On Selfies

For the past month, as a practice, I’ve been posting more pictures of myself on my various social networks. Many aren’t technically selfies as I’ve enjoyed the assistance of my awesome photographer wife. But even so, the spirit of the selfie remains: I’m taking a moment to celebrate + share my look, or my happiness, or what I’m up to. And while it’s not ultimately why I do it, I’ve enjoyed the likes/compliments of friends and acquaintances and occasionally strangers. However, I’ve been doing this consciously because when it comes to my approach to my image, appearance, and style I’ve historically been badly out of balance.

Selfies get a bad rap, most especially amongst men. This dismissal has a lot to do with the assertion that selfies are flippant and vain; at best something that should be met with eyerolls and at worst evidence indicative of pathological narcissism (these jabs are -of course- aimed primarily at disparaging the activities of adolescent girls). And, frankly, there is ever the danger of hypertrophied vanity taking root in your life; the pursuit of a certain look or -perhaps more insidiously- the certain *reaction* to a look superseding everything else you might be or do. But this is a gendered issue, to overemphasize beauty and physical appearance for women means you inevitably underemphasize it for men. The myth of narcissus speaks to vanity generally but to males engaging in physical self-regard in particular. In its purest form, it’s a tale that makes a man gazing in the mirror at himself an existential danger; a womanly bit of hysterical self-obsession that will destroy his life.

This is not nearly as bad as it once was, in many ways there is more room to breathe than there would have been for my father or grandfather. And there are certain individuals who appear to almost magically side-step the (largely unspoken) constraints, as though they have no sense of them (though, this is probably a testament to all the work they’ve put into being themselves). And yet for men, or -if not for men- then at least for me there is a complicated gnarl of odd prohibitions, silent (or half-spoken) rules, and things we ‘know’ without being able to articulate around how much and what kind of mind we can give to our look. Which, you could all boil down to ‘real’ men don’t take selfies.

Selfies -like any art form- tend to focus on the finished product as opposed to the work in progress. For every picture I post I might make ten. And, if I’m going to get better at taking selfies, I have to look at what I’m doing, make judgments about where I want to go and what I want to do differently to get closer to my aim.

Figuring out your style and sharing it is (in part) artifice; something that requires you to truly look at yourself, to try variations on different outfits & different looks. While doing these things, there is a small voice telling me no I shouldn’t because that’s what *girls* do and the worst thing I can do is be like a girl. Which is stupid and wrong but it’s still there. This is not easy, and (as I mentioned) moving in this direction is assumed to risk the imbalance of vanity. But caring just a little more about my appearance and sharing that attention has been good for me.

The truth is, I *like* seeing my friends’ beautiful faces, I like to have the opportunity/excuse to tell them they look gorgeous or adorable or handsome or well-styled or joyous or strong. I like seeing my friends happy or silly or determined. It’s not all I want to look at, certainly; I’m genuinely interested in how they’re *really* doing and what they’re doing. But, I like my friends’ selfies. And I’m pretty sure most of my friends feel the same way about me. So something like a photo a day seems like a great use of time, and a great use of these weird networks by which we do most of our socializing.

Anyway, thanks for reading some of my thoughts about selfies. I hope to see a few of yours sometime soon.

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