Me, My Selfie and I

by ejkendall

So recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a blog post that just won’t leave my mind. It seems like a pretty trivial subject matter, and it’s short, but for some reason it’s really struck me. It reads as follows:

“i’m just saying, take as many selfies as you want.
there are multi-million dollar companies with old white men as ceos that profit off of your low self-esteem and self-hate.

destroy them.

love yourself.”

Such are the sentences that have been whirring round in my brain ever since.

Before I talk about the selfie, I want to talk about identity. Specifically in these odd, awkward years between entering high school and leaving university, when personality is in flux and traits change and interests come and go as you learn more about yourself, putting together the never-quite-complete puzzle of who you are. I’m twenty now, which is older than my childhood self ever imagined I’d be, and I’m hopelessly aware of how very young I still am, and yet sometimes at night I feel impossibly old. Identity is a strange thing and I think it’s underestimated how difficult it is to explore, how little of it we realise we can claim as our own.

Sexuality, body image, gender, insecurities… As a teenage girl, it felt like there wasn’t a language built to address these issues, these feelings, these foundations of a woman. Or, at the very least, I’d never been taught it. I didn’t have the emotional vocabulary for it. I didn’t know how to take these strange puzzle pieces I’d been given and fit them together into a shape which I could call Beautiful and Intelligent and A Generally Worthy Human Being, because nobody teaches you not to put yourself down in that fashionable, self-deprecating, no-you’re-the-fabulous-one way. I’m still guilty of it. If I don’t check myself, I can talk til the cows go home about how unphotogenic and lumpy and socially awkward and weak and useless and terrible at maths and lazy I am. But these days, I make a choice not to. A choice not to talk about them, but more importantly, a choice not to believe them.

These beliefs used to be absolutely internal, and yet, the more I learn about myself, the more I’m convinced that they didn’t come from me. Which begs the question, where did they come from? Why does a feeling of Inadequacy with a Capital I seem to be such an integral part of a girl’s teenage years, and why doesn’t anyone care? Where were the PSHE lessons that taught us that just by existing, you are intrinsically beautiful and wonderful and smart and worthy? Why doesn’t anyone remind you that you don’t have to self-excuse your way through life – “Sorry, but I just wanted to ask….” or “Not that I think I’m any better, but…” or “Not that I’m as good as her, but…” and WHERE is the media that shows you how to love yourself WITHOUT conforming to stereotypes, WITHOUT wanting to impress a man, WITHOUT professional make-up and hairdo and an entire team on Photoshop, WITHOUT spending hundreds of pounds on clothes or glamourising a pre-pubescent state of neck-down alopecia or taking endless quizzes about dressing like your fucking ‘body type!’ (This last one may be a personal vendetta about the fact that I am apparently a BANANA which is about as far from the glamorous, sophisticated, smart image to which I aspire. Really. A banana.)

So. Back to the selfie. I have an iPhone with a front facing camera, and I have Instagram, and that means that, yes, I like taking selfies. I refuse to apologise for this – I have struggled through years of self-hate and insecurity, as though you’re meant to apologise for your existence as a teenage girl, and even now I’m out the other side I still get a little bit nervous if I dare to make such a radical statement as “I am beautiful.” Why? Is it vain? So what? Yeah, vanity’s not something to aspire to, but its synonyms include (though are not limited to) ‘self-love’ ‘self-regard’ and, most importantly, ‘pride.’

Because, in my ideal world, ‘selfie’ wouldn’t stand for ‘self-portrait’ but would be synonymous with ‘self-love.’ There’s no word for someone who thinks that they’re beautiful that doesn’t have a negative semantic connotation. How are we supposed to grow up to become something which language literally does not accommodate? The answer is by creating our own niche, and here it is, the selfie. Here we are, women+ of all shapes and sizes and ethnicities and sexualities, and here is our identity. Here is the way we want to show ourselves to the world. Here is a portrayal of ourselves which we can dictate. Here we are, uncensored and unrefined and wonderful. Here is a way we can find women that look like us – not just the five foot eight Caucasian 36-24-36 – simply by searching a tag with a word linked to our identity and actually see other women of colour, other disabled women, other fat women, other gay women, as they wish to be presented, and see that they’re beautiful, as are we. We don’t need the shit that they try to sell us in magazines. We don’t need the clothes they wear on the telly. We don’t need the make-up and the nice clothes; if we wear them, it’s because we choose to. All of it’s because we choose to. Claiming our identity has never been easier. This is who I am, and this is how I show you.

I don’t believe in the false dichotomy between brains and beauty. And in taking selfies, in sharing them on social media, in plastering my face as I love it across the Internet, I’m not asking you to judge me on my looks, because frankly I couldn’t care what you think about my looks. I’m NOT reducing myself to my image. I’m NOT asking for your opinion. I’m NOT fishing for your compliments. In sharing my selfies, I’m showing you that, in this moment, this particularly point in time, I love the way I look, and thus, your judgement is moot. It’s null. It’s void. Because nothing you say or think can touch that.

And now the cathartic, personal bit – the bit that I wasn’t going to write, didn’t plan to write, was determined not to share, but seems to be hovering at my fingertips between each sentence. It’s been a really long, tough journey to get to this point over the last four years. I’ve struggled immensely with my self-esteem, my self-image, I’ve been up and down and I’ve been at rock bottom and I’ve done my poor, loyal body some incredibly cruel harm – which, thankfully, could be repaired with a lot of fighting and a little TLC. It’s strange because, for the first time in my life, I’m not ashamed of my struggles and I think it’s because they don’t define me any more. It’s just an illness I had once. Part of the past. A miniscule part of my brain which, in letting itself be fought and overcome every day, makes my regard of myself a little stronger.

I guess what I’m really trying to do by sharing this is add credibility to my assertion that it’s important and entirely possible to love yourself. For anyone. So if you’re reading this and thinking that you’ll never be able to accept your body, never mind love it, because it’s just so much bigger than what you see in all the pictures online – I feel your pain. If you can’t imagine taking a photo of yourself that you love or even like – I know your insecurities. If you feel pathetic because the sight of yourself is sometimes enough, on a bad day, to reduce yourself to tears – don’t beat yourself up. Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault. Find someone to talk to, find help, and start climbing that mountain to that happy place where, some days, you wonder if you might actually have become a little bit vain. And then take your selfies. And share them with the world. And let people tell you you’re beautiful, and know they’re saying it because it’s true and not because by posting a photo you somehow implicitly asked for it. Show me your selfies. Show me how beautiful you are. Show me your identity.

(Nothing on this Earth would make me happier than copious comments and discussion below, whether you agree or disagree! Go forth and debate!)