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.