Sluts and Selfies

Well, I never thought I'd be putting photos of my face on the interwebs for everyone to see - so any photos are what I actually look like. I'm ugly, I know.

Usually, selfies are considered by patriarchal society as being "slutty" (how I hate that world) or vain. However, not-so-recently there's been this idea going round that selfies, far from being attention-seeking or cries for help, are empowering and actually pretty good things to do. I actually have a pretty tangled opinion on selfies, so I need to write this to untangle it and actually make some sense in daily life.

I'll say one thing first: I completely disagree with calling selfies slutty. They range from perfectly innocent to sexy and seductive, but no actual promiscuity is ever involved because it's a static image. Even if it's a highly sexualised static image, no sex is going on. The kinds of people who say this are also usually more than happy to look at entire pages full of hot women's selfies before shaming them for daring to take photos of themselves, so it's really quite hypocritical.

Now, to the good side of selfies. The nice side. Selfies are a hell of a lot better at representing people in general than the kyriarchal media: as long as you have a smartphone or a camera and it's reasonably accessible to use, you can take pictures of yourself. With an internet connection, you can then share these pictures around the world. For people who don't see themselves represented a lot in a media that mainly portrays white, cis, wealthy, skinny and able-bodied people, this can be pretty fantastic. It's a giant "fuck you" to a society that marginalises all but the most privileged and encourages people to love and accept themselves for who they are. Since capitalists also profit from selling self-hate (this is a big part of why Western society implies that unless you're hairless, wearing makeup and wanting a discreet bit of cosmetic surgery or the latest fad diet you must be worthless and ugly: it means that you can sell "beauty" in a nice neat package and make some money), this is also a bit of a "fuck you" to capitalism - or rather, to certain businesses. Meanwhile, people who make cameras and smartphones, or who run social networking sites, are still making money.

As far as I'm aware, those are the two main arguments in favour of selfies being empowering: I haven't looked into the argument further. I have my reasons. I have my own particular opinions on selfies, too, but first, have a picture of my face.
Me - a young white woman with long brown hair and brown eyes
This photo of me was taken quite recently at a sixth form dinner; we're compiling our yearbooks and we all need profile photos. So I put on my pretty party dress (you can't see it here, for obvious reasons), walked up to the nearest mirror for help referencing, and took some selfies that made me look reasonably pretty.

I actually find that sort of thing really difficult. Not just because I'm ugly and crack mirrors on sight, which makes it a bit difficult to do my hair, but because (as you've probably noticed) my self-esteem isn't great, particularly when it comes to looks. I take selfies very rarely, and when I do it's usually to document instances of relatively high self-esteem - it's my way of telling myself "you look good today", though it doesn't usually work terribly well; I tend to criticise myself for, say, bags under my eyes.

What I find even more difficult is taking the next step after that and sharing those pictures with complete strangers. I've taken selfies for Facebook and I've even sent selfies to penpals, but I feel uncomfortable putting pictures of myself on the wide open internet; it makes me feel far less anonymous, far less protected. Now my opinions are linked to a recognisable face - all I can say is how relieved I am that my phone doesn't save GPS coordinates of pictures I take in EXIF data (I have geotagging turned off). As a young teen I was also warned numerous times of the dangers of sharing sensitive pictures with others, and...well...I guess you get the picture. I'm pretty paranoid about sharing pictures of myself with people I will probably never meet.

So I personally don't really like talking about selfies. I don't like taking selfies. I find selfies awkward and uncomfortable and utterly disempowering, because to me they focus on beauty and personal appearance - two things I'm really bad at. Even though I'm white, cis, relatively wealthy, not particularly fat (putting on weight actually made me look prettier because not so long ago I'd starved myself into losing so much weight I looked almost as ill as I felt), and not obviously sick or disabled. Guess this is how I can tell I'm privileged scum.

Honestly, if you find selfies empowering and liberating then I don't want to stop you or discourage you: I want to support you in liberating yourself and others from kyriarchal chains. But I'm still looking for my non-selfie route to liberation.

Comments