Millennials have been called the “me generation,” and if you were to search “selfie” on any form of social media, the claim seems well-founded. We’re a generation obsessed with looking good and letting people know that we look good. Got a new haircut? Selfie. Wearing a new shade of lipstick? Selfie. Dressed up for a formal? Selfie.
It is often overlooked, however, that millennials fall into two camps when it comes to solo selfies. The first camp takes selfies and posts them online. The other is annoyed by the first. Until recently, I happened to fall into the second.
In doing so, I was a hypocrite. I am embarrassed to admit that despite my professed opposition to what I found a vain practice, I myself have taken my fair share of secret selfies (the mirror selfie, the Photo Booth selfie, the iPhone selfie and so on) simply because I felt attractive on a given day. But there is a stigma against finding yourself beautiful that prevents me from ever sharing, verbally or implicitly via selfie, the sentiment. If I post anything of myself, I will justify it as an “ironic” selfie or a “shameless” selfie as if to ward off those who will be inevitably inclined to judge as so many are.
However, I am beginning to think that the love-hate relationship our generation has with the selfie is reflective of a far more toxic issue than simply whether or not it should be socially acceptable to take pictures of yourself. And my concern is not the one that is predominantly raised by older generations that see the selfie as the worst of this “me” revolution. While the serial selfie-ist may raise concerns about vanity and egotism (fair issues in their own right), the selfie doesn’t have to be the mark of superficiality at all, but rather a mode of positive self-expression. We should recognize the inherent issue in judging a selfie, more or less condemning a person for finding him or herself attractive.
The solo selfie inherently proclaims, “I think I look good,” and, without crossing a line of course, that shouldn’t be an unacceptable declaration. Countless campaigns and movements have been focused on getting young people to love themselves, to consider themselves beautiful as they are. Yet, when someone makes that declaration, we are quick to cry vanity.
Something is very wrong when it becomes more socially acceptable to complain about being fat or ugly (unfounded concerns more often than not) than to call yourself beautiful. There should be nothing embarrassing about taking a picture for no other reason than that feeling good about yourself. That should be something to celebrate and encourage.
I am not oblivious to the fact that this is not always the case when it comes to a selfie. I understand that the very act of posting a selfie seems to beg for likes or comments as a form of validation of beauty, rather than a means of expressing self-love. Young people become reliant on others to tell them they’re beautiful rather than believing so ourselves. And it is all too easy with Facebook and Instagram to collect these validations and do so quickly. In this light, the selfie seems more self-conscious than it would appear. Nonetheless, I do believe that not all selfies have to fall to this standard. The selfie for one’s own sake, a declaration of self-confidence, could be a powerful tool for celebrating positive body image. I am not advocating for the “thin” selfie or the highly edited selfie, but rather for the selfie that celebrates one as he or she is, for no reason at all.
If I and other “selfie haters” set aside judgment and see the selfie as a consequence of positive self-identity, then it becomes more a mentality to envy than to mock. It should be all right to say, proudly and loudly, “I am beautiful,” and, in turn, it should be all right to post the occasional selfie that professes just that. Though I once upheld the stigma myself, I do believe selfies have the potential to do good by encouraging the truth that we are afraid to say aloud — the fact that there are moments when we should, and hopefully do, look in a mirror and see something beautiful. And this mentality should exist far more often than in selfie-ed moments, but at least the selfie could be a start.
Chelsea Jones is an English major from Ridgefield, Conn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.