I’m known to be a person who generally denies to have her photo taken, whenever I oblige I do it reluctantly, cross my fingers and hope for the best. Usually I’m unsatisfied with the result: the angle is awkward, my face looks too round, I look like a thirteen-year-old, the lighting suddenly revealed how much I was sweating, my face won’t sit still, etc. Although written out it may not seem like a list of things one would consider as negative in a picture, to me the combination of these and more details give a grand result that brings to mind the following descriptions: Ugly. Immature. Unattractive. Weird-O. Not worth looking at. In conclusion, I don’t really like what I see. And yet, I take selfies.
Beauty is a very complicated subject. We can claim it’s in the eye of the beholder, we can claim there are specific goals one needs to achieve to fit to be considered “beautiful”, we can say everyone is beautiful, we can say only some are beautiful, we can say it’s a manufactured idea, we can say it’s a human dream, and we can forever go down the rabbit hole over trying to figure out what exactly is this beauty thing and why does it matter so much.
The problem is, discuss as we may, we are buried deep in whoever is running the show’s idea and however it is we were brought up with. So at the end of the day when we look in the mirror all those definitions won’t matter, because through however wicked way our brain is wired, we might think we are beautiful and we might think we are ugly.
Plenty of girls have gone through the quest of finding their beauty, and they’ve come out successful. Whether it’s been through accepting all their parts, changing one or the other, finding the outfits that best FIT them, fitting themselves to how they want to look or even doing absolutely nothing different and just coming to terms with themselves. Me, myself, and I are still going through that quest, and it’s been a hard journey.
It’s hard for all of us, to be honest. Even more so if, like me, you were bullied and have engrained in your head that you are not enough or worthy of belonging amongst other girls. Girls who are specifically considered beautiful and therefore entitled to judge you. So you spend your school days either:
a) Trying to mimic how they look in order to be accepted.
b) Letting it all slide while you keep being yourself.
c) You give up on completely and forever believe you belong with the trolls.
If you are one of those who chose “b”, I congratulate you. I was never strong enough for that mentality, and unfortunately entered high school with option “c”. By then, though, I thought a look best suited for a troll would be the messy, hippie if you will, but I was still in full denial to have my picture taken in any way. Away from my bullies I relaxed a bit more and gave up any care over how I looked. I was still slightly unsatisfied with who I saw in the mirror, but at least I could look at the mirror and not give a deep sigh. By then I looked in the mirror and just thought “fuck it”. Which can be good because you are immune to external judgement, but you can still fall victim to your own judgement during any moment of weakness.
So fast-forward to now, why do I take selfies? Well, it’s been years since high school. I’ve gone through many fashion phases and have been given a plethora of compliments I hold close to my heart. I still lack the confidence to accept these compliments, sometimes I swear I’m fooling the world and they’re probably looking at me from juuuuust the right angle, enough to ignore everything I dislike about myself. But this isn’t a healthy thought, at all. I know it, I see it, I accept it, and I’m working on changing my self-hate ways. How? Selfies.
During these past years, I’ve been able to look in the mirror and love who I see. I still don’t like how I appear in pictures, but that’s ok. I like my mirror self. It might be a whole “beauty in the eye of the beholder” or it might be a eye-versus-lens issue, and I’ll take whichever excuse fits me best. But I’ve been wanting to connect that bridge, I’ve been wanting to connect my mirror self with my picture self to equal what I see with that the world will see of me. In this age where the pictures of you posted online will work as the cover upon which strangers will place their first judgement (if any) upon you, I would like to love who I see online.
So one day, in a moment of sadness, I dressed up, took my camera out, and spent about fifteen minutes taking selfies. I used chairs, tables, boxes, and a laundry basket to reach the height I felt suited me best. I moved my piece of construction and myself around the room to test different light angles. I moved my face around, I lifted my chin, lowered it, faced the camera, faced the distance, lowered my eyes, moved again. Eventually, I hit my personal jackpot. I found a shot that I liked. Finally, something I was satisfied with.
What was strange about this picture was that it made use of the part of me I dislike the most: my nose. I’ve never liked it’s slight crookedness or general size, yet in this picture, it didn’t bother me. I thought I looked decent! Regardless of what everyone else might think, I wasn’t cringing for this picture. I posted it on my Facebook for the sake of online posterity, and also to share my personal triumph over loving myself completely for once. People liked the picture and they showed so much support, I wondered why I was ever bullied.
Months later, after an awful breakup, I began to feel horrible again. If anyone has ever gone through a harsh breakup they know that suddenly you feel useless, unwanted, emotionally used, discarded, total trash, not enough, broken… and above all ugly. No matter how many compliments you may receive, that rejection leaves a sting that lasts a while and moving on is a slow drag. During the first months after the breakup I was desperately seeking distraction everywhere, and one of the things that helped was Instagram.
I had never had an account until then. I kept losing my smartphone and sometimes I thought it was a very narcissistic app. Over time I changed my mind, I saw how people were using this tool creatively and were in a way moving photography into a different direction (I’ll talk about that in another post). There are good exceptions and there are bad exceptions, either way I wanted to try it out and be part of it. Also, taking pictures has always been my thing, and now I had an app where I would just upload them like crazy.
After a while, I began to play with trying to take a selfie again. This time, the camera being in my phone and not having a front option, I couldn’t help myself with chairs, tables, or boxes. So through use of the a mirror, I began to try and find my beauty again. Sometimes I truly love the picture I took, sometimes I’m only half pleased but post it anyways (an act of bravery), and sometimes I honestly don’t like it at all and just save it for a rainy day. I’m not hunting for compliments, but if I get them and I feel reassured that I’m not crazy into thinking “hey, I am pretty, aren’t I?”
Like writing, taking a selfie works like therapy for me. As weird as it may sound, it’s true. Through writing I can pour out my feelings, make sense of them later and feel sane for every thought that crosses my mind and drives me nuts. Through taking selfies, I find a way to feel beautiful and just enough. My bridge between who I see in the mirror and who I see on camera is starting to get easier to cross. No longer a wobbly thing in danger of collapsing any second, I can now walk from one edge to the other and feel that it’s stable and lasting.
Beauty is a harsh thing we are all measured upon, both men and women. We are each brought up to deal with beauty in different ways, but we also grow up in different environments where pop culture either reassures what you’ve been taught, or destroys it and buries you in the rubble. Climbing out of the rubble isn’t as easy as it sounds, but I truly believe that the selfie trend helps, at least I know it’s helped me.