It’s not the apparent egocentricity of selfies that makes us oppose them, or if it is, there is a failure to see that any kind of social media engagement is an exercise in self-obsession. In some way, everything we put on social media is a selfie. Everything we choose to publicly share is meant to be a reflection on who we are via the things we care about, what we accomplish, who we spend our time with, the relationships we build. Those things, and their accompanying social media presence, amount to an overall picture of who are. And of course, it’s never who we are completely. It’s a much healthier, shinier, developed, well-adjusted, generally better person – it’s the sum of everything we want people to see, minus the unsavory bits we hide from view. Anything someone posts is as much about what that post says about the person who shared it as it is about the content of the post itself.
I kind of love selfies, if for no other reason then they give you pretty direct insight into who a person is. No other photo singlehandedly does that; just because someone take a picture of sushi doesn’t necessarily mean they even like sushi. But you can immediately tell a lot about a person by how they choose to display themselves – there’s a huge difference between “laying in bed barely covering my sex parts”, “here’s my face looking moody and symmetrical with dramatic lighting because art”, “look at my outfit every single day”, “look at me going to the gym”, and “I’m going to make a weird face because I’m uncomfortable with openly trying to look attractive but please like this because I desperately need the validation” selfies. I’m not saying it isn’t legit to judge someone based on their selfie, but if you do, judge them based on the content of their selfie, not merely the fact that they posted one.
By far, the worst selfie-haters are the ones who bitch about people making themselves look cuter in photos than they are in real life. Self-appointed policers of hotness are among the worst feeble-minded online creeps. I’m not saying being intentionally misleading about what you look like online is, ya know, awesome. All you’re really doing by amassing compliments on these photos is making yourself comparatively less satisfied with your real appearance, and as a stalwart proponent of body acceptance, I wish no one felt the need to do that. But hey, do you. If posting not-so-selfies is your thing, that’s your choice and I don’t judge you for it, even if I might continue to encourage you to love yourself beyond a need to do photoshop plastic surgery on your pics. People who get all “THIS ISN’T WHAT I ORDERED” when someone fails to meet their selfie-set expectations like Instagram is a mail-order sex doll catalog can suck a herped up dick. Besides, I’m guessing they didn’t advertise themselves online as a superficial monster, which brings me to the real point: no one is as good as their social media representation makes them out to be.
If we’re going to criticize the person who posts a deceptively flattering picture of themselves that portrays a skewed version of their real life appearance, then let’s not neglect to criticize equally the person who shares a link to a list of new must-read novels but hasn’t actually read a book in years, or the person who posts hurricane relief donation information, but hasn’t given a dime and just bought $300 boots. Or really, don’t criticize any of these people because we’re all doing the same thing with social media: using the limited, controlled exposure to put forth the best parts of ourselves, hide the traits and habits we don’t want seen, and create minor fictions to fill in the gaps between who we are and who we would ideally like to be.
In other words, everyone paints a better picture of themselves online, and as far as deceptions go, I’m less offended by someone working the angles to make their nose look smaller than I am by someone pretending to be the kind of person who cares about things and has substantial interests when they actually play xbox all day while their soul rots. Like, let’s keep some perspective when quantifying the lies people tell online.
So, if all social media activity is essentially an act of self-promoting a carefully curated persona, why do we vilify selfies above other kinds of posts? If you post a picture of your friends on Instagram during a night out, the implied subtext is, “Look! I have friends! Look at all my friends!”, or even more simply, “I’m popular. I do fun things with interesting people.” Why is that perceived so much more positively than the subtext of a selfie, which is “I’m attractive (and maybe quirky or funny or strong or whatever secondary traits your selfie is trying to communicate)”? What makes humblebrags about our appearance less acceptable than those about our social, professional, creative, or domestic lives?
