James Franco says selfies are like avatars; mini-me versions of ourselves that give others a sense of who we are. Whether you’re a celebrity or not, he points out how intricately woven these three things are: social networking, attention and power.
So here’s the thing. I don’t selfie.
I never really thought about it until I read James Franco’s essay.
In 3 years I’ve posted 473 photos on instagram. And of those 473 photos, 12 of them are selfies – photos taken by me and of my face. I’m averaging a whopping 4 selfies a year. Compare that to the king of selfies – that guy is posting roughly 4 selfies a week.
I get why selfies are powerful and so popular. You are completely in charge of the image. As James Franco puts it, selfies allow us to ‘glam it up’ and they ‘might make everything clear in an instant.’ Sure. But selfies also expose the fine line between healthy self-expression and total narcissism. Where does one end and the other begin?
I disagree with Franco who also writes ‘selfies are tools of communication more than marks of vanity’. I’m calling selfies out for what they really are – a tool of communication and a tool of vanity. Instagram is becoming the new facebook – a place to carve out a well-crafted fantasy of our lives. I’ve argued this before about facebook, and the same now applies to instagram:
Facebook encourages a constant polishing and showcasing of the best and the blissful in our lives. Facebook’s constant nature invites constant comparison of your life to others. And if your life doesn’t stack up to the refined version of others, you can end up feeling like a jealous loser.
I gave up caring what people think about me a long time ago. But that doesn’t translate into me being a SSO (serial selfie offender). Maybe there’s something wrong with my selfie-esteem? Or am I simply not vain enough?
Selfies look good if you look good. On the couch, bailed up in bed, sunglasses, no glasses, shirtless, with fans, without fans; James Franco – you look good. I’m not that lucky. My face doesn’t photograph well like yours does. And yet illogically I work part-time as a fit model for a dancewear company in New York.
When I do this work, they pay me to try on, wear and test out the latest line of ‘leos’ (that’s industry speak for leotards) or whatever other dance attire they want sampled or adjusted. It’s never about my face. They look at me, minus my face. They use images of me, minus my face. They show me the photos of me, minus my face. I look good enough to be in that room, minus my face.
The mismatch between my size-zero-but-athletic body and my un-perfect face leaves me straddling the awkward line between being attractive but not beautiful. The extreme of being one but not the other, of having a line clearly drawn at the level of my chin, where one starts and the other begins. Selfies reinforce the attractive-beautiful disconnect I feel about my own appearance.
Myself aside, I argue that selfies are supposed to be candid, but really they’re not. I know that the 4 selfies I post a year are highly constructed. I bet yours are too. You don’t see the 20 outtakes or the perfect rearranging of the props or the adjusting of the lighting or the 17+ minutes I spend afterwards cropping, editing and filtering that image to within an inch of its life.
I’m not anti-selfie. I’m not shy or trying to hide myself either. But here’s what I think you should do. The next time you selfie, try doing so without any feedback. Turn off the push notifications and then don’t check your account for a day, a week or a month. Take the ‘insta’ out of instagram for a while and get away from being hooked on the instant gratification selfies can give you.
Selfies can edit out the spontaneity and imperfections that are the best part of making memories. Live in the moment. Don’t take up those moments to craft the perfect selfie. And don’t make the moments all about the attention and validation social media gives you after the fact. The same is true whether you’re James Franco, a size zero, attractive, beautiful or just plain obsessed with funeral selfies, external feedback is not the same as inner contentedness.