HOW TO GET OVER YOUR “SELFIE” ANXIETY
Article by Sabrina Cassis
You can’t have a conversation about self-love without talking about selfies. And I know what you’re thinking. They’re tell-tale signs of narcissism and insecurity. But a number of women artists, and women in general, have taken to selfies and used them as a medium for self-expression, an opportunity to produce counter images to what society deems a woman should look like.
With an exhibition charting the history of the selfie at London’s Saatchi gallery, it seems our obsession with selfies isn’t going anywhere. Russell Smith for the Globe and Mail states: “[The exhibition] juxtaposes painted self-portraits – by van Gogh and Rembrandt – with staged and stylized contemporary photo self-portraiture – by Tracey Emin and June Calypso – and the candid, amateur selfies of celebrities, including Obama. Its point is simple: that selfies are a part of a long tradition of great art. Painters have practiced techniques on themselves since the invention of paint, and they have also used their own faces as vehicles for mood and self-expression. They are often vaguely defiant.” Self-representation is not a new phenomenon.
Is posting selfies an empowering and confidence building activity, or does it reinforce this idea that a woman’s value lies solely in her appearance? In a world where women are constantly being told to be better/younger/thinner/curvier, taking a selfie can feel like an act of defiance.
Personally, becoming comfortable with taking a selfie was a big hurdle. I remember the very first time I took a selfie in lingerie and posted it on Instagram. I felt super awkward and it took a lot of tries until I felt good about one. I forced myself to do it because I just didn’t feel ok about posting pictures of other women in lingerie for my lingerie brand Alice Kass without being able to do it myself (practice what you preach!) I was way too shy to ask someone else to take photos of me. Selfies it was.
I had never felt particularly sexy before, I was a straight A nerdy student that wore the boys uniform in high school and was painfully shy and awkward throughout University. Before starting Alice Kass, I had never been into lingerie, I bought my first thong at 24 years of age. I thought lingerie was for another type of woman, a woman engaged with her sexuality, comfortable with it, a woman with a boyfriend even. In my mind, I had no right to be overtly sexual as I was perpetually single and unattached to one particular man. Sharing that sexuality, in the form of how I dressed or behaved, I feared I would lead men on. Give them the “wrong idea” and then have to deal with the consequences.
There was also the fear of posting a selfie in lingerie and being judged as vain or attention seeking. Comments both men and women make about women that take selfies, especially sexy ones. Why are we so harsh towards a woman for taking pleasure in how she looks? Why do we negate the fact that we can, in fact, find ourselves beautiful, sensual or worthy of being photographed? Do I have to wait around for someone to want to photograph me or could I not be my own muse?
When I see a woman on Instagram defiantly looking into the camera, clearly enjoying the way she looks, especially when she isn’t “perfect” by society’s standards, I feel inspired. Women celebrating their uniqueness and finding an outlet to express themselves is empowering. The body positivity trend has a lot to do with this and selfies are contributing to taking away shame surrounding women’s bodies by allowing them to control the narrative around them. With their selfies, these women are unapologetically taking up space on their own terms, asserting themselves and saying, yes I’m here, this is me and I like what I see.
Contemporary art professor at Stanford Peggy Phelan believes selfies provide an opportunity to seize the gaze. “Most importantly, the selfie, like (Cindy) Sherman’s feminist masterpiece, promotes the idea that representation is open for the insertion of the self. The inclusion of the female figure by the woman herself and the resulting displacement of the male gaze have important implications for gender equality today.”
The democratization of being a muse, and celebrating yourself gives women a sense of agency and control.
Sex coach Ev’Yan Whitney (or sexuality Doula as she calls herself) takes it one step further and posts nude selfies to find a sense of body appreciation and erotic power. “It’s not about titillation. It’s not about exploitation. Taking nude selfies and posting them on the internet has been a really powerful practice of radical self-love and sexual acceptance.” “The smiling photos I took of myself activated a self-celebration and confidence that encouraged me to stand taller, that reminded me that I deserve to be here, that made me feel more worthy and radiant.”
Many would dismiss her intent and just say that posting naked pictures of yourself on the internet is self-objectification. Are we playing into the very paradigm we are calling out by exposing our bodies? Women will be objectified, sexualized, whether clothed or not, whether we want to be or not, on the streets, at work, in a club. The nude selfie has given Ev'Yan a chance to define herself on her own terms, reclaim her body and its representation and take ownership of her image while inspiring a sense of confidence and self-love. It is not the viewer's interpretation, whether they are aroused or disapproving, that should dictate whether this is a valid means of self-expression.
It can be a celebration of the self and a means to take control back. We’re taught to hate our appearance and bodies so we spend money on products to fix them. What if we celebrated them instead, in all their differences? The act of taking that selfie is an act of affirming yourself. Taking that space we can so often be scared of taking. It’s just one step among many to assert yourself. I cannot attest as to why everyone takes selfies, but I know it has made me feel more confident, less judgmental and can be an important step on that journey to self-love. Taking the time to look at yourself and appreciate your whole self, body included.