It’s not selfies that are the problem

selfie from top

Over the past week, anyone with a Facebook account will have noticed their feed containing more photos of their pals’ make-up free faces (AKA no make-up selfie) than anything else. This has all been part of an awareness campaign for Cancer Research (in case you didn’t know).

Critics of the campaign took issue with most aspects of the #nomake-upselfie, asking:

1. What’s it actually saying about cancer?
2. Big deal – you’ve taken your make-up off, aren’t we above that ‘sisters’?
3. Is this just a vanity exercise? Every photo has garnered cringey comments along the lines of: “OMG – you look so beaut without make-up”, “gorge girly” etc.

But who can argue with a viral campaign that raises £8 million in six days? No one.

And so we can agree that being faced with shots of our friends ‘skin only’ faces for a couple of days did more good than harm.

However, there are now articles circulating about the danger of the ‘selfie’. Apparently such extreme narcissism can cause potentially fatal mental health issues. Yes – someone allegedly committed suicide after not being able to get the perfect shot of his own face.

The thing is, ‘selfies’ are not some new phenomenon – it’s only the sharing of them, via social media, that’s new. People have been posing for photos since the 1800s. And for painted portraits for centuries.

Basically, putting yourSELF in front of a camera or portrait artist and waiting for an impression to be made is to instigate a selfie.

Why is kneeling on the beach in Spain, water lapping up over your sandy thighs, waiting for your beau to take a snap any less narcissistic than staring into your iPhone and taking a photo? Will every person who’s ever posed for a holiday photo now be in danger of suffering the supposed perils of the selfie?

Plus, the vanity of narcissism stretches far beyond posing in front of a camera. I have friends who I have to strategically position in restaurants because I know if there’s a mirror behind me, they’ll be talking to their own reflection for the duration of our meal, and not to me. Those same friends take great pleasure in checking out their reflection in car windows (in fact, on any reflective surfaces) as they go about their day.

Some people just like to look at their own face. Again, this isn’t new. In the ‘olden days’ – when not musing the features God had gifted them in a mirror – people would have peered into lakes, hoping to catch a glimpse of their reflection in the still water. Or waited for someone to pen a poem about their fair skin and rosy cheeks.

But there was another issue that irked the no-make-up-selfie boycott brigade. Rather than just removing their slap and taking a snap, the ladies who posted their Cancer Research selfies found the perfect spot, the perfect time and the perfect pose.

Let’s be honest here, why would you take a photo of yourself looking shit and share it with the world? In the same way that historically, portraits would have been painted with a certain amount of direction from the sitter – perhaps that blemishes be removed, or that traces of a moustache on a lady be left out – photos are posed for in the hope that the camera will capture the sitter in all their glory.

That’s why women like to lower their chin and raise their eyes, as I did in my *first thing in the morning* *no make-up* *literally just woke-up* *feeling so rough but WHATEVS* photo above – to accentuate their doll-like eyes, minimise their chin and make their bodies look smaller (*thinner) – rather than taking it from below like this:

selfie from bottom

So while I was on team NO SELFIE, I think that we should be wowed by the money raised, as well as the awareness raised – yeah, it might not be obviously linked to cancer but we’re all talking about that now, aren’t we? And so it’s not really the selfies that are the problem, it’s the sharing of them.

If we were back in the 16th century and found ourselves walking straight into a painted portrait of one of our friends every five seconds, we’d avoid that path. So if you hate the selfies, just avoid social media. Because it seems, these days, they’re part and parcel.

1 reply on “ It’s not selfies that are the problem ”
  1. There are many parallels with the various issues of the disability rights movement – the criticism of charities who fund research into cures for various diseases use photos of children who are afflicted with said disease to get the sympathy vote, and I’m turn, raise more money. Most people never think beyond the obvious. Others take it to the extreme. There is little room for anyone who believes that being disabled isn’t necessarily bad, but that if we can cure people we should. I believe it is possible to have both, but that makes me somewhat of a pariah. For me, the no makeup selfie represented a challenge; my feminist values vs. my deeply ingrained self consciousness. I don’t wear makeup in my daily life, yet somehow a photo, being a permanent record, is somehow more of a big deal. My psyche fights itself over this regularly. Aside from all the practical reasons I no longer wear makeup – it stings my eyes for one – there are a multitude of reasons stemming from what I believe in. As a feminist I refuse to be defined by my appearance, and I refuse to plaster chemicals on my face when men do not. As a mother, I refuse to waste precious time doing so. As a 30-something-year old woman, I still feel that pang of sadness and longing for my youth when I see a photo of myself with rapidly greying hair and the trademark purple eye bags of mothers the world over. I’ve always been spotty too. These feelings are unwanted, but to pretend they are not there would be to lie. How to resolve this? Let’s think about it – why are only women taking action to fight breast cancer? Men get it too after all, and women are often the partners of men. How about we start to tackle the issue of why anyone would think that not wearing slap is an achievement worthy of a monetary reward? I did my selfie, I made sure I took it from a ‘good angle’. I’d like for future generations of women not to.

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