Why is acceptance of one’s own lump of cellular matter—the flesh prison we inhabit, the meat ship we commandeer—considered to be so radical? Why is the act of liking oneself, either being content with one’s appearance or accepting our own discontent, so deeply controversial?
Our generation is frequently blasted by those preceding us for being a pack of self-obsessed, over-indulgent narcissists: oversharing every mediocre aspect of our existences, documenting every #rawvegan salad we consume, snapchatting every tequila shot, updating our profile pictures every time we buy a new lipstick, thriving off of Instagram likes, and adapting iPhone-shaped indents in our palms.
But is this really so unthinkably terrible? Is it worse than irreversibly polluting the earth, destroying the economy (fuck you baby boomers), and bringing your spawn up on the false notion that we could be successful in any field if we were passionate enough about it? (Us and every other arts graduate).
The act of selfie-taking is inherently political, as we are simultaneously the subject and object of the image. We are enabled total creative freedom and autonomy over our own representation, yet this is considered to be the lowest form of culture. It is written off as an act of flagrant narcissism, almost as the social media equivalent of publicly jerking off to one’s own reflection.
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But I feel like the act of choosing the way your body is seen, the way in which you exist within the worlds of others, is actually quite powerful.
As a female representations of our bodies are almost always outside of the realm of our control, primarily through media representations that prioritise the male gaze over our own. We are positioned as the passive viewer object, never the active subject. The female perspective is rarely the assumed audience.
The selfie is a reclamation of this agency; a way of both controlling and celebrating our own bodies. It is saying that at x time I was feeling cute and confident enough to share what I look like with my social circle, with the wider internet. That this is what I look like, on my terms. This is the way that I want you to see me, the way I want to be interpreted. I accept that this is what I look like, and I am content with this.
Vanity is positioned as a deeply negative trait, something to be trained out of and to be avoided. We aren’t supposed to glimpse our reflections and simply like what we see. We aren’t supposed to stand naked in front of a mirror and proclaim that we look good naked, regardless as to the proximity with which our body aligns with normative beauty standards.
Self deprecation is seen as the norm; it is literally more socially acceptable to openly hate your body, than it is to like it. Think back to that scene in Mean Girls where Cady is first invited to hang out with “the plastics” at Regina’s house, and the girls go about in turns reciting what they dislike about their bodies, from wide hips to “man shoulders,” to a weird hairline and sucky nail beds. It is positioned almost as social expectation to berate and critique your appearance, even if you are considered to be exceedingly normatively attractive as these characters are; they are all still able to easily pinpoint several anatomical aspects they are discontent with.
Rather than poking fun at ‘petty’ teenage girls’ bodily insecurities, writing them off as shallow and trivial, this scene sheds light upon the cultural phenomenon that results in these sorts of bodily attitudes. Contrasting these brutal self-dissections is clueless Cady, who has no idea how to respond to this social rite having been socialised outside of Western culture, and is only just discovering that “apparently there can be a lot of things wrong with your body.”
These feelings of bodily discontent and insecurity are not inherent to the human species, they are socialised traits. We don’t exit the womb vying for an 18-inch waist, razor-sharp cheekbones, and a thigh gap. I am fairly certain cave women never avoided seeing their reflections in puddles because they were self-conscious about their tiger skin pelt making their butt look big.
In a social environment where for women the idea of our own inadequacy is ingrained from an alarmingly young age; we could always be prettier, thinner, smarter, fitter, healthier, more eloquent, a better friend, better partner, better employee. We are not simply “good enough.” This is perpetrated by multi-billion dollar industries, enforced by every advertising campaign we interact with: that we can, and should, always be improving ourselves; that we should never be content with the way that we are because we could always be better.
In this hostile environment being content with your body—acceptant of its flaws, of every last mouche, scar, freckle, stretch mark, of your weirdly-long second toes, the width of your thighs, your ski-slope nose, the length of your legs—is an extremely radical act.
Even scraping together some semblance of self acceptance, let alone the ability to openly admit to loving your body, is both incredibly difficult and incredibly powerful, in a world where your insecurities are capitalised off and sold back to you.
If every woman in the world woke up tomorrow liking the way she looked, how many global-scale industries would collapse?
So keep taking your selfies, telling yourself that you’re super fucking cute, take your vitamins, wear red lipstick, and don’t let boys be mean to you.