For the Love of Selfies

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The photo above was taken in 2008 when I was 22 after spending 16 years in hiding. Over those 16 years my photo had been taken by family members or other people where the way I was photographed was more about how others settled their gaze upon me and I wasn’t able to control or dictate the way I was captured. Much like what Melissa from Shakesville wrote, having my photos taken before the age of 22 meant it wasn’t for myself. I lacked the ability to move beyond how others decided to view my body and instead was forced into being visible in ways I wasn’t comfortable with.

Yesterday Jezebel posted an article declaring that people who take selfies are really “crying for help,” not only pathologizing those of us who take selfies but also completely ignoring how the dynamics behind selfies are more than just taking a photo or about vanity. Like many other people on twitter wrote, selfies can also be incredibly powerful in the way they directly challenge how marginalized people and their bodies are viewed by the world, while also challenging how mainstream imagery of marginalized people rely on stereotypes.

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As a fat woman who has been told repeatedly I don’t have the ability to be attractive, beautiful and shouldn’t be visible the use of selfies not only has allowed me to reclaim a part of myself I was told I wasn’t allowed to have, but has served to be part of a larger form of political resistance against those people who gaze upon my body. My visibility politic dares them to not look at me. Being visible as a fat person happens regardless of how you perform your visibility politic. As a fat person, much like other marginalized identities, your body is hyper-visible and are often reminded through interactions with others that they disprove of the way you present yourself. In the media, visibility is only allowed if you conform yourself to specific tropes related to the identities you possess. As a fat woman I am limited to only being visible if I am participating in a weight loss show, am attempting to no longer be fat or headless and completely dehumanized. (Edited to add link to “Headless Fatties”)

Selfies change all of that, they allow me to reclaim that part of myself I was told to never allow to be visible. They allow me to remove my body from the constraints on how others think I should be looked upon and instead let me shift their gaze elsewhere. They let me look back on past photos and be reminded how blissfully happy I was when I’m having a bad day. They also allow me to see how I have evolved as a person over the years and have found my more authentic self. Viewing the selfies other people take reminds me that I am not alone. There are other amazing, gorgeous and powerful people out there who are also reclaiming their own visibility. They are sick of letting other people dictate how they should present their bodies.

Aside from that for those of us who are still not ready to be visible, it’s ok. Being visible isn’t mandatory; it’s a process that sometimes we aren’t ready for or want to be part of. Visibility politics can still be limiting and I totally understand people who don’t feel the need to be visible, I still feel that way some days. The most important thing is living how you want to, not allowing others to attempt to change or dictate how you do it.

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For further reading,

Hashtags #FeministSelfie & #FeministSelfies <- Look at all the selfies!! (#feministselfies created by @thewayoftheid & @convergecollide)

The Radical Politics of Selfies - The Feminist Griote

Selfies - Shakesville

A Study of the Self - Fat Heffalump

Originally posted on my blog.

Here’s my #feministselfie from over the weekend. I was playing with a curling iron and makeup with earrings I bought from Brooklyn Flea over the summer.

Here’s the backstory:

Earlier today, a Jezebel writer penned an article called “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” In it, the author claims selfies are your internalized response to–you know what, here. I suck at summing things up. You might as well read a few excerpts and judge for yourself:

Stop this. Selfies aren’t empowering; they’re a high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.

And here’s another post about the Jezebel piece that talks about the radical politics of selfies. The Feminist Griote writes:

The reason it is revolutionary and empowering to see selfies of beautiful Black women is because proper representation of people who look like me is nowhere near the point of over saturation. The internet is the only place where I can see women who look like me freely. I don’t have to wait for the bevy of white magazines to have pity on me and show me a white washed version of myself in print. Social media allows for people of color, queer folks, fats, femmes, trans* folks, and differently-abled folks to find proper representation of ourselves sans gatekeepers.

Whether you like doing selfies or not, it isn’t very feminist to put people down for taking them if they’re not hurting anyone. Hey if it helps them feel good about themselves, why not? 

Anyway, twitter is full of patriarchy-smashing #feministselfies. They’re awesome. Check them out.

On Selfies and TDOR.

So Erin Gloria Ryan, the Jez writer responsible for this elitist schlock, writes a deliciously long tl;dr post about the evils of selfies in response to Rachel Simmons’ Slate piece. She writes: Ret…

I take selfies when I feel pretty or even I just want to feel pretty or b/c I feel good or b/c my outfit is stellar and I’m proud of it.

