The Power of the Selfie
Among the long list of Millennial trends decried by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, this is one of the most vilified.
It seems these older generations equate the term “selfie” with self-absorbed -- that selfies are inherently about looking solely at the poster’s appearance. But there are many types of selfies, each with their own purposes and intentions.
In fact, a study of 5,000 Instagram selfies done by Australian National University determined seven distinct categories: the autobiography selfie, the romance selfie, the parody selfie, the propaganda selfie, the coffee-table-book selfie, the self-help selfie and the travel-diary selfie. More importantly, however, this study found: “Around 9-in-10 selfies are not posted with the intent of self-promotion.”
What many people fail to realize is that “selfie” and “self-portrait” are synonymous: a selfie is not a photo dedicated entirely to your self-image, but rather a picture you take yourself. So while, yes, a selfie can be about how good you’re looking and feeling that day, it can also be of you with your friends, your family or your pets; it can show you are at a concert, on vacation or at a significant landmark; it can celebrate milestones in your life, such as a graduation or starting a new job.
Spoiler alert: there is nothing wrong with any of these selfie varieties.
You may now be the one taking these photos, but they are images that we have always wanted to capture and moments we have always wanted to document. Selfies just make it easier to do so.
How many times have you waited to ask a stranger to take a picture for you (what if they take your camera??), only to find you absolutely hate how you look in it? How many times have you wanted a photograph of the entire group, only to have one person inevitably missing because someone had to take it? My mom is barely in any of our family photos for this very reason. How many times have you attempted to use a self-timer with little-to-no success?
With selfies, you control your own narrative.
The act of self-representation is especially powerful for women, as we have historically been presented through the “male gaze.” Our images have been created, altered and disseminated by men, for men. Selfies provide us the opportunity to take that power back. We now decide how we want to look and what story we want to tell.
Most women grapple with negative body image at some point in their lives, and this is no mistake. We are socially conditioned to lack confidence.
“Society teaches women that self-loathing and self-criticism are not only normal, but also commendable,” writes self-image coach, teacher and speaker Jessi Kneeland.
Many of us instinctively negate or downplay a compliment we receive, rather than just accepting it as truth. We are told our confidence is vanity, and that vanity inherently makes us shallow and unkind.
And this is why I love seeing my friends share their selfies: I love knowing they are feeling confident, they are happy, they are on a bucket-list vacation or celebrating time spent with friends.
I don’t see selfies as markers of self-absorption; I see them as assertions of self-worth. I don’t see selfies as evidence of not being present (after all, rarely does anyone spend the entire moment taking selfies); I see them as a sign that my friends and family are having such an incredible time that they want to document it, that they want to share their joy, that they want a tangible reminder to reminisce on in the future.
I care about your selfies. I cherish the outlet they provide to profess radical self-love. It doesn’t matter whether you just rolled out of bed with no makeup or have spent hours curating a perfectly put-together look; it doesn’t matter if you have your entire sorority in the background or are by yourself; it doesn’t matter if you are in front of the Eiffel Tower or are in a grungy bar bathroom. If you are brave enough and proud enough to unapologetically proclaim your presence and its value, I will wholeheartedly support you.
No offense to Evagrius Ponticus, but we need to stop thinking of pride as a deadly sin. As far as I’m concerned, self-doubt and self-hatred are far more deadly.
If selfies help us conquer these struggles, I don’t want anyone to stop.