It’s popular for people my age to complain about selfies or call people who take them narcissistic. And I’m sure, as with every single thing on this planet, people can take them to an extreme, including the famed “duck face” of selfie culture. But I was thinking about it the other day while looking through years of pictures I’ve saved in iPhoto. The first photos of the album were taken eight years ago, beginning around the birth of my youngest daughter, when I made the switch (quite reluctantly at first) to digital photography.
For the first year or two I took no selfies, and as a result, there are very few pictures of me. The pictures that do exist are not ones I like to look at. I see the strained smile, or the double chin, or the exhaustion and depression in my eyes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as I started to think about separating from my husband, I started to take selfies. I needed to know who I was. I needed to see myself and understand how to FEEL beautiful inside. And as I started to come alive again, selfies took on a different role—a sort of LOOK, HERE I AM! I exist! I am alive! I am happy!
In those first selfies, I am at the beach…or in the woods…or in a city…or on a plane. Is that narcissistic? Perhaps. But it’s also just interesting in a documentarian, artistic sort of way. I can now look back over the past few years and truly see my own transformation in a way I might never have been able to track if I’d relied on others to document it. It’s like the slow-motion, time-lapse blossoming of a human flower.
Of course, we all know what’s next—the slow-motion, time-lapse decay of old age. But that in itself fascinates me rather than deterring me. The older I get, and the older my loved ones get, the more I find it amazing to see the beauty of their true selves shine out from their bodies in a whole new way. There are some people who were gorgeous in youth, but whom age has battered. And others who have matured like striking, majestic trees. But you can see the truth in their eyes—their joy, their sorrow, their questions, their magic.
I think that’s why it’s so important to really look at ourselves, to not just go through the motion of living without checking in with our inner souls and asking ourselves those “selfie” questions: Who am I? Where am I? Am I happy? Am I loved? Do I love myself?
True disclosure: I consider myself, in many ways, a documentarian. I keep journals. I write. I make scrapbooks. This blog, in many ways, is a major form of documentation for me, whether it’s my recipes or my insights. I believe documenting myself through photography has also enabled me to recognize and see other people in a whole new way. I recognize the selfie on Facebook that signals, “I am single again and available.” Or the selfie that says, “I’m just in an interesting place right now, and need you to know that.” The bottom line is that the selfie is fundamental to humanity. It’s just we now have a new tool to facilitate it—you don’t need to be a painter or have a tripod and a timer on your camera. You can just hold out your arm and click. Click and see yourself immediately, no waiting for film to develop. And if you don’t like what you see, you can delete it.
Proof that the selfie is fundamental to humanity is all the pictures I found on my little daughter’s iPad. I must say she is very creative with her selfies. Many of them involve chewed gum in strange places and special effects that I didn’t even know were possible. Rather than call her narcissistic, I’ll call her a creative artist who’s getting her life off to a great start. She already knows more about who she is and where she is than I did at her age. It’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.
And when I asked my teenager, who is often seen sneaking a selfie for Snapchat (lots of funny faces usually involved), what her view on selfies is, her answer was, “What’s the problem?” For her generation, it’s just another form of communication. Kind of like postcards were when I was growing up. Only a lot faster.
So the next time you have the urge to criticize someone else for taking selfies, take a look at yourself and ask yourself, What’s the problem? What are you afraid to see? What would you change in your life if you really could look into your own eyes and speak to your very own soul? What would it take to make you feel truly beautiful and happy? And if you are already feeling beautiful and happy, I want to see it! Because it makes me happy to see you happy.