Is The Selfie Ruining How Women See Themselves?

Photographed by Katie Fischer.
Nearly every single day, there's a new article about Kim Kardashian (or one of her super-famous sisters) taking "the perfect selfie." Hello, she's even published an entire coffee-table tome dedicated to the subject. Of course we mere mortals take note on how to emulate those flawless pics: from double-checking the lighting to finding the right photo-editing app to bringing a friend with extra-long arms along to hold the camera at the right distance and angle. But New York-based concept artist Katie Fischer (a.k.a Fischer Cherry) wonders: What are we aiming to achieve by snapping these semi-awkward, semi-sultry poses? Could the selfie actually be ruining female self-confidence, rather than empowering it? By exploring this obsession with outward appearance, Fischer aims to find out.

She had not — until recently — turned the camera on herself. "Before I started [my selfie project], I had never taken one," Fischer tells Refinery29 of her latest photo series. The photographs that resulted, which capture various New York women breaking from their daily routines to snap images of themselves, came "slow and organically," she continues. "[They were] a result of things I witnessed in my own life and on social media."

Turning a lens on people who are turning a lens on themselves isn't just clever; it also allows Fischer to put the very act of self-photography on display.
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
Why did you choose for the people in these photographs to be taking selfies? What does it represent?
"I wanted women of different socio-economic backgrounds, racial descent, and body types. This series is about how women choose to represent themselves on social media, and it engages in the collective conversation. "
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
Was there something interesting about photographing people photographing themselves? Why did you choose to capture this somewhat private moment?
"We've all had that experience of watching another person check out their own reflection, or preen in front of a mirror or camera. There's a combination of feeling embarrassed for them/by them and having laughter bubble up inside of you. It’s humorous witnessing the intentionality of someone trying to seem attractive, as that quality is inherently unattractive. However, when you look at a selfie, you don't often see the act of the person documenting it, just the final product. I see my work as the 'behind-the-scenes' of a selfie."
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
So let's talk about the selfie. Would you say it's helped (or hurt) our culture in some way?
"This is a complicated question, as some would argue that choosing how you capture yourself is a form empowerment or self-expression. While this may hold some truth, I believe that, overall, it hurts our culture by over-emphasizing expression via the limited tools of the body and face one is born with, combined with other tools they can use to manipulate their appearance.

"Self-expression through your heart and mind is so much greater than the slope of your nose, how many rings you stack on your fingers, or what color your hair is. The most basic desire in all of us is to be truly known and understood, to connect with other people. We're all complicated social animals, and I think our appearance as captured by a selfie is far too limiting. Yet this has become the bar that measures the content of who you are.

"I'm also aware, however, that 'selfies' and self-documentation are here to stay. An example of someone engaging on social media in a very educated and clever way, with what she has titled as 'Sad Girl Theory,' is artist Audrey Wollen."
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
Would you consider selfies or social media in general to be a huge part of your life?
"I don't naturally gravitate towards social media. I've always been a 'late-adopter,' but I do try to participate in it now, as much as I can, because ultimately that is how you track what's happening in real time in our culture.

"About a year ago, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization partnered with Getty Images to create a library of photographs that showed women in non-traditional roles — so instead of a woman laughing with salad, it would show a much more empowered image of a woman wearing glasses, holding a baby with one arm, and with the other arm, covered in tattoos, working on her computer. And, while I think this was a wonderful idea, Getty Images is an archive of photographs taken by professional photographers. It can never compete with the breadth and depth of images that as a society we are inundated with on social media. The question then is, how do women choose to capture themselves, or allow themselves to be represented when someone else is capturing their image? And, what does it all mean?"
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
Do you think celebrity selfie culture has influenced average people's fascination with taking pictures of themselves?
"Yes of course. It's tricky, as 'celebrities' make a living through a combination of entertaining and/or charming us. For women, a huge aspect of that appeal often hinges on their appearance. When the average woman sees how entertainers promote their projects through their sexual appeal (for better or worse), they often mimic that behavior to attract and/or impress the people in their own lives."
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
As a New York woman, is there an added level of pressure to increase one's value and self-worth? And the way people portray themselves to the masses?
"No, I don't feel that it's New York City-specific. We live in a global culture and economy. I think if you're a female entrepreneur, artist, entertainer, politician, etc., there's an added pressure to be visually appealing on social media. All human beings value beauty, and since women are genetically beautiful, the issue becomes finding the line between self-objectification as a tool for being proud of your appearance (natural beauty, achieving a fitness goal, or styling) versus a tool for self-degradation."
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Photographed by Katie Fischer.
I read in Wild magazine that you were inspired by a Vanity Fair article called "Friends Without Benefits." Can you tell me why?
"It was such a beautiful and heartbreaking piece. The article uncovered, to quote Sales, 'a world where boys are taught that they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers,' and raised the question of how this affects America's young women. I find this fascinating, as I think the emotions and issues that teenage girls now wrestle with are mirrored abstractly in women throughout their 20s, 30s, and 40s."
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