by Jake McMillan
Thanks to the progress in digital photography, mobile phones and the growth of social networking sites, there has been a massive rise in recent years of the “selfie”, in particular, by women. Not that men don’t do it too (my current Facebook profile pic is a self photo), but for women it is extremely common and seemingly a skill modern women need to know as much as being able to do their make up.
The use of it seems to vary considerably and I have been talking to women of all ages across the world about the self-photo, from some who would never do it, to some who do it all the time. It’s been interesting to hear the different views on the subject as well as receive some tips on how to do it well.
An attractive friend of mine from Amsterdam, typifies the view of women who would rarely, if ever, do the ‘self-photo’, “I think it’s a bit exhibitionist to put self-snapped pictures online everywhere, especially the ones where you look sensually into the camera. yuck”. She explained she has better things to do with her time and prefers to keep it real.
This is in stark contrast to my friend Noelle from Singapore who is a self-confessed camwhore and the “Queen of Pout” who takes many many photos of herself. This is partly because, she explained to me, she knows which angles of her face work. Sometimes people will offer to take a photo for her and she will reject it because she knows the arm placement that best works for her. She also has 24(!) photo apps and knows which one has the filter she wants, which one have the frames she wants, montage features and a recent favourite of hers is the timer app.
My partner in crime from the Bounce Off dating blog, Risa (who is from the USA), has a similar view to Noelle, ‘I like to self-photo sometimes more than asking someone else to do it (especially a stranger), you risk the chance that the person will do a shitty job – like not framing the picture properly, getting the lighting wrong, cutting off parts of the landmark, not capturing the important things, etc. Then it feels awkward to ask them to take it again and again until they get it right so why not just self-photo?’
From my many discussions with women about this subject I knew that there are judgemental views on women who do lots of self photos so I asked Noelle about this and why she took so many photos of herself? I first have to say that Noelle is not a narcissistic loon and that is because I promised her I would not make her come across that way and also, most importantly, it is not true. She is a very genuine and straight-talking person.
“Why photos of myself? Cos I’m hot. hahaha! Well, it’s almost like twitter isn’t it? Just a pictorial version of my life, what I’m wearing, where I go, etc. like a visual diary.” Some will be taken in front of her computer, using Photo Booth and many others are using her iPhone. She freely states that selfies are pure narcissism and doesn’t care if her sister or friends see her posing as the minute she wants to take a self-photo with them in it, they are all smiles too.
“I like make-up, dressing up, going out, so I feel the need to chronicle that while I’m still attractive”, she told me. I then asked whether the self-photos will stop when she gets a bit older and wrinklier? She joked, “LOL who wants to see that shit? then I’ll put some scenery up … but at least I can look back and go, damn, I was pretty hot. HAHAHA narcissistic AND shameless.”
Being serious, she put forward the notion that there are different kinds of women. “It’s an extreme narcissism that comes with the self photo and usually stems from having been living in public life for a while.” Noelle has been blogging for almost 10 years and she has complete strangers who come up to her in Singapore to say they read her blog.
Nora, half-Swedish/Spanish lady currently living in Los Angeles, is someone I would describe as being a little crazy, but in a good way, and uses social media to show her working out, walking her dog, eating nice food and wearing nice things. “I love the way I look and it’s fun, like if I’m bored I just take some pics of myself”, she explained to me as well as completely ignoring anyone who judges her for it, “haha don’t hate and enjoy yourself. Relax and have fun.”
(some of Nora’s self photos)
I think the key to making self photos interesting and not just narcissistic is to have fun with them. Inge, a 24 year old photographer from Tennessee, is a big fan of what she would refer to as a self-portrait. This is not a straight forward look into the camera lens but takes an artistic and often fun approach. For her, ‘it is just a form of self-expression, like painting a picture, dancing or cooking a good meal. It is my form of stress relief.’
She explained to me she is not a camera-whore, ‘I am an admitted actress at times, but it is usually because I like to entertain people not because I want to say “look at me! Look at me!” … I prefer to be part of a joke or to take funny, entertaining pictures any day of the week rather than a normal pretty one – much to the dismay of my friends, boyfriend and family.’ See a few of her own examples: Jump! Baby Bird, Jump!; Nervous Energy; or Some Days. She also recommended looking at Rosie Hardy, Brooke Shaden and Brian Wagner.
Hanna, a 19 year old student from Finland, often uses the mix of the straight forward selfie as well as taking the artistic or more fun approach of a self portrait. Like many, she is not a fan of people who pout a lot and put up ten new duckface photos on Facebook everyday.
Although self-photos may not seem ‘real’ or a genuine to some, in the 21st century we have to be aware of our image in social media whether we like it or not. Just like when we get dressed up for a night out on the town, we are choosing to present the best representation of ourselves, which may be quite different to how we appear normally. Women wear make up, high-heeled shoes and push-up bras on a night out and so there is nothing wrong with women (or men) wanting to be in a similar level of control about their photo on social media sites, especially, of course, internet dating sites.
However, be aware that excessive use of the selfie will inevitably cause judgement by others … it is only human nature.
(A massive thank you to all those who gave me their thoughts and opinions and especially to Noelle and Nora who let me use their photographs)