Scanning my twitter feed today I stumbled onto a rally of #feministselfies – seems there’s an internet discussion swirling around Jezebel’s dismissal of selfies as “a cry for help” and I don’t really get this. Oh sure, I’ve seen my fair share of photos of people pouting at their own cameras in that somewhat weird pose people sometimes get. (Edited to add: “duckface” – I’m so out of the loop here I didn’t realize that pout had a name) Not my deal, but I don’t feel offended by it. Nor do I see it as a cry for help. But the debate got me thinking in a couple of directions. (Also, why oh why must everything on the internets become a DEBATE – are there no discussions without debate? A conversation for another day.)
One: From my “mommy years”. Too often, moms are the ones behind the camera, instead of in front of it – we can go for our children’s whole childhood with few images of ourselves interacting with our kids, and as Allison Tate pointed out, that’s sad (and problematic) for a variety of reasons.
But we really need to make an effort to get in the picture. Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were. Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives. Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?
I don’t know about other moms, but I sometimes take selfies with my kids to capture something we’re doing together. These are some of my favorite pictures, because we have to be snuggled pretty close to all get into the picture, so I get cuddles and also capture something about the moment – win! This reminds me of a story my mom used to tell about her favorite drivers’ license picture: I was with her at the dmv and wanted to be in the picture, and the lovely person working the photo area had me stand right in front of my mom (low enough that I wasn’t ACTUALLY in the picture, of course) and my mom had the best DMV smile ever. So there’s that.
The other thing is from my academia years, and it’s been a while since I’ve flexed those muscles but it’s something like this. When a woman takes a self portrait (and yes, even goofy selfies are a kind of self portrait) she’s making herself the object of the viewers gaze – but by taking the photo herself she’s also the one who chooses how to frame herself. I’m not suggesting that people are consciously thinking “what is the subject-object significance of this selfie” but they do decide “yes I want to share this picture of myself” or “nope, that’s not how I want to portray myself” – that’s giving a voice and power to the “subject” in a way that is really important and valuable and powerful.
I was struck today by the response to this “debate” (there’s that word again) on the internets. The #feministselfies were powerful and empowering, beautiful and goofy, poignant and snarky. Sharing real pictures of real people is empowering and subversive.