Selfies and Feminist Self-Expression

jackie-o-historical-selfiesBy Rachel Sedaker

Recently, I noticed my Twitter feed was ablaze with the hashtag #feministselfie. Curious, I looked into it and found that the phenomenon was in response to this article by Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan, which essentially stated that selfies are a desperate cry for help. Consequently, a lot of women were upset and responded by posting their own selfies.

The article, which is a response to this article on Slate, makes a lot of sweeping generalizations, which is what I, and so many on Twitter, found troubling. The author says, “Young women take selfies because they don’t derive their sense of worth from themselves, they rely on others to bestow their self-worth on them — just as they’ve been taught.” This statement is incredibly discrediting the intelligence and autonomy of young women. I’ve seen my fair share of selfies, and taken my fair share of selfies, enough to know that that statement is simply untrue.

Yes, there are those selfies that are taken purely for validation, and that is certainly something to consider. But validation of one’s looks is not the only reason one takes and shares a selfie on social media.

I’ve seen, contrary to the Jezebel article, women post selfies of accomplishment (earning that degree! working on homework! completing a run!). I’ve also seen women post selfies as a means of saying, “hey, most of the time, I feel like crap, but right now, I feel awesome.” From what I’ve seen, the selfie can go way beyond a simple cry for attention.

I also take issue with the article saying that the taking and posting of selfies to social media are the result of being told by society that our entire self-worth is tied up in our looks. While it is true that women often hear that message, it does not mean that we all subscribe to it. Nor does it mean that it should be shameful for a woman to want to feel pretty. What is wrong with feeling beautiful and sharing that with social media? This isn’t just a female issue- I would argue that men also want to feel attractive (and I’ve also seen plenty of male selfies from my male friends). The desire to feel attractive is intrinsic in human nature, and there is nothing wrong with that.

I think women deserve more credit. Just because a woman posts a picture of herself to Instagram does not mean that she ties up all of her self-worth in her looks. I have posted selfies where I am at my most decorative- wearing a ridiculous amount of makeup and a sparkly costume (because I am an amateur belly dancer), and I have also posted selfies where I am drenched in sweat, but smiling, with the Portland waterfront behind me, while I am out for a run. When I post a selfie, it most certainly is a mini-victory for my self-esteem. Why? Because eight years ago I was sixty pounds heavier and never thought I would ever consider myself a runner or a dancer. My selfies are a way for me to document the progress I’ve made, while also reminding myself of how far I’ve come. And I’m sure that is something that many women (and men) can relate to.

So I stand with all of the pro-selfie women. Plenty of smart, strong women, of all ages, post selfies on their own terms. Just check out the hashtag #feministselfie.

image: Caters News Agency via NY Daily News

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Rachel Sedaker is a writer whose work can be found on the blog Tossing the Script. Her diverse background ranges from a Bachelor of Arts in French and a minor in Art History to a career spent processing data and crunching numbers. She believes in girl power and her heroine is Scarlet O’Hara. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.

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