Through Lenses: The Importance of Self-Portraiture

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As you go about your day, you are bound to see photographs of people everywhere from billboards to the daily newspaper. The vast majority of these images have been doctored all to hell in order to twist the human form into something unattainable. You cannot look at these photos without reminding yourself that “You [may not] look like the girl in the magazine, but neither does she.” You might not care too much about the perfection being portrayed everywhere, you might already be close to the weight, height, symmetrically and skin color of that subject, but the fact of the matter is that this perpetuated ideal is killing the West.

A UCSF study showed that 80% of fourth-grade girls in the city of San Francisco were dieting. In the Chicago area, the same year, a study showed that around 50% of fourth-grade girls were dieting and 85% thought they were overweight.* Amazingly, these studies were conducted in 1986, and the epidemic of deadly dieting and eating disorders has only gotten worse. In 2007/2008, The United Kingdom’s National Health Service reported that 1,718 children and teens were treated for anorexia. In the 2010/2011 report, that number reached 6,500 patients.**

Simply spouting facts about this subject may seem pointless and depressing, but I feel I need to do it. I want people to look at the way media and ideals influence them and the people around them. It is important to realize that these images are not about beauty or empowerment. They want you to feel hungry for product, they want you to think you might become their kind of beautiful if you start buying their clothes and makeup and perfume.

Once you have come to terms with this, it is time to fight The Media’s and societal views of beauty. What if we could all change the ideal? What if we could contribute directly to The Media? Well, now we can! An iPhone, a camera (new or old), a computer — through these devices you can share your own beauty. By posting a selfie, you shout, “I’m here! I exist! And guess what, I’m kinda beautiful and awesome!” While that may seem narcissistic and self(ie)-involved, it is far more than that.

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For thousands of years, portraits have always been of the ideal. In the years before cameras and printing it was monarchs paying for their likenesses to be painted or artists creating self-portraits. At the start, photography was expensive. The first mirror selfie taken by a teenager was captured by Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna in 1913 — the pattern continued and the rich were the only ones being portrayed in photos.

Older generations are often very skeptical of selfies. They do not like the abbreviation, they have always treated photos as special occasions and they feel that sharing your image with the world is dangerous. I have heard women in their ‘40s saying that posting a selfie objectifies yourself. The problem with this argument is the same as saying wearing a short skirt means you do not respect yourself. We wear and post what we want to because it feels good to be liked, and to show off the awesome body that we have. It is all about our own view and our own decision. We should empower each other to dress how we want and post the types of images that we want. While nudity is definitely a no-no for your career and relationships, posting a candid smiling face-shot on Instagram is normal and wonderful and we should train our elders to accept that.

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The “Selfie Revolution,” as I like to call it, is about viewing other people how they want to be viewed. “Suddenly people of all shapes and sizes and colors and abilities and gender-expressions are being seen. All of our bodies are visible in a world that only allowed us to see one type.”*** And you can find these photos just by typing in a hashtag. And all of them are beautiful.

While some people have the obnoxious tendency to over-post photos of themselves, it is a wonderful thing to be able to share yourself with the world without fear. There is a personal process going on when you share your physical self to a wide audience. You share your confidence and can show different sides of yourself. That is what is most important for me.

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I take self-portraits because I think it is an essential exercise for me. I can show all different sides of myself, take photos when I am feeling good or feeling bad, and make them artistic and interesting. I like reminding myself that even if I am not feeling beautiful, it does not matter! My physical appearance is not important for me in my creation of great works, it is just a small aspect of what I produce.

It is also important to remember yourself and your physical changes. I have a horrible memory — I cannot remember what I did last Sunday — and when I cannot remember, I check through the snapshots on my phone and it all comes back. We tend to rush past the mirror as quickly as possible. It makes us feel bad, generally. We forget to stop and appreciate the bodies we are in, and photos freeze that image.

Selfies are wonderful because they are meaningful personally, politically, and socially. I love that such a simple process (capture yourself, then share it), can mean so much. I also cannot explore photography without thinking about the recent selfie explosion. I hope you join the Selfie Revolution, it can be more rewarding than you think.

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* Zaslow, Jeffrey. “Girls and Dieting, Then and Now.” Wall Street Journal

** Donnelly, Laura

***Green, Laci, dir. The Selfie Revolution

Next week I will discuss different ways to get creative with selfies!

Words and photos by Miranda Hollingswood

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