Last week, Jezebel posted a piece about selfies under the headline “Selfies aren’t empowering. They’re a cry for help.”
Well. Seems not everyone is down with Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year. (Remember back in the good ol’ days — like, 2006 — when selfies were just called “MySpace photos?”)
Writes Erin Gloria Ryan:
“I’ve noticed among the chorus of opinions on the social media self portrait an annoying trend: the selfie evangelist. Selfies are just dandy, they say, because they’re a way for people (mostly young women) to express themselves and to show pride in who they are. To insult the selfie is to insult WOMEN IN GENERAL, and that’s, like, against the rules of feminism. Besides, selfies are here to stay! Get used to it! Stop this. Selfies aren’t empowering; they’re a high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.”
It goes on like that, working under the assumption that the ONLY reason people possibly take selfies is to be told OMG UR SO PRETTY! or wrack up those little orange hearts on Instagram.
But here’s the thing: selfies aren’t just the province of vain Millennials. For marginalized women, selfies can be incredibly empowering. Selfies give them something mainstream society/media doesn’t: visibility.
A lot of smart women wrote a lot of smart things on this subject, but I was struck by two must-read responses written by self-identified fat feminists, Melissa McEwan at Shakesville and Amanda Levitt at Fat Body Politics.
After all, we do not, contrary to what Fit Mom thinks, live in a culture that celebrates fat bodies. Fat is an f-word. It’s a pejorative. Because the prevailing view in our culture is that a. fat is bad and something to be feared/avoided at all costs; b. all fat people hate their bodies and are actively trying to change them; and c. if they’re not, then they’re lazy.
As such, a fat woman’s media representation is severely limited to Headless Cautionary Tale or Unsmiling Before Photo. Which is so unbelievably shitty.
As McEwan once wrote, “The reason I post pictures of myself is because… there is a dearth of imagery of fat women, especially fat happy women enjoying their lives.”
She continues that thought in her response to the Jezebel piece:
It’s also because I want to be visible. I don’t mean I want to be admired, or fancied, or famous. I mean I just want to be a person who is seen by the people around her, a person who isn’t surprised when any other person speaks to her, a person who is fully human.
For Levitt, taking selfies is a political act.
As a fat woman who has been told repeatedly I don’t have the ability to be attractive, beautiful and shouldn’t be visible the use of selfies not only has allowed me to reclaim a part of myself I was told I wasn’t allowed to have, but has served to be part of a larger form of political resistance against those people who gaze upon my body. My visibility politic dares them to not look at me.
I dunno about you guys, but that sounds pretty fucking empowering to me.
For my part, I like taking selfies. And I like seeing selfies because I love seeing the ladies in my life posting photos in which they obviously feel sensational about themselves — although, I do love a good No Filter, No Fux post. In a world that constantly dehumanizes us, objectifies us, tells us to take up less space and that we’re never, ever good enough, that feeling can be all too rare.
Selfies are the photos that celebrate a curl or an arch of a brow or a freckle or a dimple. You know, the things that make us, us. The things that make us beautiful to ourselves — the harshest critics of all.
UPDATE: Here’s more reading on the hashtag #feministselfie which took over Twitter last week. Women whose bodies are constantly othered posted some amazing (and radical) self portraits. Follow the links!