someone else would tell us. Part revelation and disclosure, part unconscious masking of that which is too painful to bring into view. But the more we find the courage to expose and express that which is hidden in fear or shame through self-representation—the more the signs and portents dance themselves across our faces—the more we heal. The selfie, for all its malign, is a ideal medium for this sacred, transformative witnessing.
There is a reason that Diego Rivera spent his career painting the political and literal landscape of Mexico, as he saw it, while his wife Frida—the original selfie queen—spent her time painting herself and the inner landscape of her own heartbreak, vulnerability and pain. There is a reason that his “map” is external, while her map charts the dark and dangerous terrain of the interior. For the internal is Her realm, and the wisest of souls recognize the infinity sign of the internal path that, when walked, literally both alters and creates the external world, bending space and time in its wake.
Maybe the Goddess Herself longs to end the invisibility long imposed upon her, and chafes at the thought of being made visible only in forms that suit someone else—forms that feel safe, manageable or pleasant; coquettishly sexualized, come-hither or raunchily titillating.
Maybe She wants to be seen as the raw and wild force She is, and for her daughter to see her own reflection in the broken mirror that sends back a million contradictory shards of self and light and universe. And to realize to the depths of her being, in spite and because of these shards, the radical oneness of herself, and that she is big enough to hold it all, bigger than she ever could have dreamed.
Thus, a selfie is not just a representation, and can be even more than a transmission. It is a portal to other worlds, worlds that might become ours should we choose to create them. Used with focused intention it can convey love and healing, forge a pioneering path of honesty. invite others through the window of the soul into the most intimate of territories and hold space for others to enter more deeply into their own truth.
So what is it that women want? To sell our hair and skin and boobs and asses at the Body Part Fair, as we fall deeper into the pit or to rise to the role of sacred creators, using this magic mirror to explore completely unique modes of being that radiate and ripple beyond the self? The living reality will be some complex and fascinating amalgam of all the above, as the power of Goddess consciousness dances Her inchoate swirls, learning and exploring Herself. But honestly, the rise of the Feminine doesn’t have to be perfect, it only has to be poetry.
These are the Songs of Our-Selfies, and there hasn’t been a time like this before. Let’s make it magic, because we are.
Author: Sara Sophia Eisenman
Editor: Travis May
Images: Author’s Own
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