Selfies, as it turns out, are divisive. We’ve got one side of the coin deriding the advent of selfies, heralding them as the narcissistic downturn of society, thanks in part to everyone’s favourite dumping ground: Millennials. The other side of the coin defends the importance of the selfie, citing self-expression, self-esteem, and self-love. There’s a yawning chasm between those who abhor selfies and those who adore them. And while self portraiture, in a style that is deliberate and thoughtful in its execution, isn’t new, selfies are. But unlike other cultural phenomena — Pogs, slap bracelets, and jelly sandals (which tried their hardest to come back two summers ago) — selfies are here to stay. And it’s wonderful.
Selfies are an act of defiance in a society that wants us to believe that we’re less, because we believe we are more.
People have a tendency to dismiss things they don’t understand. I didn’t “get” cosplay for a long time, so I dismissed it as irrelevant and frivolous. From the outside, it’s a strange custom. To onlookers, there’s no rhyme or reason to it all. Snap photo, put on social media, and wait for people to love on you. Taken at surface value, that’s what selfies appear to be: shallow and attention-seeking. Some might say it’s desperate. And perhaps sometimes, it may be limned in desperation.
What are we desperate for, we Selfie Generation? Validation? Are we desperate to be seen? Or perhaps we are desperate be understood and heard and loved? We were handed the biggest economic mess since the Depression. The house that we thought we’d be able to afford is now out of our reach, perhaps for the rest of our lives. We are forced into tiny apartments, with four roommates, until we’re well into our thirties, because our work isn’t in rural communities: it’s in cities. The rest of us are trying to start little families, but we’re starved for stability, too. The Selfie Generation, the abhorred Millennials, are taking pictures of ourselves so that we can remember happiness and, yeah, how beautiful we were in a moment.
Selfies capture the moments in between.
I have a lot of photo albums in my little apartment, some that I made and others that my mom made for me. They’re noteworthy moments that needed to be captured. They needed their own albums to denote that importance. I love sifting through them, touching the paper and seeing my mother’s careful hand labeling each birthday. But not every moment is meant to have a place on our bookshelves.
Perhaps the selfie captures your smiling face on a crisp autumn day, where the light shines on you in just the right way. For me, those in between moments are in my mornings, where I’m settling in to drink my coffee and begin work. Or, on the weekends, it’s with my kids climbing on me so that we can get more pictures together. Before selfies, moms weren’t in the picture. They were taking it. I can’t be on the sidelines with a selfie. Going down a slide with my kids will always be the three (or four) of us in a photo, first.
Those in between moments are easy to forget, until they’re made indelible with a selfie.
Most importantly, selfies aren’t about the viewer. They’re about the subject.
When you pass judgment on a person taking selfies with their friends, you’re mocking them because you’re uncomfortable with how they love themselves in a moment. It annoys you because you don’t understand why it’s important to take a selfie in the middle of a store in the middle of the day for no reason at all. Their voyeurism is unmasked and you don’t understand why. Their selfies aren’t about you. Your selfies aren’t about anyone else. You can post them anywhere you want, have people pass judgment, and it still won’t be about them. It’ll still be about you.
Your interpretation of my daily selfies aren’t about how you see me — it’s about how I see myself. There are days when I don’t want to take a selfie, but I do anyway. I capture those moments that are uncomfortable and raw, where there are tears in my eyes or a strained smile across my lips. I don’t always post them, either. But I want them to be quietly mine anyway. My friends send their selfies to me on Snapchat. They’re celebrating themselves. I get to share in that celebration for a few moments, with the added benefit of “You’re gorgeous” as my response. We’ll do those exchanges a couple of times a week, just to remind one another that we are beautiful, even if it’s hard to remember that some days.
The selfie is not an act of narcissism: it is defiant self love, even if (especially if) they’re taken by teenagers. Derided and denigrated by the masses, the selfie will continue to celebrate the moments in between, the days where we’re beautiful, and capture rawness in ways that words can’t.