Monday, 21 July 2014

Love Your Self(ie): The Positive Rise of Selfie Culture

In 2013 there were mixed reactions when 'selfie' became the word of the year in the Oxford Dictionary.
We hear people talk negatively about the selfie because it is seen as vain and self indulgent. I, however, wish to offer another view.

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with hyper-sexual images of 'perfect' bodies. Companies are flocking to make commercials to remind us about their products to fix our skin, our hair, our wrinkles. Everywhere we turn, we are being sold more insecurities. It's very easy to fall prey to the bizarre beauty culture in which we live where our self esteem begins to plummet. 44% of American high school girls are focused on losing weight. A worryingly high percentage of young people with self esteem problems also engage in other negative activities such as self harm, smoking, drinking, bullying, disordered eating/eating disorders. At least 20% of teens will experience depression before their 20s. The amount of boys in middle school who have admitted to using protein supplements, even steroids, is staggering. Though these statistics focus on American youth, it can be said that there are similar findings across the world. Our self esteems are pushed far too low. Therefore, if someone takes a moment to take a photo of themselves because they feel and look good, I cannot find any problem with that. I think that, when we take a selfie, we do it more for us than for others. We attempt to relate ourselves to ourselves like a strange Lacan's Mirror Theory style act. It's a way of saying 'I feel good about myself today and I wish to capture that somehow. This is me.'

Ever since getting my iPhone and experimenting with apps like Snapchat and Instagram, I found myself taking more selfies and viewing myself in this way more regularly. It made me really look at myself and assess the aspects of my face and, in time, I realised that I actually really like the way that I look not just in the strategically angled and well lit photos that we take of ourselves. In the past 8 months I've felt happier about my appearance than ever before. In the act of simply looking at ourselves and focusing on our good features can really make us feel better about our face and body in general.

The argument that selfies are vain really stuck with me and forces me to ask an important question: why do we dislike vanity so much? Closely associated with pride, one of the seven deadly sins, vanity is something often seen to be negative. Surely we all know that person whose Facebook or blog consists heavily of photos of them in various different outfits and poses. 'How vain' we may think. Yes? So? Simple vanity itself doesn't seem to harm anyone. One possible reason is because in a 'vain' person we see someone who is confident in themselves in ways we cannot be confident and therein lies some form of jealousy. In Britain traits like modesty and humility often seem sociocultural expectations of character. We are often apprehensive to talk about our achievements and find the process of CV writing and job applications a little daunting.

In a time where notions of beauty are regulated, controlled and broadcast so heavily by the media, most of us live our lives totally unsatisfied with our appearances as a result. I've read articles on the selfie calling selfie-takers 'self-satisfied' which prompted me to question what is so inherently wrong with being satisfied with ourselves? Surely this is a state in which we should all be? Have we so heavily internalised the media-given images of what 'beauty' is meant to be that we then attack anyone who refuses to give in to feeling awful about their appearance? Why should beauty be the sole privilege of the beholder? I simply cannot fathom why we criticise those who see beauty in themselves when we're constantly being told otherwise. Surely it takes more to ignore the messages we're constantly being subjected to and to be comfortable in our skin. I will happily support anyone who wants to take a moment to feel good about their looks because, to me, it takes so much more to ignore negative messages and rise above it all. If you feel good and you want to capture it, go ahead. If you want to shame others for taking selfies, however, perhaps you should take a moment to consider what this says about you as a person.

'But first... let me take a selfie...'

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