Oh, the stigma of the selfie. Not too long ago, if you’d have asked me my thoughts on the phenomenon, I would have scoffed about its narcissism, indulgence, bourgeois-ness, etc. These days, I say it’s got a tender place in my heart.
Maybe I’ve found myself in a more self-involved district of the internet. Maybe I’m more openly comfortable with looking through scads of random photos of the people within my “online network.” Maybe I’m a creep. But I now love selfies and am happy to declare this love.
Not to make this post ultra-shallow, but I don’t really feel like dissecting the selfie from a “critical theory” sort of lens right now. The selfie is a major artifact of the present age, and the discussion of how it relates to millennial culture is important. But that discussion is already happening, and I think it is important (for me at least) to sort out personal feelings around the matter before jumping in with academic jargon and “big picture” thinking.
So right now, what I’m feeling is respect for the people who openly embrace the selfie. There’s something very honest and upfront about the sharing of self-photography, and it seems to brush aside some very contrived and restrictive camera etiquette.
The first tier of this etiquette relates to acknowledgement of the camera. I feel as though there is often a strong taboo around paying heed to the camera – don’t obsess over taking photos, be “natural” in front of the camera, don’t let the camera impact your behaviour, etc. I see these taboos as feeding directly into the anxiety around the selfie. If we’re really honest with ourselves, though, the presence of the camera is embedded in our daily ritual: we are constantly posing for and anticipating photographs – even when candid.
The second tier of this etiquette relates to authorship. Doesn’t it seem cooler to be tagged in someone else’s photograph on Facebook than to be tagged in your own? I sometimes sense a attitude of hierarchy – like, the coolest people will be constantly surrounded by people taking their photos, and will thus never need to take their own photo. If this is the case, though, there is a dependency one must have upon those photographing ( “when are you going to upload those photos?” – ha, another taboo, but we’ve all heard it and I always want to ask).
Then there’s the obvious tier of etiquette regarding vanity, which I think is so basic we don’t even really need to get into it.
So aside from overcoming these totally riduculous/repressive social codes, what I really love about selfies is their act of self-sharing. I see the selfie as an open invitation, a gesture of “here, come look at me, I want to share myself with you.” Sure, there’s the rhetoric of “why would you assume people want to look at you?,” but I think we really do want to look at one another. I want to see people’s outfit of the day, I want to see people looking happy and fancy with their friends when they go out for a night on the town. I want to see what people are doing and looking like, even when they don’t have someone else there to take their photo. The sharing of a selfie lets these things happen.
I think that when you take a selfie, you make yourself vulnerable in many ways, re: the etiquette mentioned above. In turn, you let your viewers overcome the vulnerability and anxiety they might feel when looking through your pictures (ie “am I a creep?”). A selfie is like saying, “no, it’s not creepy, I want to share, keep on looking.” I think that’s a nice gesture.
Thank you to all my friends who shared their selfies!