In 2013, the word ‘selfie’ was named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year; but how exactly does selfie culture tie into the body positive movement?
NPR called the selfie, “A whole new genre of cultural expression.” Whether or not that kind of expression is positive or negative has been very much up for debate.
There is an overwhelming amount of literature on photography and being photographed and the benefits they have on self-esteem; but the conversation drastically changes when it comes to photographing oneself.
Suddenly, words like ‘narcissism’ and ‘disingenuous’ enter into the dialogue. That being said, members of the body positive community tend to respond to those opinions with pro-selfie rhetoric.
During a discussion about the phenomenon that is the selfie, 23-year-old Kylie Stevens from New York brought a quote by John Berger to my attention.
In his book, Ways of Seeing, Berger writes, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting, ‘Vanity,’ thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
Why is it that society can look at others and enjoy their physical appearances, but when it comes to looking inward in appreciation, negative judgments ensue?
A Pro’s Opinion
Professional photographers and BoPo advocates alike seem to agree that this particular form of expression is ultimately, a positive one.
Yellow Brick Collective was established by photographer, Agnes Fohn as, “A place for women to declare and liberate their beauty.”
According to the website, Agnes has been photographing women in NYC and beyond for over 14 years. As she puts it, she is all for selfies.
“As a photographer, I know that existing in photographs is so important,” Agnes says. “I shoot mostly boudoir and I know how transformative a gorgeous image can be for a client.”
Agnes expressed seeing countless clients come to her feeling shy and lacking confidence. Only after they’ve seen themselves captured in a photograph do they come out of their shells and ultimately walk out transformed. Actually, according to Agnes, they strut out of the studio.
“It’s powerful what a little appreciation for yourself can do!” says Agnes.
So What Does Google Say?
I went through a lot of articles about whether or not selfie culture is beneficial or detrimental to society; believe me when I say it was A LOT.
Perhaps the most shocking thing – which was also rather insulting – was the utter disdain for selfie takers nearly every article was written with.
Flooding the internet are titles like:
- “Science Confirms That Selfies Are the Worst”
- “Selfies: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Irritating,”
- “13 Reasons You Need To Stop Taking So Many Selfies.”
The conclusion I came to during my research was that all of these articles must have been written for the sole purpose of making people feel bad about themselves.
In fact, that last article’s first reason is, “No one cares.”
In the words of Stephanie Tanner from Full House, “How rude!”
Even articles that are supposedly meant to promote the benefits of taking selfies start with sentences like, “It’s easy to dismiss the selfie as a vapid emblem of youth and celebrity culture…”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep ‘vapid’ in my pile of flattering adjectives.
The other, and perhaps most important thing I found to be true, was a stark contrast in reasoning behind the articles written either for or against selfie taking.
Articles written in order to discourage people from taking selfies focused their rationale on what you’ll look like to OTHER people.
The articles written with the intention of encouragement are all about how selfies make YOU feel.
Because of this pattern, in my opinion, whether or not you feel selfies are good or bad depends on what you place more importance on.
Asking Our Community
The body positive movement’s purpose is to encourage all people to accept themselves in all shapes, sizes, colors, etc.
Because of this mission, members of the body positive community have perhaps done more self-analysis than any other group of people out there.
Body positive advocates work hard to recognize what helps and what hurts, what inspires them and what holds them back.
Selfies have had an overwhelmingly positive impact on BoPo supporters everywhere.
“They have given me confidence and they make me feel beautiful,” said community member, Ena Dumais from Oshawa, Ontario. “I love seeing selfies of beautiful, brave, strong, and talented women! It makes me hope for a future when beauty in every shape, size, and color will be appreciated and celebrated!”
Another community member of ours, Kim Bell, is known to her friends as ‘The Selfie Queen.’ “I love a good selfie,” she says. “Makeup or no makeup, looking pretty or not so cute, I’m me no matter what.”
Ena and Kim weren’t the only community members weighing in. In fact, not only has taking selfies helped to boost BoPo advocates’ confidence, but it’s even helped on people’s road to recovery.
