Wednesday, August 5, 2015

why selfies?

In the midst of attempting to complete my book, review a film for publication, produce 2 new documentaries, apply for a prestigious award, prep my syllabi for the upcoming academic semester, and host a visit from my in-laws, I have been keeping pace with my selfie practices and even recently bought an inexpensive selfie stick in the small-bin kid's toy section at the local superstore (!). i'm still okay with selfies, still love them. I also love myself and even sometimes my image, my self(ies). 

I have been taking selfies for some time now. I share them, as well, usually on FacebookInstagram, occasionally @ Twitter. I find the practice empowering and not at all silly; or, if silly, silly for rhetorically strategic purposes (even if only to cheer myself or others). 

For me (and many others), selfies are serious business. The practice is both indulgent and bold, a kind of feminist reclamation of agency and a tool for reshaping our sense of self through our framings, alterations (filtrz!), and captioning. And then, art. Think Cindy Sherman (for a sense of the long history of selfies as feminist practice). Increasingly, we see digital feminist practices that argue for reclaiming the body through the (re)presentations that selfies enable (for an overview, see this ArtSlant piece by Char Jansen). 

Selfies take hits from many directions, and while I understand many of the critiques for their intellectual and especially psychological merits, I continue. Why? Okay, something happened last night (not at all for the first time) that inspired me to begin my selfie research in earnest. I was at a dinner with family, and someone took a photo of me. I had posed, but apparently I hadn't arranged myself just so, and wow. There it was, instantly, in the moment. I had been feeling lovely, but there it was, a flatly terrible photo of me, taken* by another (so, not a selfie). It was mortifying in its unflattering angles, revealing many truths of which I am not unaware but which I tend to de-emphasize in my own selfie practices. The slippage between the revelations of the other-directed photo and my own is important. I want to imagine it's not even there, that my own imagistic declarations obtain as the primary frames for [contemplating] m'visage, m'self. But the experience reminds me that this is not so, and I need to think about that fact. (Revising this post, I read that last line and see that even the writing is a reframing that firms up my sense of selfies as simply one -- very, if not the most powerful -- form of self-fashioning that has a long and quite obvious history of doing good things for those who take up reflective practice). 



I am writing to declare my intention to begin to engage more rigorously with selfie research. In many ways, the theoretical works I've long admired on the nature of the self, writing the personal, and the power of reflection have always resonated with my selfie practices. More obviously and recently, I've joined a Facebook selfies group, and I've begun reading Jill Walker Rettberg's work on selfies (in my awareness, hers is one of the first full-length, single-authored works on the matter). Her book's title suggests a desire to explore the liminal spaces between our self image as determined and maintained by our selfies, our selves and alternative versions of our projected self-images. Walker-Rettberg's Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves may help me navigate my personal disappointments even as it encourages a more clearly rational approach to self-knowledge and awareness of what I am taking, and what I am projecting. This awareness seems critical, for it seems true that we may function with a slightly delusional sense of self when we imagine or contemplate our lives through our filtered and overly edited images of our faces, bodies, body parts, etc. And while I have stubbornly clung to a belief in a sort of feminist power, here -- we are now afforded a professional crew for managing our images, just as are the famously beautiful people against whom we have historically judged our own imagistic value, the contours of our faces, the body shapes that don't always seem to fit normative ideals -- I'm aware that the delusion is problematic, to say the least.

Finally, I will admit that I am a woman who has suffered her fair share of tragically disordered body-shaming practices. This, too, compels my desire to think more rigorously about my selfie practice. I am inspired to push on by scholars in my field of Rhetoric & Composition, particularly those working in the Computers & Writing area and Digital Rhetorics, scholars like Kristin Arola, Angela Haas, Michelle F. Eble, Kate Manthey, and others who are openly exploring rhetorics of the body in promising and clearly productive ways. 

Wish me luck. This isn't easy. 

rhetorics of capturation profoundly shape my thinking about the feminist value of selfies.