‘Selfies’ mean different things to different people, to some it may have a positive connotation, a chance to portray oneself in their own eyes, a chance for the subject to be both the art and the artist. For others, selfies may have a negative connotation, a self centered, narcissistic way to admire oneself and expose thyself to the world. And for others, it may just be another way to take a photo.
For me, selfies were a symbol of power.
Perhaps that sounds naive and greatly over exaggerated, but for a girl of only twelve years with a dwindling self esteem and fleeting confidence, there was power in the art of selfie taking.
Phones were growing with popularity among the youth, along with phones were the growing popularity of various apps, especially the overgrowing popularity of social media apps. Instagram was by far my favorite. It was a way to share my life with people I didn’t even know, and I found that exhilarating, I felt a sense of importance and power, as though I had built a small utopia, two hundred followers who were solely dedicated to me, to my feed, and to my life.
It was a utopia that soon came crashing down.
One mean comment. One rude two word sentence. Not even a sentence, but a fragmented sentence. Misspelled with little thought and distasteful meaning, but still the words haunted and followed me. They stripped me of my self confidence and fed on my dwindling self worth.
The words were written under a photo my mother had taken of me, my eyes were squinting at the light and my hair looked unkempt and matted to the sticky sweat that was lathed on my face. The only thing that protruded with confidence were the little dots of oily gleaming pimples. To be fair, it was not a flattering photo but I wasn’t even the person that had taken it, but still the comment stung. I quickly became obsessed with my appearance on camera, the shading of my skin, the silkiness of my hair and the brightness of my eyes. I often indulged in selfie taking, hours of perfecting the perfect photo with light that was just right. Sometimes I would take up to a hundred separate photos of batting eyes and pursed lips, but still I refused to be satisfied until I layered on at least three different filters. I was nearly unrecognizable under the artificial tinted lighting but still bathed in the tasteless kind comments left in my comment section. I felt empowered with beauty and though I was only twelve I had quickly recognized the power of a good selfie.
Slowly, over the course of a year or two things changed. I no longer felt satisfied with my selfies, even after layers of filters and hours of choosing the right one I felt incomplete. Eventually I stopped my daily one hour photo shoots altogether.
Though I cannot recall anything but artificial sweet memories from my selfie taking days, I must credit my love and passion for photography today to my awkward twelve year old selfie taking self. It was during my selfie era that I had realized the power in a photograph and my love for the art flourished over time, but still it took me years to realize that the power I had felt in my selfies were impure and greedy thoughts.
Today I take photos of my friends. I capture moments of happiness and laughter, stills of smiles and goofy grins, and whenever they look at their 1 second captured selfs and complain about their bodies or faces I tell them they are wrong. They ask me to mask out freckles and frizzy hair, fat on their arms and legs, and birthmarks that dot their skin. They ask me to layer a filter on the photo, “make me prettier,” and I just laugh, beauty is more than covered freckles and straightened hair, more than a blue hue filter and shrunken fat, more than we, as a population, can’t even comprehend. Sometimes I think about my twelve year old self and wonder why I hadn’t ever realized that before.