Self-obsessed. Insecure. Narcissistic.
I’ve heard these words thrown around, with a little to a lot of venom and disgust, to describe someone who “takes too many selfies.” That someone is often female, though not always. Derision directed at selfie-taking seems to me unnecessarily vitriolic, and well, I want to offer up some defense at selfie-taking, even in “excess,” and encourage you to ask yourself why you think selfies are annoying, if you do.
I want to share a little of my own experience and observations as a woman working in the fitness industry, as well as someone who has worked through really low self-esteem to become pretty into themselves and confident (though by no means 100% confident all the time — I doubt anyone is).
For those women who have come to fitness from a background of crippling self doubt, anxiety, depression, poor health, and low self-esteem, celebrating our victories is a way we reinforce to ourselves that we are not victims of our pasts. Those celebrations are often a way to keep us on the path of taking care of ourselves.
For many of us, working out is an existential and spiritual battle where we reclaim ourselves from the internal wars we have struggled in.
Celebration can be anything: a meal from our favorite restaurant, a new pair of workout leggings, an evening to ourselves, and maybe even just a selfie in the locker-room. These celebrations can be small, they can be totally meaningless to other people, they can be grand, they can be humble, they can be self-indulgent — and all of that is totally, absolutely fine.
Sometimes we are surprised by how good we feel about ourselves. Sometimes we celebrate that feeling good by taking a selfie. But selfies are discussed in op-eds as a symptom of a self-obsessed and materialistic culture. Selfies are taken by the “narcissistic.” People who take too many selfies, we hear over and over again, are crazy and insecure.
But what is the point of criticizing selfie-taking and -sharing? What are we accomplishing when we say “she takes too many selfies?” or when we stop ourselves from posting one because we don’t want to be “that girl”?
What’s wrong with being “that girl” (or “that person”)? Is she too confident? Too into herself? Too insecure? Too, too, too — what?
When you have spent years being at war with your own image and hating yourself, any act of genuine celebration that comes from pride in yourself, pride in your body, pride in what you look like, or pride in how you feel just in that moment, can be remarkably significant.
Yes, it can feel really good to get “likes” and “hearts” and comments from friends. Sometimes it is about external validation. And there is nothing wrong with that. A lot of the things we do are for external and social validation, because we are group mammals, and that’s just how we roll. That should not be damning. There are many aspects of fitness that are magnified and enriched by being shared with the group. Personal victories experienced alone are, of course, meaningful, but that doesn’t mean something shared is less meaningful.
Celebrating our bodies and being proud of them visibly can give others the same permission to do so.
I’ve asked a lot of women about how they feel about selfies, and so many of us endure lengthy internal debates with ourselves about whether we should post that cute pic we took when we were feeling really confident. Maybe we felt great taking it, but then when it comes to sharing it, we start judging ourselves. Why? What’s wrong with being into yourself? And who gets to decide how much you get to be into yourself?
I’m over it. If you don’t like my selfies or my friends’ selfies, here’s a tip: Don’t follow me. Don’t engage with me. If you are somehow offended by people celebrating their bodies, if you find the act of self-admiration so offensive, you can cease to engage.
Self-admiration isn’t a crime, and everyone gets to decide for themselves what is “too much.” So maybe that one girl you met at band camp posts identical up-close face selfies every three hours. If you find it really annoying, unfollow her. But know that something could be going on below the surface: Maybe she’s actually dealing with some crippling body image and confidence issues, and posting photos of her face helps her feel like she’s asserting herself into the world. I don’t know, and neither do you.
People are complex, and we all act out our insecurities in different ways. Hell, I might argue that half of everything we do in the public sphere is about projecting or battling our insecurities. And there is nothing wrong with that. Humans are, by and large, pretty insecure a lot of the time, and we all cope in different ways. And if you ask me, taking cute selfies is probably way less harmful than a lot of other ways we act out our insecurities.
But that is all predicated on the assumption that selfie posting is inherently the act of someone insecure. I contest that. In fact, I say celebrating our bodies and being proud of them visibly can give others the same permission to do so.
The bottom line: If you aren’t into selfies, that’s totally fine, and no one will force you to take any or “like” any.
But if you find yourself passing judgment on someone’s selfies, I encourage you to take a moment to realize that you might be witnessing a huge step in someone’s self-esteem, a moment of personal triumph over doubt, or hell, maybe just a cool outfit or well-hit bicep flex. Whatever the case may be, the intentions are probably good, the selfies literally do not hurt anyone, and if you hate them so much, it might be worth asking yourself why.