Despite a fierce and abiding love for Rihanna, I’d always felt annoyed and somewhat turned off by her seemingly endless stream of Instagram selfies. A few weeks ago, this feminist discussion via Google Hangout about Rihanna’s music video for “Pour It Up” provoked a long conversation with a friend of mine about the singer’s specific type of Instagram “self love.” I mentioned how uncomfortable I was taking selfies anywhere but the comfort of my own room on Photobooth, and how rarely I posted any self-taken pictures of myself online. For the first time, I wondered what I was so afraid of. Why exactly was my attitude toward the selfie so different from Queen Riri’s?
Reading Sarah Nicole Pritchett’s interpretation of Rihanna’s Instagram persona as self-love and feminist narcissism made me stop and think about what a “selfie feminism” would imply. I would wager good money that no one but Rihanna controls her Instagram account, and there is real power in that. It seems deeply un-feminist to critique a woman of color for creating a representation of herself that is entirely her vision, no filter (except for maybeWalden or Valencia). With my attitude toward the selfie forever altered, I set one of the many pictures I had taken of myself (alone in my room) on Halloween as my Facebook profile picture.
“The female narcissist is dangerous to patriarchy because she obviates the desiring male subject (loving herself, she needs no confirmation of her desirability from him).” – Amelia Jones
Then yesterday, Jezebel posted an article titled “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry For Help.” Author Erin Gloria Ryan (who feels “bad” about the selfies she’s taken, how sad) describes the 21st century self-portrait as a “nightmare” performed by young women “because they don’t derive their sense of worth from themselves.”
The Internet response was one of vehement disagreement. #Feministselfie, coined by twitter user @convergecollide, became a trending topic in the US.
It is beyond reductive to reduce selfie-culture to the idea that these pictures are merely a “high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.“
Selfies can be self care and self love without “male gaze” approval. Selfies can be visibility for underrepresented minorities. Selfies can bepersonal affirmations that you are here and you’re not going anywhere. And in my opinion, an equally valid #feministselife can be unashamed, pure, beautiful and unadulterated vanity because you look amazing today and you love what your hair is doing right now and everyone needs to know it. The need for validation and support doesn’t stem from a selfie culture, it is an integral part of our relationships with each other. It’s not wrong to want to be validated, it’s human.
If those 20 likes on your selfie makes you feel good about yourself, then you know what? Enjoy that feeling, and while you’re at it, pat yourself on the back for getting through another day as a woman constantly reminded by surrounding media and culture that you just aren’t good enough.
Mikki Kendall (creator of the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag) brought up the important fact that when those who aren’t “traditionally attractive” post photos and get compliments, it shifts a lot of narratives. Yes, selfies can be a political act of defiance; Kendall calls the #feministselfie a “call to arms.” As a straight, middle-class, (mostly) white-passing woman in her twenties I see myself reflected in popular media around me every day. But for those who can’t see themselves in New Girl, selfies are a way to create media that represents their identities.
I haven’t been taking or sharing pictures I take of myself because I feared that people would have the attitude of Erin Gloria Ryan, who believes that selfies arrogantly scream “DO YOU THINK I’M PRETTY!” to their audience. But you know what?
Haters to the left.
Reader submission by Malia Schilling
Reposted with permission from her blog