I wasn't online for most of today, so when I got home an hour ago and saw the furor online about #feministselfies, I had a bit of catching up to do. Trust me when I tell you that I was not in any way surprised to discover that Jezebel had stepped in it again with a pretty condescending piece about the inherent narcissism of selfies. Plus ça change!
After reading the piece though, two quotes in particular stood out to me:
"Stop this. Selfies aren't empowering; they're a high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness."
"Further, self-taken digital portraits are typically posted on social media, ostensibly with the intent of getting people to respond to them that's what social media is. In that respect, selfies aren't expressions of pride, but rather calls for affirmation."
Here's the thing; my own relationship with selfies is fairly complicated. I'm a photographer who doesn't think she photographs well. I actively avoid having my picture taken because I never find my portrait to be very flattering. In that regard, I've always hated "selfie culture" for almost the exact opposite reasonthat Jez's Erin Gloria Ryan seems to: I don't see selfies as a call for affirmation, but rather an affirmation that you don't need validation.
I've never felt comfortable in my own skin. And to me, the stunning selfies that flooded my social media channels were confirmation that I had good reason. I didn't look like those girls. Those girls posted selfies because they looked gorgeous and they knew it, and to me, selfies became a representation of my own self-loathing. I hated them because I couldn't take them. My selfies never looked as good. But what I literally didn't realize until today, was that 90% of those selfies were of women who werewhite.
That's significant, because it meant that all this time, I was comparing myself to women who I would never look like. It didn't matter what I did. I'm a black woman. There's nothing about that that's going to change. I refrained from participating in this online trend because I felt like it excluded me.
And it's true. When I think of all of the gorgeous photos of black women that I've ever found online, 90% of them have been style selfies on tumblr or pinterest. Places that BW had access to, and could participate in the conversations about self worth and self love. That isn't a coincidence.
Bad_Dominicana's selfie has been making the round tonights (because she slays at EVERYTHING) and I think it's a perfect example of my point. I found that exact photograph on tumblr about a month ago, not knowing that it was her. I loved her hair so much that I saved the photo for future reference, and I've been trying (in vain) to replicate it ever since. The photo spoke to me because it was an example of something I didn't see very often: a black woman with natural hair, experimenting with colourful hair dyes. I'm a sucker for bright colours, but there aren't a ton of representations of this kind of style in mainstream media. There are lots of white women with colourful hair, but on anyone darker than a paper bag? Not so much. Seeing BD's selfie showed me that 1. I wasn't the only black woman who had the inclination to dye her hair in obnoxiously bright colours and 2. A black woman could dye her hair in obnoxious colours, and still look gorgeous. To me, her photo was validation. It was encouragement. It was solidarity.
The #feministselfie hashtag was started by Kate Averett and Jaime Nesbit Golden in response to Jezebel's piece, and I think it's safe to say that it's done a lot of good. For me, I probably won't be flooding my instagram feed with selfies anytime soon, but maybe I'll be a little less reluctant to participate now that I recognize that by creating them, I am insisting that I be seen. I am making space for myself in the digital world. I am affirming my existence. I am jamming out to Grown Woman in my bathroom (in all my ombre-poodle dreadlocked glory) because it has the best light! ;)
Either way, I'm grateful for this hashtag. I'm grateful for the understanding that self-love isn't a bad thing, and seeking it out isn't "unfeminist." For women who look like me, selfies are one of the only ways to see ourselves (and others who look like us) represented in a true and diverse way. I'm glad for that, and I hope that I will continue to see selfies of women of colour online, affirming their self-worth and staking their claim in the spectrum of beauty.