It’s National Selfie Day, and I believe selfies, and the scrutiny of selfie culture, is a sexuality issue. Here’s why:
To take a photo of yourself is to take up space, and like yourself enough to be seen. That selfies, especially of women, POC, and queer folks, are derided as narcissistic and self-indulgent is exactly because there is social power to be lost by The Powers That Be when marginalized folks like themselves and insist on being seen.
Sexual and political subjugation and sexual and emotional abuse is easier when the object of this treatment thinks poorly of themselves. Abusers often tell their victims that they are worthless, and ugly, and no good in hopes that they will believe it, and society tends to say this in general.
But selfies are evidence that we don’t believe these negative things about ourselves, and this of course upsets those folks, and in an attempt to force marginalized people “back in line”, supporters of the status quo deride selfies, and ultimately, the selfie-takers self-love.
The words used to describe people who take selfies: vain, superficial, vapid, self-absorbed, have been used by misogynists to describe women who don’t hate themselves since time immemorial, and this is only just the most recent iteration of a very old refrain.
Sexy selfies REALLY get criticism because literally how dare you be sexual and not ashamed?
Selfie hate is all about people with power losing their power and grasping at straws to keep it.
When you take and post a selfie, not only are you unashamed of your body and sexuality (against all odds), not only are you loving on yourself (against all odds), and daring to be seen (against all odds) in a world that would rather you small and silent, but you are also taking control of the way you are perceived.
Want to be seen as sexy? You can take a selfie in your undies.
Want to be seen as adventurous? You can take a selfie at the top of a mountain.
Want to be seen as exciting? You can take a selfie on an exclusive tropical beach.
Want to be seen as interesting? You can take a selfie at your cool job or doing your unique hobby.
Taking a selfie is a sort of adult version of playing dress up. You can be whoever you want to be! And this just outrages people very used to the male gaze, the phenomenon in which women are almost always depicted through the male lens, in ways that are meant for men to enjoy looking at them.
A selfie quite literally turns the object into the subject, who gets to decide the lens through which they will be viewed by others. That's powerful.
To squash this power shift, selfies are ridiculed as being “fake”, filtered, and creating a false persona to the world, to which I say... “and...?” Strangers on the Internet don’t owe you authenticity or the intimacy of their “real” lives, faces, and bodies, if they don’t want to let you see it.
If noticing someone taking some selfies out in public, or if scrolling past selfies on your social feeds, rubs you wrong, I encourage you to be introspective about why.
I invite you to comment and engage in this ever-growing digital sex ed library and community! I know it doesn't quite have the instant gratification of posting a comment on Facebook or Instagram, but it also doesn't have the corporate anti-sex censorship, so comment away! Just be kind.
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All content © Dr. Jill McDevitt, 2019. Permission to print and download for personal use only. Materials may not be shared on social media or elsewhere, and may not be used commercially.