Selfies get a bad rep. We perceive the selfie-taker to be silly, frivolous, narcissistic, and as having way too much time … at least, I did.
For years, I took and posted pictures of the food I cooked, my apartment, travels, and my friends — but I refused to post selfies out of some aversion to them. But here’s my dirty little secret: I definitely took the occasional selfie; I just didn’t post it on social media. Why? Because I think of myself as a serious, intelligent and classy woman, and selfies were beneath me. Often, I would even find myself proudly proclaiming (rather arrogantly and condescendingly), “I just don’t do selfies.”
In reality, that belief was simply a reflection of the judgments and assumptions I had imposed on myself, and it extended beyond just selfies. I believed that in order to be serious and perceived as so, I needed to spend my time and energy in practical and necessarily "meaningful" ways.
But these self-imposed rules were limiting my freedom of expression. I was living too much in my head, allowing these judgments to dictate the words and emotions I shared with others, how vulnerable I allowed myself to be, and even my career choices.
Even though these choices were ostensibly intended to improve my life by strengthening my self-image, they weren't making me feel joyful and expressive. I put pressure on myself to be and appear strong and unbreakable in all areas of my life, even if my insides felt like they were shattering. When others noted that I seemed strong, I felt like I was lying by allowing them to think something that wasn’t true. Most times, I felt like I was holding myself up by the seams.
Why did I believe that I needed to appear strong and unbreakable? Partially because that was what had been expected of me by others during my formative years. Growing up, I felt a lot of pressure to be responsible and meet impossibly high standards. There was a lot riding on every choice and action, and I learned that I couldn’t afford to engage in frivolous activities or make mistakes.
All these thoughts and beliefs caused me to, sometimes subconsciously, project an air of haughtiness, even if that wasn’t my true self. So when I took my first few selfies privately, it felt perhaps disproportionately fun — freeing in a way that I had been missing for a long time. I am still no selfie queen, and when I do take the occasional selfie, it is usually when I am dressed up to go out and have a few minutes to myself.
One day, I took a selfie and found myself thinking, “Why am I so afraid to share this? I take so much pride in the aesthetics of my cooking and apartment, and will take a gazillion pictures to get the perfect shot at the right angle in soft lighting. I take pride in myself and my own appearance; so, what was so wrong with taking a few pictures of myself and sharing them too?”
Selfie culture can be damaging in many ways. It can stem from, or lead to, body dysmorphia or narcissism, among other issues. Selfie-takers have even become targets for Internet bulling and trolling. But maybe, just maybe, selfies can have real value. A selfie can allow the taker to share a moment or appreciate beauty, both in themselves and their surroundings, in a healthy way. Posting selfies every hour may be a bit much, but refusing to post a selfie or criticizing others who do because of self-judgment could be just as harmful.
Loosen the reins on yourself a bit and have fun, whether it’s by taking a selfie or doing something else. Don’t worry about looking silly or frivolous, or making mistakes. Being serious and important is overrated, while time spent having fun is never time wasted.
And when you see someone’s selfie, and feel a twinge of annoyance or criticism creep up, ask yourself why. They may look flawless, silly or weird. But remember this: behind that picture is a real human with imperfections and vulnerabilities who put herself out for the world to see.