What happens when two gals swap social media behaviors for one month?
Back in February, Elaine Lui, founder of Lainey Gossip, wrote a piece for Flare magazine entitled Our Selfies, Ourselves in which she took one selfie per day for one month, and forced herself to publish the first take, with no filters. The idea was to post a kind of honest-selfie, one with minimal curation:
“What would we see in ourselves if selfies were truly one take, no take-backsies? Could we still stand to look? Do we even know what we really look like anymore?”
E sent this article to me at the time, as part of an ongoing conversation we’d had about the topic of the now ubiquitous “selfie” (which, I can’t help but note, spell check does not recognize as a word). Are they the emblems of a generation of raging narcissists or are they self-portraits that reflect an empowering act of self-love?
Our M.O. at Beauty Coup is recognizing your beauty as a whole. The beauty you see when you look in the mirror, and the beauty of who you are as an individual: all that you think and see and do. As if embodying two separate halves of this whole, your Beauty Coup co-authors engage in differing social media practices when it comes to the divisive selfie, and as an experiment decided to swap behaviors for the month of May and document their experiences. I was required to post only selfies. E was prohibited from posting any selfies.
These are their stories. (Law & Order DUN DUN)
I don’t take a lot of selfies. Instead, I like to use my Instagram to document the beauty I see around me every day in New York City. (Pictured below: some food I made, some food I ate, a subway bench with penises drawn on it…)
At the outset of our project, my relationship to the selfie was ambivalent. I felt silly taking them. I engaged in a mild, self-righteous judgement of certain selfie-takers in my social media circles who annoy me, albeit arbitrarily (Are you really #blessed because you’re eating an ice cream cone? Or is it just like… a pretty good ice cream cone?).
E: Or maybe you just look really cute giving that frozen dairy a lick… #wink
S: So then just say that. #lookin’cutelickin’stuff.
E: S, you can’t punctuate hashtags or they don’t work. #psyouresopretty
Despite my personal reservations, seeing the faces of my friends brings me nothing but happiness, and I definitely agree that there’s merit to the argument that posting selfies can be a feminist act. If someone feels confident and beautiful and wants to share it, what’s wrong with that? I suppose I simply fell into the camp of “Good for her, not for me.”
Why does it feel so embarrassing to be seen taking pictures of myself? I don’t know. I notice that somehow I don’t seem to mind as much when there’s someone else in the picture. This feels more socially acceptable, something normal that people do at social gatherings. But stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture of myself? Alone? Without checking over my shoulder to make sure no one else was there to see me? I can’t do it. This is something that I wasn’t able to shake over the course of the month of selfie-taking.
Sometime over the course of the month, though, I actually did experience a shift in one thing: my relationship to my face. The only way to describe it is that my own face began to look more normal to me, which sounds crazy. I started posting photos after fewer takes, when earlier on in the process I might have thought the first few looked “weird”. It bothers me so much when I get a great group photo and somebody makes me delete it because their “eyebrows look crazy” or something like that. These little obsessions with curating our self-images is what annoys me about selfie culture, about social media in general. Then again, isn’t that all social media is, anyway? I choose to post a photo of a beautifully plated dinner that I make one night, and choose not to post a photo of the Burger King wrappers on the floor of my car. (I’m not ashamed!)
I clearly still have some hangups with regards to selfies, hangups that could not be resolved in a mere 30 days. (I only managed to post 20 selfies, and 1 late-night karaoke screen cap of the Oops…I did it Again video.) But perhaps I feel closer to comfortable to posting one for no reason other than feeling #blessed.
In the dynamic duo of S and E, I long ago accepted my role as the louder, brassier, vainer friend. It’s genetic, my propensity for unabashed confidence (ten minutes with my family illuminates this point), but even I will see certain selfie-takers’ posts and think, Really? A bikini selfie in your bedroom? We know you have a hot body. We don’t need to see that you’re #readyforthebeach!
In essence I see selfies the same way I see any expression of self-confidence. As my wise, classy grandma once told me, “When you walk into a room full of people who love you and you know why they do, that’s confidence. Walking into that same room full of those same people and telling them why they should love you, that’s arrogance.” Translating that into the world of the selfie, I’m not big on the humble brag. If you’re going to brag, own it. If you’re going to post a selfie because it’s fun and it boosts your self-confidence, do it, and don’t apologize! And please reserve bikini selfies for the actual beach/pool.
