It’s I Think We’re Alone Now Week at Autostraddle — a micro issue dedicated to being on your own, whether on purpose or by chance, and all the ways we’re out here making it work.
Selfies are gonna save the world. Sure, that sounds hyperbolic, but I believe strongly in the healing power of selfies, and the idea that we can all learn to love ourselves a little more and a little better by taking pictures of ourselves and our lives. And that’s what I really mean when I say selfies are gonna save the world – I mean, learning to love ourselves is gonna save the world. As Molly says in this very article: “If we all spent more time taking selfies can you IMAGINE the confidence of the queer community at large? We would be unstoppable.”
I’m Vanessa Friedman, community editor at Autostraddle and Self Appointed Queer Selfie Enthusiast, and I joined forces with Molly Adams, professional photographer and longtime friend of Autostraddle to talk about why photographing our selves and our lives is an act of self love, how you can start taking beautiful confident-inspiring selfies especially if you’re nervous or have never done it before, and why we should all embrace selfie culture in 2020. Please feel free to post your selfies in the comments where we can all admire them and validate the fuck out of you.
Vanessa: Hello! I am Vanessa, I’m the community editor at Autostraddle, and I am a fat white queer woman who is always trying to foster self-love for myself and for the members of our community. When I went through a major breakup two years ago I became especially fixated on finding ways to feel good about myself and my body and my soul without any outside validation. I realized I’d become very reliant on my ex-partner to make me feel good about myself and I wanted to learn how to take back that power. Enter: photographing myself extensively.
Molly: Hi I’m Molly and I take pictures and my hill to die on is that everyone should take more selfies and more photos of their friends and their world and the coffee cup on their bedside table. I had my major breakup last year and I have found that having records of everything I did and experienced and grew from very helpful! Also group texting a selfie will make you feel better, I promise.
V: Let’s each dive into why we feel like photographing oneself (and, as you point out, our lives – even when shit feels mundane) is so empowering. Molly, why do you feel like having records is helpful? What specifically makes you feel good about these photos?
M: I try to build these mini memoirs that I keep locked in my computer – similar to how I am guessing people use journals? Anyway I think what’s powerful about a photo is that it can hold that emotion and that day and that light forever. I have a blurry photo of a road but I will always know it was from the first time I drove up the mountain to A-Camp. I think I was really scared of letting go of things because I was scared I’d forget. Knowing that there are two bins of photos in my closet holding windows into many important parts of my life helps? Or sends me on a dark nostalgia journey…
V: That’s such a good point! I think we focus a lot on photos as like, a gateway to dangerous nostalgia or “not letting go” but saving a photo and acknowledging it was from a different time that is okay to let go of is actually very powerful! And maybe inspires us to be brave enough to leave / be alone / etc.
M: On a less dark self induced trip down memory lane – taking selfies. Vanessa – tell me about selfies.
V: I definitely post a lot of selfies online, and I think for a certain kind of person (me, lol) posting selfies of varying degrees of sexiness post-breakup is sort of a given, a right of passage, a clear indicator to the world that you are a sexual being, that you’re wanting people to look at you, that you are showing off your own literal self!
That said, I do not think selfies are just about being slutty or being thirsty or signifying your singleness. Lots of my friends who are happily partnered also post selfies. I think two big things – (1) a lot of us have trouble seeing ourselves clearly. I had a writing teacher once say that the thing we are all trying to do on earth is see ourselves clearly, and the punchline is we never can – if you write memoir, if you take a photo of yourself, if you look in the mirror… you’re never actually quite seeing yourself clearly. I think this can be extra true for queer folks or people who experience their gender in a destabilizing way, but I also think it is true for every single human on the planet. So no, we maybe can’t see ourselves clearly even through a selfie, but it’s a good first step, I think. It’s a way to acknowledge that we want to see ourselves (a big step!) and then a way to take control and actually try to see ourselves clearly.
And then (2) I actually think the fact that a selfie is not necessarily an entirely “true” representation of yourself makes it… more true! When you take a selfie you’re in charge of the narrative. What are you highlighting? What are you obscuring? What are you celebrating? Taking a picture where you can see your perfect makeup but you can’t see the pimple forming on your left cheekbone isn’t a lie, it’s a celebration to the part of yourself you enjoy looking at right now. Cropping your stomach out of a photo if you’re having a bad day about your stomach is fine… obviously I wish we lived in a world where everyone highlighted their stomach in photos every single day, where we could celebrate every aspect of our bodies 24/7, but we live in a really shitty reality where people are judged and made to feel bad about our looks and our bodies all the time, so I do not think it is wrong or bad to take over how you want to be perceived. Does that make sense? I guess my hill to die on is selfie as a revolutionary act of self love for forever!!!
M: YES YES YES. If we all spent more time taking selfies can you IMAGINE the confidence of the queer community at large? We would be unstoppable. It really isn’t a vanity thing or a thirst thing it is truly a confidence building act of self love. And you are very right! Nothing is captured in the way that it actually is but I’m not personally interested in how things are. I’m interested in how things felt and that is more honest than including that pimple.