“At first, selfies terrified me,” admitted Tricia ‘CookieKitty’ Spence, from Virginia. “Once I realized how small I was, I thought I looked horrendous. It’s crazy to reflect on now because the more weight I gained, the better I felt about myself. Looking at other people’s selfies helped SO MUCH. I saw other girls who were perfectly confident and I thought, ‘I want to be confident just like them!’ Honestly, I think recovery would’ve been a lot harder if I hadn’t seen those amazing girls post their photos.”
Perhaps other people struggling and working through recovery can see the beauty in Tricia’s selfies the way she saw the beauty in others.
Community member Fanele Ella Mpanza expressed the joy she feels when she spots someone taking a selfie. “I cheer them on in my head!” she said. “I think, in the body positive community, selfies and their captions have helped us draw strength and confidence from each other. They help us all to love ourselves a little more, no matter how we look or where we are from. I love that!”
According to these community members, selfies are positive and deserve their place in the list of body positive inspiration.
Self-Love or Conceit?
So how do people respond to those whose opinions lean on the side of narcissism?
“I feel like I see a lot of moralizing about selfie culture and how it’s proof of our generation’s narcissism which is a perspective that I find kind of annoying,” said 27-year-old Frank Stabile from Staten Island.
Frank’s observation is in line with the aforementioned ‘selfies are bad’ articles.
He does admit to not having looked up any studies and keeps an open mind on the matter. That being said, Frank feels that comments accusing selfie takers of narcissism usually come with a sense of condescension.
“The selfie generation probably isn’t any more or less narcissistic than other generations,” Frank said. “We just do it with selfies instead of buying convertibles or big houses because… well, in general we can’t afford those things.”
While I’m sure my fellow millennials can agree with and relate to Frank’s statement, perhaps Agnes Fohn addressed the topic of narcissism best.
“Capturing your life is not narcissistic,” she said. “Taking an image to savor and remember a beautiful day, an exciting achievement, or perhaps a romantic moment, is so precious. Nostalgia is one hell of a drug. Those images that you take as your life is whirling by will always be so valuable.”
Finding A Balance
I think it’s important to remember, whatever side of the selfie argument you’re on, that – like almost everything else – it’s okay in moderation.
“If it gets obsessive or makes you try to perfect everything about yourself, it can get bad,” says 23-year-old pro-selfie Neyra Madiou from Jamaica, New York. “There is loving yourself for good, and beating yourself up to be perfect.”
Some have admitted to placing too much importance on selfies. More specifically, they focus on the reactions to them they may or may not receive.
“My selfies are completely linked with my self-worth,” admits 24-year-old Natalie DeGennaro, from Booklyn, New York. “When taking a selfie, if I feel I’m attractive in it, my confidence will boost way up, but only temporarily and if it gets lots of likes.”
To Natalie and anyone else that may value him/herself based on ‘double-taps’ and ‘thumbs up,’ I say, to Hell with the likes and comments.
If you’ve captured your authentic self and chosen to share that image with your social media followers and the world, it’s a beautiful thing.
“Selfie away!” Agnes Fohn encourages. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you your memories aren’t important. In the end, it will be all that really matters.”
Selfie Culture and The BoPo Community
So, as I asked in the beginning of this article, how does selfie culture tie into the body positive movement?
The answer to this question is that there really is no answer. This is because everyone’s story is different and while it may help someone with a self-esteem boost, it may make someone else obsess or feel completely indifferent about it.
We are all unique and we are beautiful BECAUSE of that uniqueness, not in spite of it.
Rarely will anyone ever force you to take a selfie. There is no social media law stating a selfie requirement.
The most important thing to realize is that if you like taking selfies, you should go for it. If you can’t stand them, don’t take them.
As is customary in the body positive community, don’t judge another person because they may not agree with you.
There’s no room for eye rolling at another person’s selfie, just like there’s no room for pressuring others to take them.
Fill your camera roll with selfies, or don’t.
Whatever you choose, just be sure it’s what helps you on your journey; and don’t forget that all of our journeys are unique and valuable.