In Defence of the Selfie: Narcissistic Body Positivity
Oh, Instagram. It’s both the bane and the joy of my life. I had a conversation just today with a friend about Instagram and how it’s so easy to feel like a good photographer on it. But let’s be honest. Instagram doesn’t make you a real photographer. It’s just plain fun. And its unique and controversial child, the “selfie,” or self-portrait, has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately. Mainly, the world feels that the selfie is another Millennial way of being narcissistic and trying to feel special. There are posts galore that decry the selfie as just another way to annoy people on social media. And I can see why people would think so... but I also don’t really see why they would care.
I’m going to come clean. I love selfies. I take them all the time. And I’ve heard all the arguments. No one wants to see pictures of your face all the time. They’re self-serving and they’re stupid. The faces people make in them are weird and should never show up on social media, or in life, at all. They’re another way to overinflate your ego. People look less than pretty in them so never let them see the light of day. On and on. I’ve heard all the arguments, and I’ve also heard the argument that in ten years, people taking selfies are going to be really sorry they did so.
I have to say that I disagree.
I talk a lot about body positivity and fat acceptance, much to the annoyance of some of my readers, but the reason why I do it is because I want people to know that they’re valid. And to feel valid, they need to do anything they can to make their bodies and their own sense of beauty okay in their own eyes. Some people use art, or writing, or dress in clothing that makes them feel good about themselves. I use photography. Mainly, I use selfies.
Selfies, to me, are narcissistic. There’s no denying that. But they also show the world who I feel like I really am inside. I am a great selfie taker; I get all my best angles because I know to look for them. The photos I produce are ones I’m proud of. I like being able to look back and remember where I was when I took that picture of myself. I like to remember the feelings I had when I took the picture. For me, selfies document my journey with my own self-acceptance. In them, I see how confident I’m getting. How I don’t mind sharing my face with the world because I’m proud of that person I’m becoming. And I also feel good – really good when I catch the right sparkle in my eye or a good hair day. They make me feel present, and beautiful, and valid.
I guess I don’t really see what’s wrong with that.
I’ve read a lot of blogs and articles that state that people need to stop thinking so much about themselves. That we’re such a self-obsessed culture. And that’s probably true, but I also see, in my daily life, how people forget themselves. If you’re a parent, it’s very easy to forget yourself in taking pictures of and being proud of your kids. If you’re a teenager, it’s easy to want to hide who you really are because you want to fit into the crowd. If you’re a single twenty-something, it’s easy to get lost in work and life. Self-image is really the last thing on many of our lists. And I think in that sense, the selfie helps us, because it documents us in the moment. Sure, we all have our questionable moments, but that’s life – it’s not always perfect. That selfie, at that time, represents a moment in our life where we felt good. I don’t see any problems with documenting those moments to look back on when we don’t feel good at all.
I recently found a bunch of pictures of my great-grandmother and her sisters. They’re selfies – and rare selfies, because photography was expensive and hard to come by. And I love those pictures. Confident, beautiful women, dressed in their best, proud of themselves, their lives, their clothes. And in a time where it was a happy surprise if all of your siblings made it to adulthood, those photographs are precious documents of happy women. Maybe they didn’t stay happy. Maybe they didn’t live much longer after that picture was taken. But that was a moment in their lives that they had, and now I have, forever.
So, I ignore the disparaging selfie talk. I just don’t care. I recently looked back over my Instagram feed and relived those moments again. That day that I wore two braids in my hair on my 31st birthday and felt young and carefree. The breezy, humid, yet cool day in London where I saw Big Ben for the first time. The snuggles with my cats on cold winter days. The rosy cheeks I had while walking through the first snow. I took those pictures for me. And now I’m the one that gets to reap the benefit of them – and I hope that any descendents I have will look at them and get a sense of who I was at this time of my life.
Most importantly, I look back on them and I feel proud – of the woman that I was, and the woman that I continue to become. I feel proud of my confidence. And when I look at your selfies, I feel proud of your confidence, too.
Instagram on. Your selfies are pretty cool in my book.