I read an article recently entitled, “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” After laughing for a minute, I realized I felt mildly attacked. I took a breath, and read on. In the article, Ms. Erin Gloria Ryan disputes the claim made by some, that selfies are a “small pulse of girl pride or a shout out to the self,” and asserts that they are rather, a cry for help and indicative of a painful striving for approval and attention, whose impetus is a culture within which it’s almost impossible to feel worthwhile without superficial beauty. She provides a short list of certain circumstances within which taking a selfie would be deemed acceptable – such as documenting a graduation, getting into law school, or accomplishing a long term goal. I finished the article and decided that although I agree with a lot – even most of what she said, I just can’t swallow the pill that says, across the bar, selfies are bad. I find shirtless or suggestive bathroom mirror selfies as annoying as you do, I just think that declarative statements such as this are counterproductive.
Although she is correct in predicting a striving for approval and self-worth in a certain percentage of individuals taking selfies, and is completely justified in her outrage over the way our culture teaches women that our most important feature is physical attractiveness, the article was lacking. Any real discussion of whether or not selfies are “good” or “bad” for women or people in general, has to encompass an array of interdisciplinary theory including psychology, sociology, feminism, and philosophy. It ought also to include a broad range of individual experiences, exploring an individual’s self-understanding of their intentions and inclinations to selfie or not to selfie. Neither of these was present in any substantive manner. More importantly Ms. Ryan’s admonishment does those individuals who are, as she says, “crying for help,” no good. Making sweeping, declarative statements such as this is detrimental to her cause, which I’m assuming is to better the plight of women. The more pressing issue, as I see it, is not whether people do or do not take self administered photos of themselves as a result of an admittedly fucked up culture, but rather that the author, writing on a feminist website, doesn’t recognize she is creating yet another source of judgment by which to exert pressure on women regarding their decisions and behavior.
Every form of judgment, whether it’s from fashion mags pushing the thin and beautiful ideal, or a feminist site warning us not to be too self-promoting lest we be deemed narcissistic and in need of help, is equally disempowering, and detrimental. Likewise, it’s counterproductive to third wave feminism. The selfie is far too complex a phenomenon to deem right or wrong or good for women or bad for women or men or anyone.
I personally find it endearing that girls and women who are not rail thin and don’t remotely resemble the women in fashion mags are taking pictures of themselves they think are cute or beautiful and are confident enough to post them. It’s my motto and I say it a lot but, the goal, I feel, should always be less judgment, more open-mindedness and acceptance for the variability of the individual and their intention. Of course some women and men taking selfies are trying to gain acceptance and a sense of self worth from an outside source. That’s unfortunate. But the same is true of some girls pining over their 4.0’s or obtaining a certain degree to flaunt and impress others. And, intention also varies within the individual. One day, a girl feels like shit and having 15 friends and family members “like” a silly photo might elicit a small sense of joy. Another day, she feels on top of the world for killing an important interview and captures a confident smile to post. Either way, it’s cool. The issue is not the selfie, it’s the intention and, more specifically, the magnitude of the intention.
Feminism to me, in its purest form, is the striving for self realization and the elimination of external rules placed upon women about what it means to be a woman or what it means to be empowered. Third wave feminism empowers those of us who like to wear push-up bras and leopard heels to class and the grocery store to do so while simultaneously demanding respect for our ideas. In the same way, I think it bestows its blessing on any person – male or female who’s intent when taking a selfie is that of their own self expression.
And with that, I leave you with my latest cry for help… BLAMMO!!! Naomi Wolf should be proud.