Selfies: love them or hate them, you likely have an opinion about them. Are they just for teens? Are they acts of attention-seeking narcissism? Or are they examples of feminism at its best? Yes, you read that right. Masses of women are reclaiming the selfie as feminist and embarking on the popular 365 photo a day project with a twist — a feminist one.
Word of the year
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website
When Oxford Dictionary named "selfie" 2013's word of the year, the internet exploded. A now infamous article in Jezebel attacked the selfie as yet another example of society telling women that beauty is their only asset and they should take — and retake — that selfie until their hair, makeup and chins are all photo-worthy. At first blush, many of us agree because we've been there. Editing, cropping and, of course, retaking are trademark selfie moves. But the 365 Feminist Selfie Project is different.
Here's my face
Veronica Arreola is the voice behind the blog Viva La Feminista. She took exception to Jezebel's article, which was not a surprise as a self-proclaimed fan of the selfie. But what she honed in on are 10 words in the article that were written in defense of selfies that were focused to showcase hats. Or sunglasses. Or anything but the woman. The article said: The point of a pure selfie is HERE'S MY FACE. What Jezebel saw as the problem, Arreola saw as the rub.
The point of feminist selfies are to show — and see — real women. Arreola explains, "The photos are about the real you. They aren't supposed to be the glam-you (although those are welcomed). The foundation of this challenge [is to] conquer [the] fear of seeing yourself every.single.day. We might look at ourselves to put our contacts in, even makeup on, but taking a selfie and posting it means really looking at yourself. And hopefully at the end (or much sooner!) you will find it less painful and more enjoyable. I don't want to turn us into Paris Hiltons, but rather individuals who don't cringe when we need to take a photo."
Women are on board with this message and are not only participating when they can, but are also embracing portraying their everyday selves on social media. Jenna Hatfield writes the blog Stop, Drop and Blog and is a #365feministselfie participant. Hatfield says, "I've been snapping pics of myself in my daily life — with and without my kids, training for races and working from home, cooking dinner and taking cute pics with my husband — because I like to live my life visually... I think it's important to see our faces, to connect with one another, to show more than just the shiny side of things."
Shiny, happy people...
There's something beautiful about just being ourselves in front of the camera in the same way we ask our children to — no retakes, no tucking in the chin. When asked about a particularly striking #365feministselfie, Hatfield said, "I thought it was an especially poignant photo for the series. Us, a family, journaling and playing at the table after dinner. Me in a hoodie and a mess because of a snow day. Them in jammies. It's just us. It's just me." We would never tell our children, spouses or friends that they aren't photo worthy. The Feminist Selfie Project is a movement to send ourselves the exact same message.
All options on the table
The flip side of this message is, of course, that glam photos are welcome in this project as well. The point of feminism isn't to tell women how to be, but rather, as feminist writer K.M. O'Sullivan says, "To put all options on the table.” At their core, selfies put the woman in charge of how she's seen. Cecily Kellogg, of the blog Uppercase Woman, is a #365feministselfie participant who explains, "I love the way [selfies] share a bit of my daily life... It's another way of social sharing for me." The important part about this takeaway is that with selfies we're in charge of telling our own story and we're putting ourselves front and center. This is not something that many women do easily.
Writer Erin Margolin was not a fan of the selfie but is now a #365feministselfie participant. When asked about her change of heart, Margolin explained, "I think my writing off the selfie was an easy way for me to avoid the camera lens turning on me. I don't much like the way I look. I don't like being in photographs... Maybe [changing this] begins by turning the camera around... [To] get more comfortable not only being the focus, but also focusing on the invisible me. The behind-the-scenes me. The mother me, the one that keeps this family ticking. Perhaps my turn to the #365feministselfie is a way to show myself that I.AM.REAL. That I'm here. That even in the worst moments, or when I'm all alone… I'm still here. I'm showing up. I leave a mark."
This shift, this feeling, this movement, is more universal than Margolin realizes. Arreola says, "What I am seeing are people (mostly women, we do have some men participating) who are facing their fears of being in the shot. Women who say they are usually the photographer, not the subject of the photo. Mothers who realize they have few pictures with their children. People who do not fit society's definition of "beautiful" are smiling into their cameras and saying, "Yes, I am."
Yes, I am — and you are, too
Owning Yes, I am and I am here is the crux of this project. Jamie Nesbitt Golden and Kate Averett coined #feministselfie in response to Jezebel's article. Arreola merged #feministselfie with the popular photo a day challenge Project 365 and asked others to join her. This is how #365feministselfie was born and the rest, as they say, is (making) history.
History in the (selfie) making
O'Sullivan — at first unsure of the value of the feminist selfie saying that "women are strong, worthy, beautiful and valuable in ways photos will never capture" and that she’d "hate to see our message shrunk down to a series of 2 x 3 images" — distills this history in the making perfectly by naming this project a part of our collective feminist story.
She says, "Maybe the #365feministselfie project is but one more way to share the feminist story and the images will be layered in with the words and the protests and the marches, strengthening our cause. Maybe the #365feministselfie project is the way the emerging feminists are finding their voice and I should do as I say and give them room to own their part in feminist history. I just hope they remember feminism means we need not live up to any particular expectations or feminist definitions. Women should move through life knowing they are already remarkable, even without a photo."
#365feministselfie — are you in?
The #365feministselfie project is only a week old and the invitation to join in is always open. To learn more, read Arreola's post, #365FeministSelfie — Are you in? and if you're ready to dive in, check out the #365FeministSelfie group on Flickr or simply post your selfies on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #365feministselfie.
Share with us!^ Will you be posting feminist selfies? How do you feel about others doing so?