You can’t have a conversation about self-love without talking about selfies. And I know what you’re thinking. They’re tell-tale signs of narcissism, insecurity and even sociopathy (according to some studies by the American Psychology Association). But a number of women artists, and women, in general, have taken to selfies and used them as a medium for self-expression, an opportunity to produce counter images to what society deems a woman should look like.

With a recent exhibition charting the history of the selfie at London’s Saatchi gallery, it seems our obsession with selfies isn’t going anywhere. Russell Smith for the Globe and Mail states: “[The exhibition] juxtaposes painted self-portraits – by van Gogh and Rembrandt – with staged and stylized contemporary photo self-portraiture – by Tracey Emin and June Calypso – and the candid, amateur selfies of celebrities, including Obama. Its point is simple: that selfies are a part of a long tradition of great art. Painters have practiced techniques on themselves since the invention of paint, and they have also used their own faces as vehicles for mood and self-expression. They are often vaguely defiant.” Self-representation is not a new phenomenon.

I used to tease my younger sister about the skillful selfies she’d shamelessly plaster all over her Instagram. She never cared what I had to say, smiling at me like she knew something I didn’t. The selfie was normalized since it became the 2013 word of the year according to Oxford dictionary and I realized I did admire a lot of these girls for just putting themselves out there like that. I sure as hell wasn’t able to do it. With their selfies, these women are unapologetically showing the world that they are into themselves and aren’t afraid to say it. It takes confidence to assert yourself in that way and just basically say, yes I’m here, this is me and I like what I see.

Is posting selfies an empowering and confidence building activity, or does it reinforce this idea that a woman’s value lies solely in her appearance? In a world where women are constantly being told to be better/younger/thinner/curvier, taking a selfie can feel like an act of defiance.

Personally, becoming comfortable with taking a selfie was a big hurdle. I remember the very first time I took a selfie in lingerie and posted it on Instagram. I felt super awkward and it took a lot of tries until I felt good about one. I forced myself to do it because I just didn’t feel ok about posting pictures of other women in lingerie for my brand without being able to do it myself (practice what you preach!) I was way too shy to ask someone else to take photos of me. Selfies it was.

I had never felt particularly sexy before, I was a straight A nerdy student that wore the boys uniform in high school and was painfully shy and awkward throughout University. Before starting Alice Kass, I had never been into lingerie, I bought my first thong at 24 years of age. I thought lingerie was for another type of woman, a woman engaged with her sexuality, comfortable with it, a woman with a boyfriend even. In my mind, I had no right to be overtly sexual as I was perpetually single and unattached to one particular man. Sharing that sexuality, in the form of how I dressed or behaved, I feared I would lead men on. Give them the “wrong idea” and then have to deal with the consequences.
There was also the fear of posting a selfie in lingerie and hearing “You’re vain. You’re a slut. You’re looking for attention. You lack substance.” types of reactions. Comments both men and women make about women that take selfies, especially sexy ones. Why are we so harsh towards a woman for taking pleasure in how she looks? Why do we negate the fact that we can, in fact, find ourselves beautiful, sensual or worthy of being photographed? Do I have to wait around for someone to want to photograph me or could I not be my own muse?

Besides, when another photographer is behind the lense, I get awkward, feel weird. When I’m the director and the subject, things suddenly fall into place. No more fear, no more doubt, I’ve got this. This is me. I get to decide how to view myself and how others view me.

Feeling sexy and enjoying how you look is nothing to be ashamed of although women are often made fun of for it. There’s so much judgment surrounding selfies but when I see a woman on Instagram defiantly looking into the camera, clearly enjoying the way she looks, especially when she isn’t “perfect” by society’s standards, I feel inspired. Women celebrating their uniqueness and finding an outlet to express themselves is empowering. The body positivity trend has a lot to do with this and selfies are contributing to taking away shame surrounding women’s bodies by allowing them to control the narrative around them.

selfies claire ponka illustration

Contemporary art professor at Stanford Peggy Phelan believes selfies provide an opportunity to seize the gaze. “Most importantly, the selfie, like (Cindy) Sherman’s feminist masterpiece, promotes the idea that representation is open for the insertion of the self. The inclusion of the female figure by the woman herself and the resulting displacement of the male gaze have important implications for gender equality today.” The democratization of being a muse, and celebrating yourself gives women a sense of agency and control.

Sex coach Ev’Yan Whitney (or sexuality Doula as she calls herself) takes it one step further and posts nude selfies to find a sense of body appreciation and erotic power. ““It’s not about titillation. It’s not about exploitation. Taking nude selfies and posting them on the internet has been a really powerful practice of radical self-love and sexual acceptance.”  “The smiling photos I took of myself activated a self-celebration and confidence that encouraged me to stand taller, that reminded me that I deserve to be here, that made me feel more worthy and radiant.” “To me, these sexy selfies help normalize (and sometimes un-sexualize) the idea of the sexually liberated woman, bringing her down to earth, deeply humanizing her, and therefore making sex and the erotic, not a taboo, but a natural part of who we are as human beings.” Many would dismiss her intent and just say that posting naked pictures of yourself on the internet is self-objectification. Are we playing into the very paradigm we are calling out by exposing our bodies? Women will be objectified, sexualized, whether clothed or not, whether we want to be or not, on the streets, at work, in a club. The nude selfie has given Ev'Yan a chance to define herself on her own terms, reclaim her body and its representation and take ownership of her image while inspiring a sense of confidence and self-love. It is not the viewer's interpretation, whether they are aroused or disapproving, that should dictate whether this is a valid means of self-expression.

There are different ways to enjoy the benefits of such an activity, like anything, some people will abuse it, take it too far and develop an unhealthy relationship to the practice. You can be addicted to healthy things like exercising or clean eating so of course selfies can lead to narcissism and be a symptom of insecurity and the deep need for social validation. There is, however, a less obvious side, and potentially beneficial side to the selfie that should not be overlooked.

It can be a celebration of the self and a means to take control back. We’re taught to hate our appearance and bodies so we spend money on products to fix them. What if we celebrated them instead, in all their differences? The act of taking that selfie is an act of affirming yourself. Taking that space we can so often be scared of taking. It’s just one step among many to assert yourself. I cannot attest as to why everyone takes selfies, but I know it has made me feel more confident, less judgmental and can be an important step on that journey to self-love. Taking the time to look at yourself and appreciate your whole self, body included.

Selfie queen Sandrine, my younger sister, says, “ya I felt good that day, I was feeling myself” when looking back on selfies. A testament to days you felt confident and beautiful.

- Put on your fave outfit, lipstick, piece of jewelry, something that makes you feel confident and happy. Take a defiant selfie, looking straight into the lense of your camera. Own it. Try smiling. Try different angles. Don’t judge yourself even if you feel like you’re being vain. Pick one you love and post it or just save it for yourself.

- Write yourself a love note, wax poetic about your beautiful body and soul, read it to yourself before bed or in times of doubt.

-For one whole week never leave the house without winking at yourself in the mirror and saying something nice like, “Hey hot stuff.” It works wonders for your confidence and if nothing else, will make you laugh.

-Do like the doula and take a sexy selfie when you’re home alone. Discover your best angles, explore your body, and appreciate it. Real girls aren’t perfect and perfect girls aren’t real. Love the beauty of your imperfections.

Artwork by Claire Ponka

About The Self-Love Project
An ongoing series of articles written by Alice Kass founder for the latest issue of 
WRG magazine, it explores the relationship we have with ourselves through a variety of different lenses. A mix of self-reflection and collaborative projects, this series brings to light the importance of a mind-body-soul connection in nurturing the most important relationship in our lives, the one with ourself.

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