Let me begin by saying that the past 6 months have been rough on my self-esteem. My skin, which has always been problematic and unpredictable, became red, swollen, and inflamed in patches on my face. I wasn’t’ sure exactly what was happening, gave me swollen eyelids and red, dry, peeling rings of skin around my eyes. Basically, I looked like I was a regular, everyday victim of a rogue pepper spray enthusiast.
Though I’ve never considered myself to be vain, my new troubled appearance had a tremendous impact on my self-esteem, and I became withdrawn and depressed. In an attempt to try and understand and diagnose the condition, I started taking a couple of selfies a day in order to track flare-ups and their appearance. I became a little obsessed with the act, collecting reams of evidence that I looked horrible, felt even worse, and definitely did not want to leave the house.
Luckily, and in part due to these selfies, I managed to figure out what my damage was (a delightful combination of being allergic to dust, mold, and my pet cat — which also triggered an intense outbreak of ezcema) and was able to get my skin under control. And the first thing I did on the first day that I woke up with clear skin? Took a celebratory selfie. Make-up free and still glistening from the moisture drench of my morning skincare routine, I felt powerful and victorious — I felt like myself again. Immediately, I went through my phone and deleted the majority of the pictures of myself which made me feel any less than that, saving only a couple with which to remind me that the daily and extensive hits of anti-histamines and eye drops were all worth it.
At 30 years old, I never thought that capturing pictures of myself and sending them out into the social ether of online communities would feel any less than an exercise in narcissism, but I’ve realized that selfies have actually evolved far beyond that.
For many women, selfies have become a bold form of personal expression, a way for them to redefine beauty by their own terms or to celebrate aspects of their aesthetic which society have repeatedly told them to be less than proud of. Selfies have become a mode for empowerment, politics, catharsis, and even good old fashioned rebellion.
In the past month or two I’ve come to embrace the selfie for exactly what it is: a personalized and proud decree of ownership over my identity and appearance. When I’m feeling strong and capable? A selfie gives me celebration. When I’m feeling sad? It gives me an outlet. When I’m feeling sexy? It gives me agency and power.
As my skin has also been slowly changing over time I’ve started to notice the prominence of laugh lines around my eyes and frown lines on my forehead, and you know what? I’m eager to document them too, makeup free and proud, as I want to approach aging without feeling the way that society has taught me to; that fine lines and wrinkles are shameful flaws, and that we must do whatever it takes to eradicate them from our skin and purge ourselves of our history.
And I know I’m not alone in my feelings about all of this — all of my social media feeds are packed full of women not just sharing their selfies without inhibition but also eager to celebrate and support the selfies of other women, too.
In the past month alone I’ve seen selfies which celebrate everything from friendships to the changing appearance of a woman in transition, which recognise the plight of an ill-timed spot outbreak or the specific agonies of period cramps, which proudly reclaim and honour the beauty of afro-hair or the tremendous curves of an exquisitely big ass in a pair of skimpy briefs or which proclaim the realities of living with depression and anxiety.
All of these selfies projected an authorship over personal definitions of beauty while also reclaiming the self-portrait as being deeper than beauty; it’s an assertion of the self.
Images of women have long been developed to appeal to the eye of the heterosexual male, but by reclaiming those images we’re breaking that gaze and shifting its power to our own selves. Selfies are pictures specifically for us, and the reason why so many of them resonate with other women is that we recognize the power of the gesture and celebrate it. We share selfies for the same reason that any of us share anything that we happen to create or experience; because we want to be visible in a way which validates our truth.
When selfies go beyond being a simple documentation of standard displays of beauty, when they’re more than just posing pretty and looking hot (which is totally awesome too, by the way), and when they’re no longer beholden to the male gaze that men have been taught to expect from the majority of images of women throughout history, they become a powerful statement of agency and self-defined beauty.
Selfies have, in recent years, very much become a feminist tool for the empowerment of personal expression. So snap away, ladies. Own it.