What does it mean when a woman posts a selfie? Many people see selfies as narcissistic; to some, it reinforces the notion that a woman’s value lies solely in her looks. But posting a selfie can also be regarded as an empowering activity and even be used to counter sexism.
Putting all negative connotations aside, a selfie is means for self-expression. It is similar to a self-portrait; it lets people – especially women – engage in the art of “self-fashioning.” It is a powerful way for a woman to express control over how she is perceived. For those of us who don’t fit into the white, cisgender, thin beauty standards that are all over the media, selfies can be a truly radical act.
Of course, many women find themselves subject to sexist pressures when it comes to selfies – we are expected to present a beautiful, yet confident image while simultaneously somehow being able to navigate extreme criticism if our selfies are perceived as too sexy, “slutty,” or posed. Sometimes even selfies that seem empowering backfire when people make nasty comments regarding a person’s appearance. The internet is very hyper-critical; it seems near impossible that a selfie could counter sexism. Different perspectives on the matter may help to open people's minds.
Novelist and poet John Berger once wrote, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting 'Vanity,' thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.” In a way, selfies are a perfect example of this. It isn’t permissible for a young woman to take control over how she is depicted, so people get worked up and freak out when a woman posts a picture of herself that somehow gives her social empowerment and validity. Just think about how many people – especially men – celebrate Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue, yet criticize a woman who posts a photo of herself in a bikini for being too “vain.”
These double standards for women are everywhere, but there are ways to fight back. Molly Soda, an acclaimed artist and Tumblr icon, leaked her own nudes and embarrassing text messages. Why? So no one else could do it. She didn’t want anyone else having that power over her. One could equally see how Soda’s stance on her own pictures represents how selfies are a clever means of taking back control of one’s image from male-dominated or patriarchal spheres of influence.
Selfies challenge the idea that girls can’t revel in their own reflection or feel good about a photo of themselves. They show women as they are, and how they want to be seen. For a single moment in time, a selfie allows a woman to have complete control over her appearance – for most, this is empowering, not narcissistic.