I’m not exactly sure when the word “selfie” was coined. It’s been added to the OED and was even their word of the year for 2013, so it’s become widespread enough that the trend is undeniable. But it seems like only the last couple of years that the word has been around, and like the “trend” is mostly thanks to Instagram (my favorite social media app). However, long before Instagram or the word “selfie,” we were all taking “Myspace photos” with our phones in mirrors or by holding our arms out– selfies without a name, essentially. Timehop has helpfully showed me that my own personal “emo selfie habit,” as my sister calls it, goes back at least seven years, definitely predating the term. I would get bored at my office job and take self portraits with my Mac’s Photo Booth or my crappy Blackberry Pearl, usually to show off some fun lipstick or a new hairstyle.
I do know that we’re currently experiencing something of a selfie backlash. It’s not surprising– eventually to every trend turn turn turn there is a backlash turn turn turn. I’ve seen them called narcissistic. I’ve seen them called “a cry for help.” I’ve seen them called addictive. I’ve even seen them called feminist and anti-feminist. I was just joking on Twitter that I’m thinking about posting a selfie for every anti-selfie article I see in one of my social media feeds. Partially because I’m contrary, and partially because I like selfies. I think they, like anything else really, can be good or bad, and for me, they’ve been a tool for self-acceptance.
In a world full of impossible beauty standards, “real” beauty that is anything but, and a lot of expectations around women and appearance, self-love is hard to come by. In a world in which we are defined by how the gaze of others judges us and finds us wanting, to take a selfie is to reclaim that gaze and see ourselves through our own eyes. While I absolutely understand that it can just be one more way of offering up oneself to the approval and judgment of others, for me, selfies are a way to see myself through a lens of self-love. To actually see beauty in myself as I see myself through the lens of my iPhone, lit up by a ray of light through a window or with a new hair cut or wearing some new sunglasses.
It’s also a way to include myself in the visual record of my life. I have long noticed that moms are rarely in the literal picture. We’re always behind the camera, documenting the rest of our families’ for posterity’s sake. I have very few pictures of myself taken by others, though I’m trying to get better about asking someone to take a photo of all of us together. My car nap selfies and couch snuggle selfies and story time selfies are just a small, slightly silly way of documenting my presence in the life of my girls, including myself in the photo books I regularly make for them, hoping that one day they’ll wonder what our life looked like when they were small, and I’ll be able to show them.
Can a selfie be narcissistic, anti-feminist, or even annoying? Sure. Just like anything else. But my reasons are my own, and I won’t apologize for working at self-love. After all, learning to speak lovingly to myself has been one of the greatest gifts motherhood has given me, and this self-love is something I want to give back to my daughters as well.