I was walking back to the office in London the other day and I noticed a girl take a selfie as she walked past me. After taking the photo her smile brimmed from ear to ear at the result, and I thought how brilliant it was that this simple act could bring so much confidence and happiness to someone!
We may live in an age where the mobile phone has become an extension of our arms and where we seem to be more concerned about our appearance than ever before, but this latter trend is not due to vanity as some may claim. This is because we have been forced to constantly assess our worth by virtue of how we look by the media. As a result, we are suffering from self-malaise. We are constantly feeling under pressure to look better, slimmer, more polished, less spotty, less grey, shinier and healthier. Fitness is determined by our shape rather than our actual ability to maintain any kind of exercise. Worth is measured by the number on our clothes instead of our inner being, our intelligence, our kindness or our contribution to the world around us.
The backlash against taking selfies in the media seems to me to be an attempt to stop us from taking control of our own images and learning to love how we look. By citing research that claims taking selfies shows signs of narcissism, body dysmorphia and even psychosis, the media are attempting to distort something that I believe is actually very healthy. There is in fact no proof anywhere that supports these claims of selfies correlating with mental illness.
As a model 20 odd years ago, I learnt very quickly that people always had an opinion about how I looked and that no matter how much I exercised, curbed eating or stood in even more awkward positions, how people perceived me in photographs would never change. Instead I learnt to hate how I looked in photographs. I could never relate the image I saw in the mirror with the image from the camera. So, I stopped allowing photos to be taken of me, by anyone. I had no guarantee that they wouldn’t catch me at an awkward angle that would show a double chin, or would add three stone. In the meantime, I stopped caring about how I looked but continued to care what others thought of me, I ate more, I stopped exercising, I hated myself and I put on weight. Eventually my self-loathing took its toll on my relationship and was one of the (several) contributory factors to my divorce.
Selfies as the ultimate self-love tool
Fast forward 6 six years. In that time, I have learnt to love myself again and one of the things that helped was taking selfies. Suddenly I could create images that actually looked like me! I slowly learnt how to pose again so other people could take photos of me that I sometimes liked. I stopped being so self-conscious. I lost weight without having to do anything too drastic, I started to enjoy exercise a bit (let’s not go crazy here!). I enjoy taking selfies with other people, it’s fun! In fact, I often decline people’s offer of taking posed photos of me with friends because I know the selfie will look more natural and we will be laughing at ourselves trying to squeeze in and get the background and work out whose arm is long enough etc. There will be a memory with the selfie that would be absent with a forced posed shot taken by a random stranger.
Another criticism is that selfies can in fact create negative body confidence as you compare yourself to other people’s selfies on social media. I’m not sure I buy this. I think it is far healthier to see natural images of a friend than photoshopped images of a celebrity in a magazine or online. The underlying problem we face is that we have been brainwashed by a media intent on selling us solutions that will improve how we look and feel, into constantly comparing ourselves to others. The selfie has not created this, but it can be used as another tool in our comparison culture. If we let it.
I used to be that girl/woman. I would constantly compare myself. I still do, I just do it less often and with the help of selfies have learnt to love my uniqueness and the uniqueness of others. And I have learnt I can capture that uniqueness and share it with others and feel happy about myself.
So that is why I truly believe that taking a selfie is one of the greatest acts of self-love you can do. What do you think?
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