Seflie-esteem, selfie-less, selfie-xist. What does your selfie say about you? We are living in times of peak-selfie, and therefore, peak selfie-hatred.
Whenever I think about selfies, I think about my Nonna, I think about my aunty, I think about my best-friend, Thais. All powerful woman born before me who were lucky enough to experience the world in prints but not in selfies. These women didn’t have the ability to take and post their own images to thousands of people at once. So many women’s stories were erased and will never be recovered because they didn’t have access to private image-making.
Thais, my childhood friend who still lives in the slums of Brazil has not been fortunate enough to own a smart phone, yet, she borrows mine occasionally and posts hundreds of selfies of herself on my Facebook. Her selfies are not a shallow way to show narcissism, fashion, and self-promotion and seek attention; rather, she uses them to empower herself and exercise free speech, self-reflection, express spiritual purity, improve her literacy and form strong interpersonal connections with the world. Selfies provide, for a lot of ordinary people, the chance to be empowered by reconstructing confidence and receiving acknowledgement, however, for those like Thais – who do not even acknowledge vanity as they cannot afford it or are too humble – this becomes an experience about self-discovery and involving.
When we can take endless shots from endless angles, we start to discover dimensions of ourselves we never even knew were there. Thais is investigating her own silhouette. She’s figuring out which parts of her face she loves. Sometimes it takes a hundred selfies to capture the one that rings out with recognition: this, this is who I am.
David Nemer conducted a research about the importance of selfies for the development and communication of people in the slums of Brazil. He reports on the importance of selfies especially for those Illiterate slum residents who take advantage and use selfies rather than text messages and e-mail to facilitate communication with their families, overcoming language and distance barriers. Nemer implies that they use selfies to realistically depict their everyday lives, history, and social situation (Nemer, 2015).
In addition, Frohmann (2005) suggests that selfies could empower the marginalized by creating dialogue about the community’s issues through group discussion, reaching policy makers, and informing the broader society of those issues. These findings suggest self-portraits as a way to hear the voices of some of the inhabitants in poor and marginalized regions, as claimed by Hernández (2009) perceived as a pathway to a more promising future. So basically like Thais, the favela residents used selfies to present themselves online. As argued in the research by Nemer, their goals were not to present an ideal (or fake) self online (or shallow displays of narcissism, fashion, attention seeking, and self-promotion). “Rather, we consider people’s online presentations (selfies) as ways to improve and benefit their off-line identities: Presenting selves online is to recognize and access an opportunity (i.e., digital technologies) to improve their quality of life and to allow this decision to make a life-enhancing difference” (Nemer, 2015).
This study shows a whole different side to the selfie-world. It amplifies the voices of the marginalized in Brazil and highlights their social and technological experiences of selfies in community technology centres. The use and adoption of digital technologies among these slums users were not motivated by a shallow acknowledgement of their desire for entertainment but rather were situated in a contextualized reality. Blogs, Youtube even Twitter and Facebook can be a real lifeline to self-presentation that just wasn’t possible before.
Erica Hagen gives an excellent TED talk about the importance of being mapped in today’s society (and the lack of) existing. She explains the extraordinary difference that technology has made for people living in third world countries – “Shouldn’t they represent more than just a pin in this map?” (Hagen, 2015).
Selfies give character, they allow people, real people to be expert at their own lives and that makes a different, that is encouraging and empowering. Self-knowledge and self-love. Young people are increasingly able to cross barriers, of age, class, selfie-hatred and more because we belong to a kind of global community and we are finally able to tell our story and put ourselves on the map.
Do you ever stop to think all the people who wanted so badly to be seen but were born too soon. I wish, all the time, my great-grandmothers women I never knew; could have taken a million selfies. I feel like I owe it to them and to those who feel unseen, unmapped now, to keep posting, to keep sharing, to keep liking, to keep seeking out new faces to like. Let your selfie outlive you… We are after all, writing our own history with every selfie.