Our distaste of selfies, if you trace it to the root source of loathing, stems from two main crimes against our unspoken social media contract:
- Selfies defy the notion that a person should always look amazing but also be very unaware of it, and that we should do whatever we can to make ourselves look awesome, an important part of which is never appearing to be trying to look awesome. That sentence is painful to read because the logic is fucked up and ridiculous. In fact, beauty that seems accidental or unpremeditated is the only type we’re generally okay with, even though we all know that if someone looks particularly attractive at any given time, not only did they make a deliberate attempt to be so, but they are likely conscious of the fact that they succeeded. The problem with selfies is that it erodes our unspoken social agreement to never exhibit awareness of our own physical attractiveness, lest we end up on the receiving end of insults that could only be rivaled by those we would receive if we weren’t fitting into some narrow, arbitrary definition of beauty. If you’re ugly, fuck your life. If you’re lookin’ right and seem like you know it, fuck your life.
- With any other kind of social media content, we can more or less pretend that each post is about what it’s about, rather than being about what it says about us for posting it. With selfies, the jig is up, and we resent the fuck out of that. Every selfie is a biting little reminder that we’re all just out here online trying to make ourselves look good while attempting to keep up the illusion that we’re here for any other reason.
To further illustrate this point, let’s examine how all social media posts are basically serving the same purpose, just coming at it from different angles:
“Look at my face and my body. I am attractive, and you want to have sex with me. I want you to want to have sex with me because that could possibly lead to a fulfillment of my biological imperative to procreate and maybe companionship because I kinda don’t want to die alone.”
“Look at this thing I own. I have things, which means I have money, which means I would be able to provide for you and any offspring we might conceive together. Me posting a picture of this thing I own implies security in a potential partnership with me, which makes you want to have sex with me. I want you to want to have sex with me because that could possibly lead to a fulfillment of my biological imperative to procreate and maybe companionship because I kinda don’t want to die alone.”
“I am skilled and knowledgeable. Here, look at the things I know and know how to do. Hire me so I can make money to buy things and post pictures of them so that I will appear capable of providing for a potential mate and our future children and people will want to have sex with me. I want them to want to have sex with me because that could possibly lead to a fulfillment of my biological imperative to procreate and maybe companionship because I kinda don’t want to die alone.”
ART, MUSIC, BOOKS, ETC.
“I know things. I appreciate beauty and creativity and am not boring and cold like normal people. I have fantastic, fascinating things to share with you, plus I’m sensitive and complex, and loving me will be endlessly romantic, and emotionally stimulating, and I will care about you and will be able to communicate as much because I’m really into expression. And also thinking, I do a lot of thinking. I am enlightened and unique and will cherish you and am probably great in bed because sensuality.”
“I’m posting this partially so that you will care about this important issue, and partially so that you think I’m a person who cares about important issues.” (Selflessness becomes selfish when it’s advertised. I’m not deeming that is an inherently bad thing, I’m just saying, check your motives.)
“I am a good parent.” (Truly, no matter what the fuck your kid is doing in a picture, this is the only subtext. Food all over his face? “I feed my child, I’m a good parent.” Running around a park? “I spend time outdoors with my child, I’m a good parent.” Sleeping? “I successfully got this asshole to sleep, I’m a good parent.”)
Obviously, not everyone wants to partner up and make babies; I’m not saying that is the literal end goal for all of our social media ego building. I’m talking about our primal motivation, before you account for all the conscious decisions about our individual lives we each make aside from that. When you really follow the motivation behind every single post down to its source, you will always, always find a desire to connect, to be loved, to have sex, to be seen and known and desired and valued by another person. The only question is why are we so afraid of that? (Answer: confronting the basic human underpinnings of all of our daily actions would mean existing in a permanently vulnerable state, and I think we can all agree when I say, “Fuck that.”)
No matter what social media vessel you feel most comfortable with, be it pouty-lipped selfie or 2,000-word essay defending selfies, we’re all perpetually striving to put together all the pieces that give the impression of our best vision of ourselves, cast forth in the hope that someone will notice and love us in whatever way it is we need to be loved. The only reason we hate on selfies is because they are way less subtle about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to, literally or figuratively, put your best face forward. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be loved. Maybe if the rest of us weren’t so strangely opposed to admitting that that’s why are on social media in the first place, we would be less judgmental of the selfie-takers who aren’t afraid to wear their approval-seeking behavior on their sleeves.