I've seen many defenses of the selfie, but never such an indepth exploration of what it means, and why it is important. Rachel Syme covers it all, in seven parts.
Shot One: Open on a woman snapping a picture of herself, by herself. Maybe she is sitting at an outdoor cafe, her phone held out in front of her like a gilded hand mirror, a looking glass linked to an Instagram account. Maybe she tilts her head one way and then another, smiling and smirking, pushing her hair around, defiantly staring into the lens, then coyly looking away. She takes one shot, then five, then 25. She flips through these images, appraising them, an editrix putting together the September issue of her face; she weighs each against the others, plays around with filters and lighting, and makes a final choice. She pushes send and it’s done. Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen. The whole process takes less than five minutes.
Shot Two: Zoom in on a group of people watching this woman, one table over. They are snickering, rolling their eyes, whispering among themselves. Maybe they are older than she is, making jokes about Narcissus and the end of civilization as we know it. Maybe they are all men, deeply affronted by a woman looking at herself with longing, a woman who is both the see-er and the seen, the courier of her own message. Maybe they are a group of chattering women, who have internalized a societal shame about taking pleasure in one’s face in public, who have learned to be good girls, to never let their self-regard come off as a threat. Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive. They don’t see where her image is headed, where it will take up space in the infinite. This is scary for them, this lack of control, this sense that her face could go anywhere, pop up anywhere. This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating. This is why they believe that no selfie could ever mean anything other than vanity. This is why they think selfies are a phase, something they can wish away. Whoever they are, and for whatever reason they hate selfies, they are wrong.
Bee Lavender, on returning home to Seattle to visit her Aunt Mary.
Mary’s son Charlie was born later that year and I held him within hours of his arrival home from the hospital. I remember the shabby apartment they lived in, and the VW van my new uncle drove, and the fact that he was a gentle and sweet man. I also remember the fights between him and my aunt, which looked like any schoolyard scuffle, and that they carried their drugs around in the diaper bag. I was sad to lose that uncle when the marriage broke up; he was the nicest one I’d ever had.