I’ve always struggled with ‘the selfie’. The word itself, for starters, is pretty nauseating. From the earliest days of people with webcams lurching their way onto Myspace looking like grainy sex offenders, I have had a problem with it. Sometimes because of the ‘sex offendery-ness’ of it (perfectly nice innocent people looking like they raped your gran once at a party but are trying to reform), but sometimes because it’s quite often the chosen medium of a lot of dicks you want to punch.
Perhaps I struggle on a basic level with the unflattering aesthetics – the fact you can always see an arm trying not to shake in the corner, or the concentration in the eyes of someone trying to remember their angles so their cheekbones look their best and their chin remains un-doubled.
Perhaps I struggle with it because the selfie is supposed to capture the essence of the self, and so rarely does. So often it does the opposite – merely presents something that someone wants you to see. (I am sometimes as guilty of this in pictures as anyone). I feel a bit sad and awkward for them that they’re taking a picture of themselvesI guess. I struggle with a new generation of women being supposedly empowered enough to seize their own moments and take pictures of themselves, while at the same time negating their empowerment by looking – in the most annoying cases – dumb, vain, or desperate.
Perhaps on a deeper level I struggle with seeing the comfort that other people have in their own skin when I seldom feel it in my own. Perhaps I envy the self-snappers. Perhaps I wish I knew how to take a picture that made me like my own face. Perhaps the autonomy of a selfie is kick-ass; something to be admired. Perhaps the directness of cutting out the middle man is a more honest way of saying “hello world!” Perhaps it’s just the newest modern thing in the constant individualisation of people; the latest means of expressing a visual connection to the world that started in cave drawings, proud-titted hieroglyphs, renaissance portrait commissions, the artworks of pomp, vanity and power, stern-faced family sittings at Edwardian photographic studios, blurry 60s Polaroids, 80s photo-booth posings with your permed best mate; tongues, pouting, kissing, fish-face cheekbones, sass, V-signs, cross-eyes, wanting to be sexy, rebellious, attractive, free, to be wanted, understood (or not understood in the slightest); defiance at love, at life; or dare you dare it – vulnerable. All of the human tumbling out in one shot, one fractured moment that somehow captures the ineffable wordless ‘self’.
My most recent problem with selfies occurred last week. With the ‘no make-up selfies’ movement that coursed through Facebook as the newest novelty way to raise ‘awareness’ for cancer, like we’d forgotten it existed. I had to quash my initial reaction of disgust, and accept that charities have to use whatever pop culture means they can to part people from their pennies. Fine. I had to stop imagining head-butting the marketing drip who came up with the ‘revolutionary’ idea of getting women to go without make-up. There is a sweetness to wanting to encourage women to be brave enough to go au naturel, to celebrate clean-faced truth, to reaffirm the importance of inner beauty rather than outward display, but coming from the wrong direction, for a glib reason, it’s also fucking irritating. But that was fine too. Sort of.
What was not fine was the atrocious display of poor humanity it engendered. I will never fail to be amazed at quite how happy some people are to be endlessly outwardly despicable to others.
Within a day of these pictures popping up I had ‘de-friended’ three men after I saw bad jokes in their status updates about wishing women would stop revealing themselves as the “munters” they are. They were the negative ones. Directly involving misogynistic nouns and adjectives. Some men were kinder; just benevolently relieved that they could now, thanks to cancer, identify which women they no longer wanted to sleep with. The whittling of wish-lists heard around the country where once echoed the swishings of cloaks across puddles. Sigh.
“Hey ladies, some of us can be struck off the Fuck list of Power! Hwoo! It’s ok – Dermatitis Del from Accounts doesn’t want to jiz in your face anymore because he’s seen you have crow’s feet from laughing at your three kids in genuine familial happiness, so no need to waste your money on the expensive foundation anymore, yeah? Embrace the truth.”
Unfortunately I heard similar casual abhorrences coming out of the actual mouths of men I know and like too. And they will never quite be afforded the same respect from me again.
(Ironically, these men had no idea that with their words they were participating in a verbal version of a selfie movement, giving us a ‘no bullshit’ snapshot of them’selves’, honest and unmade up, that would mean we’d never want to fuck them either.)
The devil’s advocate in me thought, however, “well, if we as a sex will walk around wearing make-up people are bound to notice when we don’t.” I even tried to excuse the real turds on the grounds that that they are pitifully low on brains. Then I realised there is no excuse for bad manners and meanness, so I unfriended them (and probably missed a load more cretins worthy of the same treatment because I don’t go trawling for shit through Facebook, but rather have my eyes assaulted by whatever pops up first, with no further scrolling ensuing). It’s not much of a protest. I doubt they’ll even notice I’ve disappeared from their friend list; they’re probably more obsessed with constantly messaging comedians they don’t know or soliciting women who live in bikinis.
Then I did that thing that I don’t usually do. I scrolled through to see what other people were doing; who else was getting involved.
And though I was disgusted by these ‘men’ I uncovered like mucal slugs from under a paving slab of social woe, I was more offended by the passive-aggressive ‘sisterhood’ that I noticed like a cold current winding through the warmth, in the act of ‘nominating’ someone you wanted to see without make-up. Most women were warm, giving, and celebrating each other’s candid beauty. Even better, some clearly couldn’t give a flying fuck if people thought they were ‘beautiful’ at all. But I am sad to say I saw a few catty, posed “this is my naked face – now show me yours, bitch” pics too. The setting up of women who were maybe perceived as vain, the public stripping of those deemed too attractive, or the humiliation of those who have scant self-confidence – all in Cancer’s good name. How could women say no to being ‘nominated’ as the next recipient of the ‘No Make-up Selfie’ baton? How can you say no to The Big C without looking like another kind of Big C yourself?
It made me sad. The act of nominating someone took away the spirit of the selfie. Women should have been nominating themselves, not responding to pressure from friends, no matter how well-intentioned it was. It should have been a flurry of volunteered spirit, not of contrived obligations. You would hope that women only nominated people they knew would feel happy to do it, but unfortunately that’s not the way of all people. (I also hope everyone that ‘selfied’ actually donated money too rather than simply being part of a new fad for bored people.)
So when I uncharacteristically put up a picture of myself that I took myself (despite the fact I would usually balk at taking a picture of my own face, in any state – even if Max Factor himself rose from the grave and transformed me into something as close to cosmetic perfection as I’m ever going to get) – I don’t mind admitting I got a kick out of including my middle finger held aloft prominently in the foreground. I thought some people deserved to be given the bird more than they deserved to be given the woman.