By Amanda Montell, TotalBeauty.com
They say selfies are the mark of a self-absorbed generation. Eff that noise. These are the empowering selfies every woman needs to see.
I’ve just landed in New York City for the weekend to visit my best friend. I’m standing outside Terminal 5 at JFK, wearing fuchsia lipstick and blue eyeglasses, and I want my 391 Instagram followers to know I’ve arrived. I hold up my iPhone, grin sideways and snap. Approve, filter, post.
I turn around to see a middle-aged man in a scarf roll his eyes at me and shake his head. He thinks my selfie is frivolous. The product of a generation hooked on social media, full of people who all think they deserve to be famous. I’m slightly embarrassed that he’s caught me in this moment – it’s weird to see someone see you take a selfie – but this is not about vanity.
Over the past three or four years, selfies have come to pervade our culture. There have been songs and TV shows written in their honor, tools manufactured to facilitate their taking. For those of us who didn’t grow up with iPhones and social media, it’s easy to sit in judgment of the selfie. We tend to think girls who take too many are self-obsessed and attention-seeking. What happened to modesty? we wonder.
But recently, more complex theories about the selfie have arisen, particularly in regard to its portrayal of women. “Selfies are one way for a female to make space for herself in the world: To say ‘I’m here, this is what I actually look like, my story counts, too,’” says Pamela Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images. “They allow girls to shine on their own terms.”
So even if you’ve written off selfies forever, try to push through the following ten. These images show the ways in which instant self-portraits can empower us. They might even inspire you to dust off that front-facing camera.
Selfies Help Us Share Our Personal Journey
In magazines, “Girls” creator Lena Dunham is dressed up, photographed and airbrushed by professionals, and her words are carefully edited. But on social media, she’s able to share her authentic self. The pose, the clothes, the message – they all come straight from her.
Accompanying this Olympian fitness stance, Dunham says, “Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with 'Girls’ season 5, and here is why: It has helped with my anxiety in ways I never dreamed possible. To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”
Photograph courtesy of Lena Dunham
Selfies Let Us Flaunt Our Silly Side
Model Cara Delevingne and actress Margot Robbie are paid to look sexy, and without selfies like this, we’d only ever see them through that lens. “Selfies open up deep issues about who controls the image of women,” says Peggy Phelan, PhD, a faculty fellow in the Clayman Instutite for Gender Research at Stanford University. They give girls the chance to reveal a goofy, imperfect, human side of themselves that we might not otherwise see.
Photograph courtesy of Cara Delevingne
Selfies Help Us Set a Positive Example
Selfies aren’t just about putting your best duck face or contoured makeup on display. Here, actress Amandla Stenberg (of “Hunger Games” fame) shares a snapshot of her friends getting their study on. Her caption reads, “when u & the squad [are] reading surrealist feminist fiction.” It’s selfies like this that help girls build an identity and inspire others to share their own truth.
Photograph courtesy of Amandla Stenberg
Selfies Allow Us Not to Take Ourselves Too Seriously
We’re taught that zits, freckles and cellulite are the devil, but with a single selfie, magazine editor Tavi Gevinson shows that all you need is a little humor to take the edge off. Flaunting her epicurean wit, while rejecting unreasonable beauty standards, she captions: “Highly recommend the new Yayoi Kusama they just installed on the Upper West Side of my face.”
Photograph courtesy of Tavi Gevinson
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Selfies Teach Us to Embrace Our Flaws
“We spend so much time trying to hide our flaws because the culture has set it up that you have to be ashamed if you’re not perfect,” says filmmaker Cynthia Wade. “I think girls are tired of it.”
Chrissy Teigen radiates body-positive vibes with this selfie, which confirms our hopes and suspicions that models have imperfections, too. “Bruises from bumping kitchen drawer handles for a week. Stretchies say hi!” Teigen says, giving her stretch marks a pet name that we’re totally going to start using. Her selfie sends a message of self-love that only an image this intimate could.
Photograph courtesy of Chrissy Teigen
Selfies Let Us Express Our Beliefs
For a couple years there, Miley Cyrus was known more for her tongue than her activism, but with the help of social media, that reputation is changing. Cyrus posted this selfie after the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage to demonstrate her support and solidarity.
Photograph courtesy of Miley Cyrus
Selfies Invite Us to Get Up Close and Personal
Every Monday on Instagram, Demi Lovato posts a makeup-free selfie with the hashtag #NoMakeupMonday and encourages other women to do the same. Unlike magazine covers, selfies give women the chance to reset society’s beauty standards themselves.
Photograph courtesy of Demi Lovato
Selfies Take Us on an Adventure
Selfies aren’t just about how we look; they’re also about what we’re up to. Wielding our own lenses allows us to share the experiences and places that we want to define us. It gives us the opportunity to express how proud we are of our adventures. (Plus, it eliminates the unique horror of having to ask a stranger to take our picture in front of the Grand Canyon).
Photograph courtesy of Anna Kendrick
Selfies Help Us Redefine Beauty
A wise woman once said that happy girls are the prettiest, and in a culture where physical perfection is taken so seriously, it’s often up to us to communicate that there are more important things. In this selfie by the pool, Selena Gomez points the camera at her giant laugh, as opposed to her bikini body, to show us her image through her own eyes.
Photograph courtesy of Selena Gomez
Selfies Let Us Show off Our Posse
Gwyneth Paltrow exhibits the power of being surrounded by inspiring, positive women through this selfie with photographer Amanda de Cadanet, model Amber Valletta and actress Demi Moore. “So #grateful to mark another birthday with my inspiring beautiful friend @amandadecadenet and her cadre of incredible women @ambervalletta #demimoore” she captions. Huddled close in minimal makeup and cozy clothes, the women pose in a way that conveys the sort of intimate friendship we all aspire to have.
Photograph courtesy of Gwyneth Paltrow
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