Norman Rockwell, an iconic artist and illustrator, famously painted one of the most beloved paintings in America called “Triple Self-Portrait.” It is a witty and well-thought out illustration of how Rockwell perceived himself while painting. Now, if you will, imagine ripping that painting off the wall and shitting all over it. But, actually, I don’t have to imagine, I’ve already done it.
This new phenomenon of haphazardly snapping self-portraits is something I started to notice when I first moved to Los Angeles about 4 years ago; girls openly holding their phone away from their face as far as their little arm could stretch, making the infamous kissy-face and instantly checking the results to see if their new picture would make the Facebook cut, or at least the screen saver cut.
I vividly remember the first time I watched this happen in public. It was the same feeling you get when you accidentally walk in on someone in the bathroom; horror followed by unending apologies and usually an exchange of your insurance provider. The only difference between this and walking in on someone in the bathroom is that she didn’t even flinch. She just continued the process until she got the perfect photo (usually the one where she looks most like someone I hate). It was like I had walked in on her in the bathroom and instead of covering herself up, she just nonchalantly said, “One ply or two?”
I felt confused, uncomfortable, like I just witnessed a murder. If we were to take it to a court of law, technically, I was guilty by association. So, I felt this underlying sense that her and I were bonded together for life, like Thelma and Louise. But, instead of driving off a cliff together, we just became friends on Facebook, which incidentally, has the same result.
It wasn’t long before I saw such behavior in public again and, again. What was to blame? Was it Los Angeles, the capital of narcissism? Or, was I a poor judge of character, thus ending up around the “self-portrait” types? It couldn’t be, I’ve seen it happen with the person in the car next to me on several occasions and, God knows I didn’t choose to sit at a red light next to a Corolla. It’s essentially become as common as catching someone mid nose-pick.
It wasn’t long ago when self-portraits weren’t running rampant in our cameras and on our Internet. The extent of it seemed that, from time to time, when no one was around to snap your picture in front of Niagara Falls, it was perfectly acceptable for you to do so. But, that was on a special occasion in a special circumstance. Now, it seems like this has become a disease that doesn’t discriminate. It has infected our friends, our brothers. And, you know it’s a battle too late to fight when even your mother has a couple selfies stored in her camera roll.*
Now, the self-portrait has become so common that phones like the iPhone have actually made a camera to accommodate this need. Thanks to geniuses at Apple, you can actually turn the camera around so you don’t have to go through all that trouble of out stretching your arm, only to find out that your face wasn’t even centered! Oh, the humanity.
When did this all begin? I’d like to blame the muscle-jocks in the mirror with their shirts off snapping pictures. They seem to love to let everyone know how much time they’ve spent working out and how little time they’ve spend reading. Only, I will admit, those pictures are worse than everyone else’s. Not only do they have their cell phone, one tool to convey their vanity, they also have a mirror, an additional means of basking in their pecks.
But, despite my judgment, I must admit that I, too, snap pictures of myself and I’ve done it on more** than one occasion. I’m not simply an innocent victim in this game of phones. I have the same urges as everyone else, like checking to see if I look as pretty as I feel (usually don’t), or what sunglasses look like on me without seeing myself through the colored tint of the lenses.
The difference isn’t our self-admiration; it is our willingness to admit it. I am what some would call a “self-loathing narcissist” or what most would call a “coward.” Ultimately, like any good Catholic or Jew (I haven’t decided which one I am yet), I carry the weight of shame.
But, more than shame, I carry the weight of how bad I look in self-portraits, which is the other reason I can’t figure out why they have become so popular. Most self-portraits I’ve taken are so bad I look like the Elephant Man’s sister who got the short end of the stick.
But, ultimately, who has it right? The woman comfortable enough with her own vanity that she can wear it loud and proud? Or, the shameful girl closeting her narcissism? If it was up to me, I’d take the closet, Rockwell will never find me hiding from him in there.
* She can’t figure out how to erase them.
** I’ve done it, like, a million times.
Image via the author