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Thy Selfie, Thy Self: The Power to Re-Imagine Beauty is at Your Fingertips

“You have the power to redefine what beauty is… the power is right at our fingertips.” A photographer stands in an auditorium filled with teenage girls in a high school in Massachusetts. “We can take selfies.” The girls giggle, hesitantly and almost with disbelief. By the end of the eight minute clip of director Cynthia Wade’s mini-doc to redefine beauty, you are indeed convinced that social media allows us to define for ourselves the meanings within our daily lives; beauty, strength, joy and what these things may look like.

Wade suggests a brand-new idea that would leave most of us wildly nervous and uncomfortable. She suggests the girls incorporate the things about them which they like the least. COME ON! When was the last time you posed specifically to show off the rolls in your belly that you’ve come to hate? Or the perma-wrinkle you have in the furrow of your brow that determined your newly cut bangs?? When did you last leave the house without grooming the eyebrows your friends once told you were a bit too bushy!? As for me, I wore Spanx last night.

The video suggests we are living in a realm of lineages which carry insecurities; From our mother’s distaste for her wide hips to my disgruntled reluctance to go to the mall to buy a new pair of jeans, how much of our self-critical nature is passed on or picked up? Lineages of insecurity embed themselves deep in our psyches as women in this world—a world obsessed with the visual and the material. It is not our parents’ fault, we were merely raised in a time during which complaining about certain features and assets (because that’s what they really are) is the norm. What comes to mind is that scene in Mean Girls when Regina George, Gretchen Weiners and Karen Smith poke and prod at themselves in the mirror, claiming to hate their large pores and other ogre-like physical malatudes. They glance at Cady, innocent Cady, having come all the way from the safari lands of South Africa, who has never been exposed to the popular culture of the Western world in which women self-hate almost obsessively. She stares blankly at her new found friends then concedes that she sometimes has bad breath in the morning. What has it come to, ladies? 

The project presents a revolutionary idea: it offers the highschool girls and their mamas a space to hang and present their selfie work, inviting positive remarks from all who venture into the gallery. Viewers leave notes such as “I love your hair” or “beautiful smile” on stickie notes under the self-portraiture of these young (in age and at heart) women. While we could launch into a discussion of how this project serves potential damage of teaching these young girls that a large amount of their value rests in their visual appearance, but I would argue that the project aims deeper than that. This video suggests that to ignore the importance of external self-love as well as internal self-love would be a grave misdeed. To ignore the importance of the acceptance and embracing of our physical selves in a world so obsessed with the material realm would only lead to the eventual diminishing our inner beauty through a squandered spirit, most certainly.

“I was looking through my selfies last night and I realized I am pretty cute,” one girl says nearing the end of the video. And with this idea, selfies can be a political statement; radical acceptance of self, both inwardly and outwardly are acts of resilience and resistance in a culture that denies a woman’s and a girls right to do so.

View my own adventures in redefining beauty through selfie-portraiture here, where I take my self-love into public spaces.

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