On Selfies


April 4, 2018 by Julia

We all think we have bad angles. But it’s possible that someone might see our bad angle and think it’s pretty cute, actually.

When I catch my reflection inadvertently in the mirror, or when I turn on my camera to find the screen is in selfie-mode (ack!), or encounter an unflattering photo, I try now to remember that this is not the whole picture. That people do not see me solely in that one frame, from that one angle. Especially the people who love me.

I’ve been back into Instagram. It’s better for me than Facebook these days. It feels less toxic, less in-your-face with memes and terrible headlines, or people selling stuff, or links that I won’t have time to click on, even though I want to. With Instagram the parameters are smaller on purpose, so that it’s still mostly about good pictures. Which means it’s a creative place, which means it’s a more healing place. It makes me look around for beauty or humor or fascinating objects in my everyday life. I like how it can reveal the viewpoint and aesthetic of an individual without the clutter.


One small hitch, though – I’m still not a fan of selfies. I feel uncomfortable taking them, and I get a little judge-y about people who post them constantly, too. My first thought when selfie sticks came out was: Have people no shame?


I look down upon the Kim Kardashians of the world, so focused on showcasing their own external beauty to the masses every day. What’s the point? Does this benefit anyone but themselves? Think of all the time and money and energy they spend on making themselves beautiful!


But as vapid, boring, and narcissistic as I tell myself these beauty icons are, I am a little envious. (Of course.) How nice it must be to post an attractive selfie with no shame or overthinking. I mean, I could spend an hour on my hair and makeup, and then use flattering lighting and filters, and take a shot from an angle that makes me look twenty pounds lighter than I am. It just feels dishonest, I guess. It also feels like a cheap way to get affirmation. And the people who know me know what I really look like, day in and day out. I’d only be fooling strangers and long-distance friends (until they visited and the ruse would be up).

There’s the dishonesty factor, and there’s my impulse to challenge beauty standards rather than cater to them. But mainly, I’m embarrassed by what a pretty selfie would reveal about me. (I’m also embarrassed by what a hideous selfie would say about me, oddly enough.) It would mean admitting that I need to feel pretty, too. That sometimes I need a little ego boost to get through my day, too.


Which is true. I might as well admit it, in part because the more I deprive myself of those little indulgences, the more I will judge other people for partaking in them. And I don’t like judge-y, especially when it comes to trivial issues with no clear right or wrong. Judgmental thinking makes me feel claustrophobic.


I’m not so different than the selfie-posting-people, is what I’m reminding myself. In fact, they may have certain things figured out better than I do, because they don’t have any shame about saying to the world: here I am, take it or leave it. I may be vain, I may be brave, I may be bored or needy. I may be longing for a little reassurance.



source here, artist unknown


When I was a teenager, back in the days before digital pictures, photos were the main factor in the never-ending quest to determine if I was attractive enough. (The question still remains: attractive enough for what, for whom?) If you want to know how teenaged girls think about their looks, in general: they kind of know they’re gorgeous – I mean, in comparison to the rest of the population, they’re like the bright shiny sports cars in a sea of used minivans – but they only know it in the background of a whole lot of self-consciousness, self-loathing, and self-criticism. It’s a heady concoction of love and hate, strong enough to induce tears or euphoria.


Anyway: the printed photo was the closest impression of truth I could get, on this roller coaster of figuring out whether I was really fat or thin, pretty or not-pretty. The mirror couldn’t always be trusted. The feedback of others couldn’t always be trusted. And because there were only a handful of photos of me each year, each one was imbued with a sense of harsh or surprising truth beyond what it deserved.


Maybe this is one upside of having so many digital pictures now: photos of ourselves don’t carry the same weight. I’ve seen more of myself in the past ten years than I ever did in my first twenty-nine. Also, having children has taught me more about how beauty works. I see that there are endless angles on their beauty. They don’t have a “good” side; they are ever-shifting, growing, with a thousand subtle expressions, and to change any part of them for the sake of “attractiveness” would make me sad. I just want them to be who they are. I am stunned by their beauty every day.

When my daughter tries to figure out what beauty looks like, and where she is on the totem pole, I of course tell her that she is beautiful – but that there is no objective scale, anyway. We are all a bunch of pieces that add up to someone. When someone else loves you, they focus on their favorite parts: the top of your cheekbone, where it’s soft under your eye, or your elfin pointy ears, or your velvety brown eyes, which are, seriously, so soft and light. When people hate themselves, they will see your flaws and judge you for them, and get really worried again about their own flaws, in a terrible cycle. The best thing you can do is focus on your best parts, and the best parts of others. When you happen to see the less appealing parts, you can look away. You don’t have to focus on your broken-out skin, or your flabby belly, or stubby, wrinkled hands. The people who know how to love you best don’t, after all.

All of those less attractive parts will still exist, but they are not the whole picture. We do better to accept them as part of our humanity, giving us texture and vulnerability. But we don’t have to stare at them.

I like the fairly new phenomenon of women posting their greatest flaws in a kind of screw you to all kinds of things that oppress women. But I’m also inspired by beautiful photos of people, especially when their beauty is shown in a less conventional way. Sometimes selfies have more to do with art or self-expression than beauty. Acting out your own idea can be the fastest way to share it with the world. Our faces or bodies can inspire us, like muses.


Peter Keetman, Self Portrait With Camera, circa 1950


@Herflyazz.cartoonz on Instagram


Mikael Jou, in his dance self-portraits series

Maybe, like with most things, the most truthful and uplifting message we can post, in the selfies we put online, is a complex one. I’m still not comfortable with taking or posting selfies, but that’s okay, too. I’d usually rather show you what I see, how I think, how I feel than show you how I look. I don’t know if it’s shyness, or shame, or self-righteousness, or what. Maybe it’s just a matter of different forms of self-expression for different personalities. But I still like to see your face.


One thought on “On Selfies

  1. Nancy Nemoyer says:

    “We are all a bunch of pieces that add up to someone. ”
    Thanks for your thoughts.

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