‘Selfie’ is the official Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2013. And according to the sometimes-alright-but-mostly-incredibly-narrow-minded-and-the-epitome-of-‘white-feminism’ site that is Jezabel, selfies aren’t empowering, but rather a cry for help.
While there’s some merit to what they have to say – that selfies teach young girls in particular that their looks are incredibly important – they seem to have completely forgotten how shitty it is to be a teenager or young adult. You’re constantly bombarded with the idea that you’re not good enough or thin enough or pretty enough. And yet, despite this, selfies are a thing. They’re like a little act of rebellion that says ‘actually, I look damn cute today’. Selfies, in my opinion anyway, are a way to say ‘fuck you’ to a world that tells you that you’re not good enough. And from personal experience, they’re not something that’s done when you have low self esteem.
My sister describes the last far too many years of my life as my ‘ugly duckling period’ (my mum says I never had an ugly duckling period, but as my mother, she is required to always think I’m utterly fantastic). I only recently, like in the last six months, grew into myself – or at least figured out (to some extent) what to do with my face and body and hair. And it’s only in the last six months or so that I’ve started taking selfies because I started to feel confident about how I looked. I don’t take selfies for other people to like or comment on, I take selfies for me, to be like ‘yeah, I look damn good in red lipstick’. Despite society telling me that I’m not good enough and that I shouldn’t be happy with how I look until I have the latest conditioner or moisturiser or whatever, I’m telling the world that I *am* happy with how I look – at least in that moment anyway.
The idea that selfies are somehow anti-feminist is a ridiculous argument to me – despite what Jezebel thinks, they can be empowering. And they’re certainly liberating. I’ve taken selfies when I’m extremely dolled up, and one’s when I’m literally lying in bed, hair thrown up into a bun and no make up on. Both have made me feel good about the way I look.
One of the main criticisms of focusing on the way we look is that we’re, more often than not, self deprecating. And while a selfie that you like might take a few tries (or considerably more than a few tries), the focus is going to be on the one that you like. That’s not necessarily going to be a photo that looks like it’s straight from a magazine (or maybe it is – lucky you), but it’s something that makes you happy.
Selfies also play a huge roll in representation. The media effectively ignores women who aren’t white, thin and able-bodied. Selfies give people who don’t fit into this painfully narrow category to put themselves out there, to be role models or inspiration for other people. Selfies show how the backwards idea of beauty put forward by society isn’t the be all and end all – them showing off how amazing they look is a massive ‘fuck you’ to an industry that all but denies their existence, let alone their capacity to be considered beautiful.
Selfies aren’t something to be feared or ridiculed – instead, they should be celebrated. They’re self love and self confidence. The way I look doesn’t define who I am, or how I should be treated, but if the way I look makes me feel good about myself, who are Jezabel to tell me that’s wrong.