Apparently taking selfies makes me narcissistic and vain. The internet is fond of telling us what we are doing wrong and how we should be otherwise to what we are. But every selfie that I take of my ordinary life and ordinary face fights the negative self image the media has taught me to have.
The more selfies I take, the more my face becomes normal to me and the people I share with on social media. The more real people we see, the less credence we give to the digitally altered people online, in magazines, billboards, and television. Beauty is a norm. We learn to expect what we see regularly. We’re bombarded with images of models who have teams of people to make them look better than us. To make us feel inadequate so they can sell us something. I think taking and sharing selfies is one of the most important things we can do to celebrate ourselves, our realness, our existence, and show our children that we like who we are. That’s the most powerful way that we can help them to like themselves.
I used to feel insecure about my looks. I was raised by a feminist who praised my intelligence, but who had major body insecurity herself. I understand emphasising brains over beauty in a world that tells girls that being pretty is our most useful attribute. I’ve never felt insecure about my intellectual abilities which is cool. I feel fierce and capable and smart. But I wish I’d been told more often that I am beautiful. Parents, tell your children they are so divinely beautiful you just want to eat them. That they’re so lovely you can hardly bear it. Help them celebrate their bodies. (And their intelligence, their effort, their kindness, their silliness. Celebrating one thing doesn’t need to detract from the others.)
I have had to teach myself self-love, because neither society nor my family taught me. It started when I realised how much it upset me to hear my friends speak disparagingly about themselves. I wanted to shake them and say “but you’re exquisite! I love you!” So I vowed to stop talking that way about myself. I read quotes from powerful, glorious women who claimed their own beauty. I realised that when I look at my face I focus in on the individual components and all the ways my chubby tummy or my freckled skin or my pointy teeth don’t meet current beauty standards, but that when others look at me they see all of me at once, and they choose to like me. They see the way I smile at something they’ve said, or how I get animated when I talk about something I care about, or how soft my hair is, and how good I am at giving squishy hugs. Beauty isn’t flawless skin and a flat stomach. Beauty is a way of being in the world. And just as there are many ways of being, there are many types of beauty.
Then I learned the power of taking selfies. Previously, even when I started learning to like myself when looking in the mirror, or just by existing, I would occasionally see a photo someone else took, and my self esteem would plummet again. I’d be caught in an awkward moment with a weird facial expression or at an angle that made me look fatter than I thought I was. When I started taking selfies, I had more control, and I had evidence that even in photos I could look pretty. And then this thing happened, where I got so used to my face, that I liked it even in less flattering photos. I stopped caring about the odd zit (at some point I hope my body will realise I’m an adult and I shouldn’t get zits anymore, but it hasn’t happened yet). I stopped caring if my uneven teeth were visible because look! I was smiling and happy! I even stopped caring if you could see my chubby arms or the way my tummy sticks out a bit. Fuck it, I’m here, I am an excellent human, I’m glorious.
You’re glorious too. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise, even yourself. Take more selfies – I want to see you! Especially take lots of selfies with your children. Allison Tate will tell you why mothers should stay in the picture. (Seriously, click that link. It’s one of my favourite blog posts ever.)
When you take a selfie and post it to social media, you are sharing yourself in a moment that means something to you. It might be that you’re hanging out with someone that you’re happy to be with. Maybe you visited a neat monument and you don’t just want a picture of the thing, you want a picture of you with the thing. Do you have a new haircut? New glasses? Show them off! Let your friends and family “like” your picture. Be visible! You can change what and how the world sees. And you know what else? It’s OK to just want to capture a memory for yourself.
Let’s share our lives and connect over ordinary moments. Let’s shut out the people telling us we’re not good enough and we have to buy stuff to be better (it’s not true). You are important. You are real, and you are beautiful.