A few months ago, feeling wholly inspired by a women's studies class, I started a project called #ForYourSelfie with the goal of taking back the power of the selfie for the greater good. Before you roll yours eyes and exclaim exasperatedly, Not another selfie article, hear me out. I want to cut through the noise, slice through the chaos, and explain to you why I think that taking a selfie can be a political act.
One day, at the end of my women's studies class, my professor asked us all to bring in a natural selfie for the next class. We weren't told what we would be doing with them. The following week, we all showed up with our pictures, visibly apprehensive. We were told to place our selfies face up on our desks and to leave a blank sheet of paper and a pen next to them. Then, we walked around in a circle, viewing our classmates' contributions and writing down compliments as we went, either about the person's selfie or about their personality. When we were done, we reflected.
As someone who wasn't an avid selfie taker, taking my picture had been easy. I had been in the library the night before class, working on other projects, when I'd realized that I needed a selfie. I snapped two, one smiling and one not, and deliberated for about thirty seconds before selecting the one with the smile and clicking print on the community computer that I'd used to take the picture. I didn't give it another thought. Taking the selfie, for me, was not a scary or stressful experience, so I felt an immense level of surprise when we went around the room, each sharing how the selfie-taking made us feel. For most of my classmates, snapping a self-portrait was scary, weird, uncomfortable, and unnatural.
This is the selfie I took for the assignment:
As I listened to my classmates share their experiences, I was shocked. Both males and females reported feeling judged for the act of taking a selfie. Both males and females reported an unhappiness with their end result. Both males and females reported that they didn't feel attractive or beautiful enough to take a selfie. Both males and females reported that, overall, the selfie assignment brought on a higher-than-usual level of anxiety and a lower-than-good level of self-esteem. Sitting in class, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of excitement bubbling in my chest. Certainly I wasn't excited about the negative reactions that my classmates had to the homework assignment, but I felt a strange sense of anticipation. My smile grew, my chest felt full, my legs were restless. I was inspired.
Immediately after class, I secured the URL and wrote up a description for the site. I then sent a mass text to my friends and family, asking them nicely for any selfies that they felt comfortable sharing for public use. I also asked them to please send the request along to their friends. Within 24 hours I was bombarded with selfies. Here are a few of the first ones I received...
I quickly realized that, apart from being a social media buzzword, selfies have the potential to be amazingly productive, powerful things. After mapping out exactly how selfies could help the world be a better place, I came up with three distinct benefits of the modern-day self-portrait.
1. Redefining beauty
Selfies are such a powerful social media tool and they are everywhere. By harnessing their power, we can redefine beauty and give it a much more inclusive connotation. Everyone has their own unique, distinct beauty that deserves to be shared with the world, and by believing this simple truth, we can represent all of the kinds of beauty that exist in the world. The current definition of beauty is an unattainable ideal that leaves out such a massive population of people. No one looks like the cover of a magazine - not even the people on the cover of the magazine. So much airbrushing and manipulation goes into such images, yet they are the ones that we force upon our society as the ideal. We need to start embracing everyone's uniqueness and beauty - both internal and external - and the selfie is a great way to do this. By taking and sharing selfies, you are asserting to the world that you are a beautiful person whose greatness should be shown off to the world.
2. Increasing diversity and representation
Believe it or not, the taking of selfies can be a political act. As I said, declaring your beauty worthy of sharing and celebrating, and refuting the common definition of beauty are amazing acts of braveness that challenge the societal norm. In much the same way, selfies can shout to the world that people of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, orientations, abilities, WHATEVER, are worthy of being shown off and valued in the same way that our society wants to value the model on the cover of a magazine. Further, with social media eclipsing the mainstream media in importance and influence, spreading diversity on Facebook, Twitter, and the like can bring representation to those who find themselves underrepresented on television, in movies, in magazines and books, and more. The mainstream media has been forced to take cues from social media and increasing the diversity via the latter will pave the way for the same type of revolution to take the former by storm.
3. Promoting self-love and self-esteem
Documenting the way that you look and/or feel in any given moment is an amazing way to boost your self-esteem. Taking such pictures and saving them for later viewing and reflection can help us see the beauty within ourselves much more easily than if we chose not to memorialize these moments. Whether you feel like snapping a selfie because your hair looks good or your outfit is just killing it, or simply because you want to remember the way that you're feeling, do it. Just do it. Don't be afraid of what others are going to think of you for taking the picture, and certainly don't be afraid of how the picture will turn out. You, my friend, are gorgeous and your loveliness is something that the world should see.
In addition to all of the amazing things that selfies can do to improve the world, they are just plain fun to take. Take the above selfie, for instance. That is a recreation of the now-infamous "Oscar selfie," taken at a bar in my college town. My roommate knows the lovely gentleman to her right in the picture and that is it - everyone else is a stranger. But look how amazingly happy everyone is to be in on a fun photograph. Selfies get a bad reputation because society often calls those who take them narcissistic and self-absorbed. But the amazing thing about the selfie is that moments like the one above can be captured and looked back on, and through just the simple act of glancing at a photograph, we can feel an amazing sense of happiness.
I started #ForYourSelfie because I wanted to make a change. Almost three months in, I have received almost one thousand selfie submissions and that number increases everyday. By now, I recognize very few of the people who send in their selfies, though I still have a grand old time taking and posting my own. So, what I'm asking you to do is join the club. You are a beautiful person and I'd love to help you show that to the world by adding your awesomeness to the collection on my site. If that sounds like something you're interested in doing, there are a few ways to go about submitting a selfie. First, we have the good old 'Add Yours' link which will take you to an upload form and ask you to select your chosen picture from your computer. Or, if it seems easier to you, you can post a selfie to the Facebook page or upload it to Twitter and/or Instagram with the hashtag #ForYourSelfie.
Look, somebody took a selfie with Liam Hemsworth and submitted it!
Help me make the world a better place, one selfie at a time.