My Usual Social Media Self(ies)
This is pretty typical for me… Friend selfies, baby selfies, friends, baby, scenery, food, and more selfies. May definitely started out feeling like a long month.
In the first week, I think less about taking selfies, even in freak hailstorms and beautiful coffee outings – events that would normally command a lift of my phone and a tilt of my head. Then I have a really good hair day and I’m disconcertingly pouty about No Selfie May. I pout to my sister, who tells me that a selfie break is “probably a good idea.”
I start to see a few S selfies, which makes me really happy. I love seeing her lovely face! I also notice that (unlike my posed and primped I’m A Pretty Girl selfies), hers are understated and artsy. Very much like S herself. S is a Very Pretty Girl, but unlike me she feels no compulsion to flaunt it. All of her photos display varying degrees of ‘ugh do I really have to take this selfie?’, which makes me smile and also makes me want to shout at her picture, “why don’t you know how pretty you are??”
As the month goes on, my friends take selfies with me and ask if they can post them, even though I’m in them. This was never established as off-limits, so I say why not. My Narcissus is somewhat sated. I also text selfies to S, and she sends me pictures of her surroundings. We are creatures of habit.
I find myself wishing I were one of those Above It All people who don’t even want to post selfies. I start feeling like along the border of Confident and Arrogant, maybe I come down on the wrong side. My tendency to celebrate my physical/external self on social media is quite glaring in the face of #noselfiemay. Are my selfies the equivalent of telling people that I think I’m pretty? …Is it wrong to think I’m pretty? …Is it even more wrong to say so? My esposo tells me that he read an article claiming that people who take a lot of selfies are “certifiably insane.” This does not help.
Then I start to feel defensive. I was taking selfies in the 90s, before they were selfies! I called them “Thelma & Louise pictures”! It was fun and adorable and now I have super cute pictures of teenage me with my friends and my sisters and my mom! Later on, S tells me that Kanye West’s wife posits the same claim to fame in her recently published book of selfies, Selfish. This is not a person I want to feel aligned with. Defenses blown.
Before swapping roles, I told S that it seems like her social media presence focuses on her “internal self as reflected in her point of view.” I wish I could say that I channeled S easily and successfully for the entire month of May. Instead, I definitely posted pictures of myself that other people took (which are not selfies), and I definitely had a moment of frustration trying to get my esposo to take a picture of me the way I wanted (selfies equal creative control).
Which is not to say that #noselfiemay was a total bust. I had a lot of fun capturing moments and scenery with my self not included, I was still allowed to post plenty of pictures of my adorable child (admittedly its own form of narcissistic gratification), and overall I felt more creative about my approach to taking and posting images. To a point S made earlier, it still feels more natural to hold up one’s camera (phone) and take a picture looking outward, even for a veteran selfie-taker.
I posted 45 pictures in May, and seven of them included my face, as captured by others. I even chopped off over ten inches of my hair and managed to not post a selfie! Here are the majority of the pictures I posted:
If you want to see all of my non-selfie photos, search Instagram for the hashtag #noselfiemay
(as far as I can tell, it’s unique to me)
The extra good news is that it’s June 1st, and I have posted two pictures today – one of the Word of the Day (jiggery-pokery!) and one of some beautiful roses. It did cross my mind to take a selfie with the roses, but they stood better on their own. I’m sure my selfie-taking* will eventually resume in full force, but I’m hopeful that it will be balanced with more images of the beauty that I see in the world.
*Update: At lunchtime I couldn’t resist posting a mother-daughter selfie. She’s too stinkin’ cute.
Beauty Coup is all about appreciating the whole of our self-worth and the whole of our beauty as individuals. As co-authors of Beauty Coup, we set out to challenge ourselves to acknowledge and appreciate the aspects of our own beauty that we often overlook. If E’s wise, classy grandma were still with us, we know she would sip her whiskey out of her teacup and say, “Darlings, you’re beautiful. What’s a ‘selfie’?” And then she’d pose for one with us, all radiance and beauty.