Selfie Culture = Female Empowerment(?)

A selfie a day keeps the depression at bay. Or does it?

I created the #selfiechallenge2016 and #narcissistorempowerist hashtags to document my forced attempt to take more selfies for a month and to share them on both Instagram and Facebook. My typical use of the image-hosting aspects of these two platforms varies. I tend to keep selfies away from Facebook, preferring to share them with the random followers on my Instagram account than flooding my friends with pictures of my face. Through this challenge I am going to figure out if taking more selfies and sharing them widely across two platforms will give me a better sense of self, confidence in my appearance and my ability to take a good selfie.

Selfie culture has been a topic of much debate in both media and academic circles. Opinions can be very polarised. D. C. Murray attempts to debunk the notion that “the young white female is the perfect foil for a menu of clichéd anxieties about technology’s uncanny ability to make fools of us all” in ‘Notes to self: the visual culture of selfie in the age of social media’ (2013 494). This challenge is my attempt to do the same for myself.

Marwick cites José van Dijck’s suggestion that personal photography was to “create memory aids, to remember the way things were” (2015 141). In the current context of live feeds and rivers of information, these stories can be told in present tense and followed closely by others depending on your privacy settings.

Murray quotes Jenna Wortham’s idea that the selfie “brings back the human element of interaction” (2013). I would suggest that it invites others to follow along and feel as present in the subject’s life. In this challenge, I’ve invited others to be present and I can even tag them in the description of the images I share.

This is the first time I’ve featured a made-up face in the selfie challenge.

If anyone was curious, scrolling back through my Instagram history you would find the majority of my selfies prior to this challenge would be outfit selfies featuring whatever clothes, shoes and accessories I had styled together. This kind of selfie is the one I am most confident in sharing. My body and appearance aren’t the focus – the ability to put together aesthetically pleasing fashion items is.

Whether it be due to my individual personality or the fact that taking a selfie requires a considerable amount of concentration on my part just to get the image in focus, I find it quite difficult to smile in these photos. In this image I made a conscious effort to smile. It seems entirely faked looking at it now.

Some selfies can be completely unrefined. The idea of taking a selfie in bed usually threatens the encroachment of the male gaze, sexualising the subject regardless of their intention as the photographer (Marwick 2015; Murray 2013).

In this image I sought to recreate some past conventions of the selfie, the duckface (particular setting of the lips) and high Myspace angle being the main elements. Surprisingly this may be the most approved image by my peers and followers based on quantification of comments and likes.

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Travel selfies make up a decent portion of the culture. From my personal experience, it’s about documenting your own human presence in these new and foreign spaces.

At the Tjupakai Cultural Centre I was reluctant to take a selfie, feeling like it was a very shallow thing to do. It reminded me of the case we studied in class,

Auschwitz Selfie

Photo taken from The Huffington Post

the callous attitude with which some social media users choose their settings for selfies, (sometimes deliberately) disrespecting the sanctity of the place they are sensationalising.

It was very important to me to highlight the cultural exchange taking place and I was extremely conscious of my place, as a white person and descendant of the invading race as well as a woman. I felt much more comfortable situating myself in front of the food and medicines I had learned about.

These holiday selfies mark my place in defying a fear of heights and experiencing beautiful sights and scenery while inviting my followers to see what I see and showing my friends what I have experienced.

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Selfies can show first experiences, like a visual diary entry for anyone to see.

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The quantification aspect of Instagram and Facebook had two effects. Every like was quite a compliment to me, especially some particularly heartfelt comments from far away friends whose only contact with me is through social media. The less-liked images did not disappoint me as much as I expected. The overall proportion of number of likes to number of followers/friends is quite low however the Facebook algorithm that has recently been introduced to Instagram means it is very unlikely that all followers/friends are even exposed to the images in the first place.

The fact that this image is probably the one I am most comfortable looking at and sahring with others is probably a really strong statement in favour of the empowering nature of selfies. I’m happy with pulling funny faces, makeup or no, fancy camera or smartphone. I think this face is my truth. It may not be confronting like Nan Goldin’s iconic self portrait.

Selfies may not be suited to everyone but putting the camera in my hands was certainly an empowering move. In the end, I feel equally comfortable taking photos of myself in both a raw or refined appearance and sharing them with the world through social media. I found the constant having to stop and look at myself instead of the world around me quite exhausting, especially while on vacation. However it gave me an opportunity to consider how I fit into the world around me and how I might frame that in an image to be shared en mass.


Academic References:

Marwick, AE 2015, ‘Instafame: Luxury selfies in the attention economy’, Public Culture, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 137-160.

Murray, DC 2015, ‘Notes to self: the visual culture of selfies in the age of social media’, Consumption Markets & Culture, vol. 18, no. 6, pp. 490-516.

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