Selfie on, Sisters...
Selfie. Try to say that word without a smirk. Eyes inevitably roll after the drop of those two cloying syllables—the word “selfie” wasn’t even in the dictionary until 2013. Selfies didn’t appear in the wild en masse until after the great tech revolution that left all of us with a robot-computer-camera in our pockets. Then the age of the selfie began: pursed lips, downward angles, funny faces, and inevitably, ridicule.
My grandmother, Irene, passed away before “selfie” officially graduated from slang to syntax. If mentioning that seems frivolous to you, you’re not taking selfies seriously enough: perhaps the result of being raised within a global society which does not take women seriously enough.
Now, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that men, too take selfies, as do people on all points of the sexual/gender spectrum. But let’s also admit that women in particular have gotten a lot of hate for selfies. Girls who post lots of pictures of themselves get labeled quickly: vapid, attention-seeking, thirsty. The selfie-haters are sometimes other women, bolstering personal insecurities by dismissing who they perceive as competition. Words like “shallow” and “millennial” are tossed hither and thither, and naysayers helpfully point out that “nobody wants to see that many pictures of anyone’s face!”
Actually, selfies are hugely important to the future of women. These days, when I see a self-portrait sail across the candy-colored scroll of my social media, I pause to appreciate the moment that led to the photograph, the woman who took it. Selfies essentially represent visibility; but visibility on our terms. And honestly, I do want to see that many pictures of someone’s face--one person in particular.
Granny was born in rural Kentucky, 1936. Cameras were apparently scarce in the mountains, so there are not many pictures of her as a child, certainly not at the volume of today’s oft-snapped tots and teens. Granny’s stories of rambling through the hills thrilled me to the bone; I conjured her as a cartoon in my head, a barefoot Kentucky Red Riding Hood. Granny grew up good and strong and smart. She became an English professor. Though soft-spoken and shy, she had a wry wit and a mischievous sense of humor. She was so loved, so special, so memorable. I miss her every day.
The women of Granny’s generation (and many before them) were steered first towards submission, then pushed towards silence and shame if rebellion arose. These women did not have access to the network of like-minded women we have at our fingertips every day. Even today, women are expected to take up less space in every way: physically, academically, conversationally, competitively. We are manipulated into believing our true value lies in our outward appearance, then we are mocked when we become too proud of our meager pittance of pretty, and post a few pictures.
Shame is a weapon used against women who are different, confident, self-assured, informed. Slapping up a picture of your face on Instagram might not seem like an act of feminist defiance to you, (#IWokeUpLikeThis) but it flies in the face of the patriarchy. By posting that selfie, on some level you are showing the world that you exist in this moment, that your story matters, that you are here. You are visible.
Granny died years ago, and her Facebook profile is still open. Could she ever have imagined that after her passing this social media account she made to keep up with her children and grandchildren would persist in cyberspace? There are nine pictures of Granny on Facebook, total—I know, because I have scrolled through them a thousand times. I have searched her face in each photograph. I wish my grandmother had taken a selfie every single day of her life. I wish I could see her at seven, at seventeen, in her graduation gown, in her flower garden. I wish I could see how she styled her hair, the shades of lipstick she favored. I want to see a close-up of her smile on the day she got married— in one of her wedding photos, a rare candid, she is a slender ingénue in a silk dress, ducking her head shyly. I crave a thousand surviving snapshots to treasure as my memories of her face fade and flicker, like lipstick prints on tissue paper, like the last iridescent rays of the aurora borealis.
So, selfie on, sisters. Prove that we were all here, that we all mattered. Show me your fly outfit, your flash tattoo, your new bangs, your new baby. Show me your heartache. Show me your face. Tell me your story, I want to see it.
Selfie for women everywhere who believe they are invisible. Selfie for women of days gone by who left no record of themselves and their accomplishments, the women who history erased.
Selfie for your granddaughter, who may one day sit at her computer and cry tears of joy watching you lip-sync to Destiny’s Child at a stoplight.
Selfie for yourself, so you remember not only where you used to be, but who you used to be, and where you’re going.
Elizabeth Myers is the web editor of Louisville.com and social media maven who runs the ever popular instagram: @LouisvilleNoms
Let's see your selfie. Make sure to #IAMDISTRICTOFSHE