We spend so much time scrolling and looking into other people’s worlds when I think we should be capturing our own. Like not that scrolling is bad but I’ve reached a point with it where I am only happy for everyone in my feed. When I see someone’s selfie I’m like YES LOVE YOURSELF. When they post that they are doing something or on adventure I’m just like YES CAPTURE IT ALL IN ONE PHOTO OF A WINDOW! Taking my own selfies and never posting them and sending them to my friends who tell me I look great has built my confidence and made me happier and made me happier for other people. I don’t know the science but this is definitely a scientific fact.
V: I agree, I think taking selfies that never go on social media is part of the key to self love. To be clear, I LOVE posting selfies on social media. But for every selfie I post to Instagram, I’ve taken like 400 that I don’t post, that are taken specifically to bring me joy and happiness in my self. And yes, share them with people who love you and want to celebrate you.
I obviously have complicated feelings about social media but I am trying to be more mindful about not depending on Instagram for validation in the same way I was initially trying to get away from relying on my then-girlfriend for validation! I don’t want to take selfies so I’ll get 400 likes, I don’t want to commodify the act of self love and my own body/self in the process. I just genuinely want to take a million photos of myself because technology makes it so I can, and I want to gaze upon my image and remind myself that I am pretty, that I am awesome, that I do an amazing job setting up an elaborate photoshoot, that I rule! Basically for whatever reason, capturing my own self in a photo can remind me of my worth. I don’t know why that is – I do think it has to do with the element of CONTROL you have when you take your OWN photo – but it is also science.
Also to go back to the idea that you’re happy for everyone on your social media feed – I’m obsessed with the idea of everyone taking more selfies and more photos of whatever they want! It is 2020, we do not have time to mock people for being earnest! I see a tweet float around every so often that is like, “post your lunch! show me your baby again! let me see your dog! more selfies? rad!!! I FEEL HAPPY FOR YOU AND YOUR LIFE!” and I really feel that strongly. I don’t ever want anyone to feel shame about posting about their lives – I want to feel happy for the people in my feed! And feel happy when I see a person out in the universe documenting their world! Hell yeah random stranger, do it!!
M: The key to taking a good photo is to take a lot of photos. That’s it.
V: Boom. The photographer has spoken. For people who don’t take a lot of selfies and would like to start, or who don’t photograph things a ton at all, can we give some concrete tips and suggestions for getting started?
M: It makes sense that we should try different angles and different crops – have you ever looked in a fun house mirror? Have you looked straight down at your selfie camera? They distort your face and body!! That is actual real light science just for the record. The MySpace photo angle was very popular for a reason.
My advice is start with what you like and feels good to you – if you love your outfit feature it in a mirror maybe hide behind your phone until you’re comfortable. I like my collarbones so I put a tattoo on them and feature them all the time in selfies to my friends. If you’re having a good hair day feature that! When you’re first getting comfortable use props! It could be the drill you are currently using to explain to your friend why you are busy or it could be your morning coffee! Who knows! It really depends on what makes you feel good. Half of my face is paralyzed so I used to avoid featuring that but honestly lately I have stopped caring and that is the power of selfies.
Also remember if you have a friend take a photo and you don’t like it or don’t feel good then just take more!! Adjust yourself! Move the camera up and down! A tilt of a phone can dramatically change how you look! What do you do? Tell us about your journey into selfie practice and also your journey to finding the angle that gets your face and butt in a selfie!
V: Ha! WELL the secret is that if you’re fat it’s a lot easier to get your butt into any photo, and that is a great example of using your ASSets (I’ll see myself out) rather than feeling bad about them! But in all seriousness, everything you said is true. Some additional suggestions: Take a photo right when you wake up! It’s fun to see how you look on different days and fun to watch the progression and just a nice way to say hello good morning to yourself.
Find the place in your home with the best lighting and take photos there. Lighting is honestly everything. If you’re out and about don’t be shy to do a full 360 degree turn with your phone in selfie position searching for the best light. It’s worth it and anyone who judges you is a fool who doesn’t understand the importance of self-love.
This is controversial but I like to take a lot of photos of parts of my body that I maybe don’t love. You can really, genuinely train yourself to love parts of yourself that you thought you hated if you look at yourself lovingly for long enough.
And then also, if you are really trying to get your butt, your face, and maybe also your tits in one single frame, my secret hot tip is lying down on your bed and putting the phone/camera above your head and tilted down. You’ll get half your face, your butt, and some cleavage. You’re welcome.
Okay we’ve discussed why we love taking selfies and given The Community some tips on how to photograph themselves and their lives more. Any final thoughts on The Power of Photographing Ourselves?
M: Can we all stop judging people for taking selfies and for posting selfies and for trying to find light in the internet in this very dark world? Like I am a VERY DARK HUMAN but as I sit here waiting for the asteroid to hit I can also applaud the people I follow. Take selfies for yourself. If you like it, post it.
V: AS I SIT HERE WAITING FOR THE ASTEROID TO HIT I CAN ALSO APPLAUD THE PEOPLE I FOLLOW!!! MOLLY ADAMS MAKE T-SHIRTS I WILL BUY ONE.