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Archive for the ‘self-esteem’ Category

Although I am committed to feminism, some of its advocates grab hold of strange ideas. For example, in their rejection of body-shaming, some praise acceptance of being overweight, ignoring the fact that it is unhealthy (although evidently, less so than anorexia). Not too long ago, you could also find those who, with no definite evidence, believed in the existence of a prehistoric matriarchy. More recently, some claim that the taking of selfies strengthen women’s self-confidence, and to object to selfies for any reason is a sign of secret hatred for women. By contrast, I would argue that selfies encourages women in traditional stereotypes, urging them to promote self-esteem instead of grounding them in self-confidence.

Erin Tatum gives a typical argument in favor of selfies. According to her “Selfies and Misogyny: The Importance of Selfies as Self-Love,” selfies matter because women take them for no justification except their own enjoyment. Instead of acting out what the fashion industry or the men in their lives tells them to – and usually feeling inadequate — selfies are a way for women to appreciate themselves and each other. Far from being narcissistic, selfies “provide girls with the means to create their own positive image of themselves, thereby severely diluting the impact of outside opinion. If your confidence comes from within, you can’t be controlled as easily.”

An obvious flaw of this argument is that, despite jokes about young women making duck faces in selfies, selfies are not particularly associated with women. For instance, when The Oatmeal discussed selfies, the one taking them was a man, and the one objecting to them is a woman . Under this circumstance, I have trouble seeing criticisms of selfies being a displaced attack on women.

Just as importantly, when Tatum and other defenders assert that selfies are not narcissistic, their words sound narcissistic. According to Tatum, for example, selfies are about self-love (which I presume is an accidental double-entendre, since it goes against what she says), they are “all about you;” and she ends by urging women to “embrace yourself with your selfie.” Even as Tatum argues, her choice of words creates the impression that selfies really are everything she claims they are not.

Even more obviously, although Tatum asserts that selfies are a way to break away from the demands of the fashion industry, I would argue that they are nothing more than an internalization of female stereotypes. Like a model on a runway, or a fashion spread in the paper, the message of selfies is that what is real about women is their exterior. When Tatum says that taking selfies is like playing dress-up, she unconsciously expresses exactly what makes me uneasy about selfies: they are infantalization of women, a reduction of them to their exteriors. In other words, their message is precisely that of consumerism, internalized, but no less dismissive of innate self-worth.

True, selfies might be considered an improvement in that they are not primarily about the male gaze. However, a lot of selfies are taken for men or end up in men’s hands, and are commented on by men on social media. Everything considered, selfies seem more of the same in the lightest of disguises.

When Tatum suggests that girls or women with low self-esteem can feel better about themselves by taking a selfie, she encourages exactly the same superficiality she denounces. “Selfies challenge the idea that you need a justification to be seen,” she writes in bold face, that what matters is feeling good about yourself – and not what you have actually done. By posting your selfies, you are claiming a part of other people’s time solely on the basis that you are you — and what could shallower than that?

This is the message that women have always been given, and it makes the enjoyment of selfies the precise opposite of the confidence that creates a self-actualized person. Instead of grounding women in accomplishment and maturity, selfies offer a foundation that is fragile because it is exterior to them, and easily shattered by an outside opinion.

If I have misgivings about selfies, it is not because I secretly hate women, but because I want better for them than more of the same. I believe women’s rights need to be based on an internalized confidence, an understanding of themselves – and that is something no selfie can ever hope to offer.

I admit that I do not usually think of selfies this way. In fact, usually I do not think of them at all. When I do, I lump them in with activities like watching sports or becoming involved with media fandom as silly but essentially harmless activities that people use to pass the time. But when people start claiming that selfies promote feminism, I start thinking that they are seriously under-estimating the persistence of the stereotypes of women, and how easily they adapt to the latest fads.

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