I take selfies b/c my grandmother told me the world hates fat, black women (so I have to be strong) and living has shown me how true. I am reminded several times a day how unloveable, undesirable, and disgusting I am. I have to at least like myself to just keep breathing in this worlds.

So, I take selfies. 

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(2013/11/22) Feminist selfies, Knockout Game hysteria, McDonald's advises workers on how to live on their small paychecks
  • (2013/11/22) Feminist selfies, Knockout Game hysteria, McDonald's advises workers on how to live on their small paychecks
  • Citizen Radio

Episode #885: Allison and Jamie discuss the changes to the filibuster rule, why young women who take selfies shouldn’t be shamed, Knockout Game hysteria, McDonald's terrible advice to workers struggling to survive on their low pay, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince saying the Global War on Terror has gotten too big (and otherinteresting statements).

Pick up Jamie’s new CD: “What Alive People Do”!

Citizen Radio is a member-supported show. Visit wearecitizenradio.com to sign up and support media that won’t lead you to war!

We’re giving away a year-long subscription to Bitch every week over on Instragram is support of #365feministselfie. The winner from the first week wrote this really sweet personal essay about the power of selfies.

An excerpt from her essay

Like many women, I am my own worst critic about my appearance. I’m fat, ugly, crooked teeth, scar on my lip, etc, etc, etc. But the thing I’ve hated the most are my eyes.

I have a condition often called exothalmia – literally, my eyes protrude or bulge out of my eye sockets more than most people. …

I stumbled upon a project #365FeministSelfie which challenges the idea that selfies are vapid, narcissistic, and anti-feminist. The project conceives of the selfie as an opportunity to create media portrayals of real women, not just the enhanced versions we see in popular culture.

Yes, selfies can be annoying and vain, but who cares? That’s true of many things (such as blogs!) I don’t look at photos that aren’t interesting to me. That’s why God invented scrolling bars. I don’t care about duck faces. I care about the people in my various social networks – I care about what they want to tell me, share with me and show me their lives.

Check out the hashtag #365feministselfie here on Tumblr and on Instragram. We’ll randomly choose one Instragram photo tagged with @BitchMedia and #365feministselfie each week for the next three weeks and gift the photographer a free one-year subscription to Bitch

I was recently called the “selfie queen” with a negative implication. I stand on the side of the debate where a photo of yourself is empowering, celebratory and my decision. So as my mum would say, “you can shove it up your jumper” 😉😁 #vscocam #feministselfie #selfie #nyc (at The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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Selfies: Are they feminist?

With the rise of selfies, many folks have debated whether or not selfies are feminist. Recently, artist Lindsay Bottos made the discussion as mainstream as possible when her Tumblr was featured on Buzzfeed. The hashtag #feministselfie has also been an ongoing trend. I have heard various criticisms of the idea that selfies are inherently feminist or even that they can be feminist, including the opinion that selfies are nothing but vain, that they are only a platform for duck faces, and that taking selfies does nothing to further feminism.

While I would argue that selfies are not inherently feminist, they can certainly be used as a tool for feminists if they are taken with a purpose. The female body and image has been used for decades to please the male gaze and to shame other women. The female image has been used to perpetrate an unrealistic beauty ideal, to sell capitalism, to distort expectations of female sexuality, and to swindle women down to nothing more than objects. Feminism fights all of these realities, feminism fights for body acceptance, for respect, for equality. The selfie in this context can be used to take back control of how our bodies and images are viewed, to reframe the beauty ideal to fit what is real and not an image devised by men in an advertising company.

However, as bell hooks and others have discussed, women can internalize patriarchy as much as men. The mere fact that a woman is taking a photo of herself is not necessarily feminist, just as it has been argued that the mere fact that a woman is successful and benefits from feminism does not mean that she is a feminist.

What about the male selfies, one might ask? To answer that, we must remember that vanity/confidence (terms that I argue are often used interchangeably depending on how the judge wants to depict the subject) are viewed differently when attributed to men and to women. And by the same vein, so are selfies. There are different implications for a woman to take a certain type of selfie, one where she shows herself the way that SHE wants to be seen rather than mimicking unrealistic beauty standards. 

Selfies have the power to be political but that does not mean that they necessarily are. We should be careful to label things as “feminist” too quickly, but we must also be mindful we don’t immediately discredit an act because it doesn’t fit the mold of what we believe to be political.