The rules for the Selfie Project were simple: post at least five selfies on Facebook over the course of a week (no us-ies* or pets-ies allowed) and talk to me about the experience afterwards. Although one of my camera-shy friends declined with an extra emphatic "HELL no lady!" I did rope nine friends into the project. For some, it was a way to challenge their comfort zones. As Kellie posted: "I don't like pictures of myself, so it would be interesting to test myself with this."
All photos used with permission.
I don't like pictures of myself either, and I did a lot of self-reflection about that during the project. I don't consider myself "attractive" in any way the idea is bounced around: cute, pretty, beautiful, sexy. I am not alone. A survey by Dove in Chatelaine magazine found that over 90 per cent of women don't believe they are beautiful and that 82 per cent of women are camera-shy.
As I Googled up some research about selfies, I stumbled on a revelation: Gen X and Boomers don't have the same relationship with the camera that younger generations do. When I was a kid, cameras and film processing were expensive. We didn't have the money that was required to goof around with the camera, having fun and learning how to pose and play up our best features. In fact, photos of me were taken so rarely that I rebelled and took selfies on my 16th birthday in 1986, just to have some photos of the day.
Added to all this is the widely-held perception that those who post a lot of selfies are self-absorbed, conceited, and narcissistic exhibitionists, who seek external validation and perpetuate a superficial celebrity culture. Who wants to be judged like that?
I should admit, though, that I've posted selfies before. I'm single; I'm introverted; I don't have anyone conveniently snapping photos of me. We all need profile pictures for our various social media accounts, after all, and like my friend Donna, who also travels solo, I'm apt to snap selfies while I am on vacation -- it's much easier than flagging down a passer-by. I am not a stranger to selfies. But I am a stranger to posting selfies that say, "hey, look at me, and me alone, just because I am worthy of being looked at."
I might not post those kinds of selfies, but some of my friends do. Julie told me that, "On days when I feel good about how I [am] looking, maybe my hair or I am rocking a new pair of glasses or shirt, I will post [a selfie]." Getting likes and comments on those selfies reaffirms that yes, dammit, we do look amazing. Who doesn't love the little extra burst of joy that accompanies validation? And who made up that rule that seeking validation is bad, anyway? There are times when validation goes deeper than a simple affirmation. As Jeannette pointed out, "Sometimes you post a photo and are inundated with compliments on a day you feel less [than] human and it gives you that little boost you need to get through the day."
Because, sadly, we can be our own worst critics. Marni summed up her project experience by saying, "I was sincere in my 'liking' of everyone else's selfies and [the] comments that I made were genuine, so why be so critical of myself?" Indeed. I have 236 facebook friends. Some are solely "online friends," but perhaps 220 have seen me in person. They know what I look like, and all my expressions, including, as Julie pointed out, my "resting bitch face." (Um, thanks Jules!) Why this need to retake endless selfies, make the much-maligned "duck face," or use special effects in our photo apps?
Because here's the thing -- selfies can be empowering. They give us a chance to shine in a spotlight of our own making. They let us put our best foot forward and control what we reveal about ourselves. Beyond our physical attributes, selfies show who we are and what we're thinking, feeling, and doing. But because there's a perception that selfies are rooted in vanity, they're often disparaged and passed over instead of being closely examined and celebrated. After the Project wrapped up, Tanya said she is now "looking at others' selfies in a different way ... [and] asking myself questions of why they posted it, do they look happy in their photo, etc."
All photos usedwith permission.
Women in my age bracket (roughly 30-50) have a few advantages over younger women when it comes to selfies. First, many of us have experienced the same thing as Danielle: "As I age I find my insecurities and [the] need to be perfect are decreasing; and I am more accepting of myself and less critical." Second, we understand how to achieve a balance between validation and vanity. Like Deb said, "I think it's a healthy vanity ... not being so absorbed like the kids. We have the ability to balance -- the really young kids, teens, don't."
Sometimes people just don't get the whole selfie craze, and that's OK. During the Selfie Project, Michelle tried to relax on her day off, but, "Instead of just enjoying my coffee peacefully, maybe reading a book or calling a friend, I sat on the deck and took pictures of myself drinking coffee. This is sad and slightly embarrassing to me." If you're like Michelle, then no pressure. But if you're tempted to post a selfie, just go for it! Remember that you are beautiful just the way you are, don't try too hard, and have fun. You'll likely empower your friends to post more selfies too. My friends Karen and Sandy each posted a couple of selfies as the project chugged along. Before you know it, your feed will be filled with photos of your beautiful friends. And, after all, if you were my friend, which photo would you rather see in your feed?
*Usies are group selfies, taken by "you" and "me," or rather by "us."
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