I’m a huge fan of photographic self-portraits — or as they are more commonly called, “selfies”. In fact, way back in 2007, I was inspired by my brilliant photographer friend Sarah Bloom to do most of a “52 Weeks” project where I took a self-portrait once a week for a year (one image there is mildly NSFW). I was pleased to see “selfie” chosen as 2013’s word of the year.
It’s not just taking my own selfies I enjoy; I truly love seeing those taken by my friends and acquaintances on social media as well. I love the sweaty post half-marathon photos, the date night photos, and even the in-pajamas-at-school-drop-off-with-Starbucks photos. There is so much joy in seeing the faces of people I care about each day, even if they live in places where I don’t see them often.
In other words, when it comes to selfies ,you can put me firmly in the “fan girl” column — which is why I read Rachel Simmon’s Slate article suggesting that selfies are good for girls with interest. I loved this statement:
“The selfie suggests something in picture form—I think I look [beautiful] [happy] [funny] [sexy]. Do you?—that a girl could never get away with saying. It puts the gaze of the camera squarely in a girl’s hands, and along with it, the power to influence the photo’s interpretation. As psychiatrist Josie Howard recently told Refinery29’s Kristin Booker, selfies ‘may reset the industry standard of beauty to something more realistic.’ “
The backlash in response to her column was swift, culminating in an article by Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel that said girls taking selfies wasn’t just a bad idea but was actually harmful. The article complains that selfies are fixated on appearances vs. accomplishments:
“But the typical selfie is not taken by women who have just completed Iron Man Triathlons or finally finished reading Infinite Jest (caption: Me N DFW 4 eva! XOXO #blessed #reading #smart #rip); selfies don’t typically contain job offer letters, successful grant applications, their face in front of a gorgeously rendered still life the woman drew by hand. They’re literally just pictures of a woman’s face not talking (grey-area exception: selfies where a person’s face is not the point of the picture.”
In reaction to the Jezebel piece, Kate Averett and Jamie Nesbitt Golden created the #feministselfie hashtag, highlighting the fact that many people particularly women of color and queer women use selfies as a tool of empowerment because they are unlikely to see images of others that look like them in the media. This led Veronica Arreola of the blog Viva La Feminista to suggest the #365feministselfie where women commit to taking a self portrait and sharing it every day for a year.
I loved this idea, and I immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Frankly, I found the Jezebel article to be anti-feminist (and anti-woman) because it shames women and girls for choosing to take self portraits — in particular, those of us that prefer to take care with those photos by choosing angles, lighting, and other elements that showcase ourselves in a flattering way. I don’t think there is a damn thing wrong with “Retaking a photo 12 times until your chin looks right.” One of the most empowering elements of selfies is choosing how you represent yourself to the world.
Which brings me back to the idea of the “photographic self portrait” and the friend that gave me the courage to take photos of myself my dearest friend, Sarah Bloom. In 2006 and 2007, she took a self portrait every day (and she did it again in 2012 and 2013). Through this process she not only grew as an artist and photographer, but she began to love herself and her body in a deep way. Today she specializes in naked self-portraits taken in abandoned buildings in a series called “Self, Abandoned” (many images will be considered NSFW) that are so beautiful and amazing they take my breath away. When Sarah picked up a camera and began taking photos in 2004, she was not the same confident and strong woman she is today (and she now runs her own photography business). For her, self portraits are a deep exploration of self-as-art.
While my Instagramed self-portraits can not be considered anything like Sarah’s amazing work, they do instill in me the same sort of confidence in my own beauty something I struggle with as my face is changing with mid-life. And as a fat woman who also rarely sees herself portrayed in the media in a positive light (in fact, 95% of the large bodies you see in the media are of the “headless fatty” variety), I gain more courage each time I share a photo of my whole body something, admittedly, I don’t do very often but aim to do more of this year during the #365feministselfie project.
What do you think? Are selfies harmful to girls and women, or are they empowering? Will you be participating in the #365feministselfie project? I’ll also end this post by sharing Sarah’s amazing video of her 2013 self portrait project; in these images she focused only on her face. They are spectacular. Enjoy.
More on Babble: No, Kim Kardashian’s Sexy Selfies Are Not Insta-Feminism