Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Year of Feminist Selfies

In truth, before this year, I was not a big fan of the selfie. Not so much because I thought them narcissistic (though I suppose that to a certain extent I did), but because I had never much liked photos of myself. That is probably something I am not supposed to admit, as a “confident” feminist woman who values my intelligence over my looks, but supposedly also has well-balanced (but of course never prideful) self-esteem when it comes to my physical appearance.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

As I noted in my review of Bad Feminist earlier this year, the Good Feminist role sometimes feels almost as difficult to live up to than the other ideals many of us have tried to leave behind. But 2014, more than anything, has been the year in which I have had to cease keeping up appearances, if for no other reason than I could not hold the brokenness of life (my own and others) at arm’s length any longer. My father’s heart surgery and stroke 14 months ago left me completely undone, unmoored, in a way I had never experienced. I began 2014 perhaps more vulnerable than before, but also more afraid of where that might lead me. For someone who reveals so much, you might be surprised at how much I tend to hide -- how comforting it can be to remain invisible, even while wishing to be seen as I really am.

I spent the first six months of this year finishing my MFA thesis, a body of work of which I am more proud than anything I have ever created in my life. It is -- in so many ways -- a part of me, and I want to share it as much as I wish to hold it close, to keep it safe, instead of sending it out to the world, where it will declare that I exist, asking you to see the world through my eyes for 120 pages or so.

In those words you will be able to see me, as well as to see with me. That is part of what creative nonfiction does, at its best, and what I am learning to do with my words, though I hope in time to be better than I am now. At 30, I am just getting started.

What does all of this have to do with selfies, then? Early in 2014 someone shared the #feministselfie concept with me, and I was challenged by it, quite frankly. It called to my attention both my own discomfort with images of myself, but also the way in which woman so seldom get to control how they are portrayed and perceived. To declare I exist, and I am not sorry for existing, and to choose how you get to see me by taking the camera into my own hands felt both frightening and liberating. It felt much like the publishing part of writing feels. And so, I started to take selfies. Not every day. But when I felt like it. When I was having a good hair day, or when a book arrived and I wanted to share the excited grin it caused to spread across my face, or when my expression seemed to describe how I was feeling more precisely than words, or just when I was feeling pretty and wanted to own it for once.

I can’t tell you that posting selfies has radically redefined my body image or self confidence, or somehow freed me from years of negative messages from glossy magazines and the beauty industrial complex. That sort of things takes years to work through. But it was fun. And, truthfully, I like these pictures -- these pictures of me. Having never been particularly good at accepting compliments, there was something peculiarly blessed about the discomfort of letting people double-tap, favorite, and like self-selected photos of me. I choose the photos, I consent to let you see -- and appreciate -- them. (Does it still annoy me that my selfies get more likes than blog posts, pretty much always? YES. YES IT DOES.)

I used to like to quote Ani DiFranco, “It took me too long to realize that I don’t take good pictures, ‘cause I have the kind of beauty that moves.” Perhaps, really, it took me too long to realize that I needed to take control of the camera. That while I can reveal myself on the page, I need not hide behind it if I don’t want to. That I exist, a whole person, not mere intellect, not mere flesh, but embodied, beautiful, even when parts of myself I’d rather hide are visible on the edge of the frame.

Beauty moves, and I move with it, keeping up, if only just barely.