This Middle-Aged Attention-Seeking Narcissist Would Like to Defend the Selfie

Yours truly, snapping a selfie.
Yours truly, snapping a selfie.

Listen up, everyone with your social media “rules” …


You heard me. You there telling everyone you’re sick of their baby photos and you over there whining about annoying selfies and you all worked up about photos of what people are eating. I don’t care what you think. People should be free to use social media how they want to use it, in whatever way floats their boat. Everyone with their lists of rules and complaints needs to unfriend and unfollow.

If I sound mad it’s because I am. I recently wrote an article about how telling someone they look hot “for a mom” isn’t really a compliment.  I used some selfies of my smoking hot mom friend — with her permission — to illustrate the point that moms are sexy for moms and for non-moms so adding the qualifier to the compliment isn’t necessary. Adding a qualifier to a compliment is never necessary, actually. “You look great for your age” is another prime example of qualifying a compliment to the point of being offensive.  ABC syndicated the piece and it got a bunch of comments, only they weren’t really about the subject of the article so much as trash talking my friend for taking selfies. My God, you’d think she put wine coolers in her toddler’s bottle:

“You look pretty good for a middle-aged attention-seeking narcissist.” — Tony

“Tell her she is too old to stand in a mirror taking selfies, too. You are supposed to grow out of that before you turn 20.” — MDanielleM2

“At 40 years old, lady, you are at least two decades too old to be standing in the bathroom, standing sideways to make yourself look as thin as possible, and snapping selfies. You should be embarrassed, and you should focus more on your children and less time on finding the best selfie angles for your face and body to share with strangers on the internet.” — lrm11

“My sister-in-law is a good looking 40-year-old and let the compliments go to her head. However, that came to a screeching halt when she went back to college and had to contend with the 20-somethings. Now she knows her place.” — Leslie James

“Now she knows her place?” Excuse me? Where exactly is her place? Hiding behind a scarf in the corner of the classroom? I pity you, Leslie, and any daughters you may be raising.

A man who indulges in the perfect irony by calling himself Don Draper says, “My 40 year old wife does the same thing; our family is very embarrassed.”

It took me a while to scroll through all the hateful comments and I admit, even though I expect the worst from the Internet on a daily basis, I was shocked. Here we have a group of men and women shaming a gorgeous woman, a badass mom of two, no less, for feeling good enough about herself to snap a photo.

Apparently only hot twenty-somethings can get away with selfies? Nah. Screw that. You know what the world needs? More grandma selfies. (Someone should get on that.) But really, why is it that the very old and the very young have a lock on selfies? Because women between the ages of 35 and 65 should be embarrassed for posting photos they take of themselves? Why? It’s narcissistic to feel good about yourself? It’s “desperate” to snap a photo wherein you feel like you’re looking good? All that does is make women (women who know a thing or two about living life and overcoming body shame) feel embarrassed when they feel good about their appearance. I get that the Internet wouldn’t exist without the whiner brigade but seriously — don’t do that. Don’t knock someone for feeling good about themselves.

What has been left unsaid is that most women older than 35 are usually absent from family photos because they’ve spent years behind the camera snapping photos of everyone else. I look back over the five years I’ve had children and 99% of the photos are of my husband with our kids. It’s as if I didn’t exist. I know I’m there, I can feel myself behind the camera taking each photo. But what I looked like while hiking in the woods, on vacation at the Jersey Shore, during my son’s first visit to Santa Claus? That will forever be a mystery.

Similarly, there are precious few photos of my mom from her youth that aren’t formal. There’s her graduation photo, and photos from her wedding. But not much other than that — and it’s a damn shame. I’d love to have a selfie from mom, posing proudly, life having not proved exhausting, my existence not even a twinkle in sky blue eyes challenging the camera. Or maybe a selfie from when she was in the thick of raising four kids on her own — newborn included. Maybe I’d be able to discern the pain of her predicament or glean inner strength emanating out of her expression to the world. But I can’t.

However, I can leave that legacy to my children. (Go ahead and laugh if you think using “selfie” and “legacy” in the same sentence is humorous.) But I don’t think it’s a stretch and I don’t think the generation behind mine would laugh either. Like it or not, selfies are a part of our lives now and posting them isn’t some kind of indication that we’re self-absorbed jerks. They’re a means of communication, a form of self-expression, a statement to the world-at-large. Not only do I post selfies for fun or to mark an occasion, I communicate with friends by using selfies. Send me a photo of you today, I’ll text, and within seconds I’m looking at a friend I haven’t seen in person in years. We trade silly selfies or sexy selfies and I feel closer to people who are geographically far away.

Yet photographing ourselves is viewed by a large segment of people as self-indulgent and narcissistic instead of this really cool thing we’re able to do to document a moment in time. I am endlessly fascinated by them. The closer, the better. I like to see eyelashes and pores and reflections in eyes. Peeking through a photographic window into someone else’s world is intriguing. For every photo I’ve taken of myself in which I feel great, there are a hundred other moments I feel like a dog’s ass so it’s nice to have a handful of photos of myself that make me happy to be me.

Know what I see when faced with a photo of a woman staring directly into the camera? A confident woman who feels good enough about herself to share it with the world. And, my God, isn’t that a wonderful thing during a time when we’re constantly bombarded with images of unbelievably beautiful people via the media?

“I like to think that Instagram offers a quiet resistance to the barrage of perfect images that we face each day,” writes Sarah J. Gervais in Psychology Today. “Rather than being bombarded with those creations … we can look through our Instagram feed and see images of real people – with beautiful diversity.” But instead of cheerleading someone for feeling great we’ve got people leaving awful comments tearing someone down for posting a photo wherein she’s clearly feeling good about herself. You would prefer no photos? Or photos of women over a certain age not proud of themselves but in our sweats with greasy faces? Would that make you feel better? Genuine positivity about one’s appearance is worthy of your hatefulness?

You know what is uncool? People who are too cool for everything — and that includes all of you who roll your eyes at someone posting a selfie. Honesty, passion for life, confidence, curiosity, people who feel good about themselves? That’s the coolest. Not people running around declaring selfie rules and calling anyone that feels good enough about themselves to snap a photo and share it a narcissist.

Moms, grandmas, women “of a certain age!” Snap the selfies, post ’em up! Be proud! Enough with hiding from cameras because you don’t think you look good. And if you have Don Draper for a husband, kick that bastard to the curb and find yourself someone who thinks it’s sexy when you feel good. Because ain’t nothin’ sexier than a woman — of any age — who feels sexy.

Image courtesy of Monica Bielanko 

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