I take too many selfies.
I know I’m not supposed to admit to such narcissism, acknowledging that the shallow depths of my self-reflection mirror those of Narcissus. Yet, as I’ve persisted in documenting my self-ie, I’ve come to see value in this pat-on-the-back photography (bear with me).
Consistently the image of traditional beauty that we’re presented with in media is one of a white, thin and supposedly healthy, able-bodied, and often photoshopped-to-oblivion person. The variation between these conventional images is low, and when we see faces or bodies that do challenge the traditional beauty image, they will generally conform in other ways or will be the butt of a joke. These beauty images are unreal, and they function to present impossible ideals, unrealistic expectations.
The faces which actually make up the populace have one thing in common: they’re all different. Yet the quirks which give our faces and bodies character, which make them ours, are glossed over in the world of lights and cameras. The occasional “oddity” which does get accepted in this world is generally fetishized, or treated as an exception to the rule. Oftentimes, they become more a part of the person’s “brand” than their appearance: just take Cindy’s mole, Lara’s gap, Cara’s eyebrows, and Kim’s butt.
What does it say about our physical characteristics when they’re either fetishized in media or capitalized on? When those physical characteristics are made into a joke, or only accepted under certain circumstances?
It devalues those characteristics; it sets them up as other, different, and unattractive. We mere mortals don’t have the resources to snip, suck, tighten, lift, increase, decrease, and plumpen all of our imperfections, and we don’t fit within the frames of hegemonic beauty.
Selfies emerge as a challenge to this dominant narrative of exclusive beauty. Ok, yes, they’re still largely narcissistic or whatever, but selfies give us the opportunity to display those features we like, or which make us different. Someone with big pearly whites can show off their 1000-lumen smile. Someone with a prominent nose can present a striking profile. We can mask or magnify whatever characteristics we choose to, rather than shying away from cameras because we aren’t Gisele Bündchen.
More than that though, we can show through selfies that we are more than the sum or our parts. Selfies are for showing personalities, events, and emotions. Selfies aren’t just about slapping body parts into a frame and hitting hefe. They’re about making faces, shooting from different angles and in interesting places. If you reduce selfies to a simple solo photo shoot, then of course they’re uni-faceted. There’s artistry to a selfie though, in perfecting a shot or documenting your day, your life, your personality.
The camera isn’t just for traditionally beautiful faces and bodies; the selfie is for everyone. So pick up your phone and snap some pics, because you love thy selfie.
I’m not very good at taking selfies, but I can give a few tips from my time spent smiling awkwardly in front of a camera. (For more expert advice, search up Sophie Isbister’s guide to selfies on our website, titled “Express your selfie”):
– Brush your hair, make sure nothing’s in your teeth, do whatever you’ve got to do to make yourself look reasonably put-together.
– Find good lighting. The pros all say that natural, outdoor lighting is the best, because it gives you a soft glow—no harsh, artificial lighting for you!
– Choose a good background. I’m not a fan of pictures feat. messy bedroom, or a toilet lurking in the background of an otherwise cute selfie. I like to opt for a plain wall, but you can also selfie in front of flowers, paintings and pictures, a mirror, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
– Use a front-facing camera, for god’s sake.
– Take lots of selfies, from different angles and with different facial expressions. You’ll eventually become familiar with the poses and expressions that best suit you, but for the time being experimentation is key.
Originally published in the Other Press.