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👀 Being Selfie-ish Is Alright
#58 | A portrait of our time
Let me tell you a secret: Sometimes, I take (several) selfies when I’ve dressed up to go somewhere, stare at them, and then delete them. If that sounds a little crazy, that’s because it is. But hey, I’m Indian, and Indians are selfie-mad, even morbidly so (maximum number of selfie-related deaths, yikes).
Ever since smartphones with front cameras became everyday objects in everyone’s pockets, selfies have become the easiest, most accessible form of self-expression for people across the globe.
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Selfies are often seen through a gendered lens – women who take selfies are seen as vain and self-obsessed. Back in the heydays of Tumblr, this post in defence of selfie culture pointed out that throughout history, women’s bodies have been depicted in art and history as objects for the male gaze. The selfie subverts this construction and lets women admire their own beauty, which automatically draws the wrath of patriarchal society.
A lot of people seem to think that selfies are a twenty-first-century invention. Kids these days! But self-portraiture has a history that goes back centuries and has been a phenomenon prevalent in different cultures. Notably, self-portraits by women are significantly fewer than self-portraits by men.
In a class I took back in my undergraduate days, I wrote a paper on self-portraits by female Renaissance artists Sofonsiba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana. These women depicted themselves not as objects for sexual admiration but as creators, intellectuals and skilled artists.
Selfie City, a digital humanities project that “investigates selfies using a mix of theoretic, artistic and quantitative methods”, finds that women take more selfies than men. To understand why look at their exploration of selfies through Feminist Media Theory. Or look for your own answers on their Selfiexploratory – a data visualisation experiment that uses more than 3000 selfies from around the world to find common patterns and elements in them.
Selfies are here to stay – we can love them or hate them, but we can’t ignore them.
The best we can do is not die while clicking them.