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selfies and self-identity


Hi guys, Eli here.

やっほー! エリーです。

If I say the word selfie, what does it bring to mind?


Since smartphones came on the market it has become incredibly simple to take one’s self portrait, and this has led to a popularization of the so-called selfies - you could probably say that most of the people of our generation have taken one at least once.


Now associated with social media networks and the 'influencer’ lifestyle, they are a staple of Instagram imagery, and perhaps because of this they also tend to be viewed rather skeptically. I don't know how many articles have I read that try explain selfies as a symptom of a society that is becoming more narcissistic with each passing day. And even among people who don't hate selfies, there is a quite consistent group around me that certainly doesn't find them interesting.


Personally, I am fascinated by selfies. I still feel influenced by the discourses I cited above, so I cannot say my love for them is unconditional. Some selfies I like more than others. But still, self-portraiture in the smartphone generation is a deeply interesting phenomenon for me.


I was only a teenager when for first time I realized I was attracted to selfies as a medium. I was an awkward adolescent in middle school and I had troubles with my self image. I didn't like myself, and most of all I didn't like the way I showed up in pictures. Whenever my mom or my grandpa would come closer with their cameras, I would turn the other way.


Back then we didn't have the iPhone yet, but digital photography had just appeared in our lives and the chances of being photographed by parents and friends were many. Not being photogenic was a little bit of a complex of mine. I really had a hard time to understand why there was such a huge gap with the “me” I saw in the mirror and the “me” I saw in the camera screen.


One day I was looking at my reflection in the car window during a trip, and I thought that maybe if I took a picture of myself while looking at myself the outcome might have been nicer. My flip phone had a front camera, so I tried immediately - and I quite liked the result.


The quality of flip phone photography was so low that my experiment was short lived, but it certainly was a breakthrough for me. I finally had a way to look pretty in pictures, to control my image. I could look the way I wanted and be happy with myself. Although my fascination with selfies definitely had a narcissistic element to it, it was empowering for a teenager with very low self esteem.


iPhones have always been too expensive for me, so I didn't get a smartphone until my last years of high school, when low-end Android phones started appearing on the market. In my university years I took a ton of selfies with my friends, but it was more to preserve memories than anything else. And then last year something happened that made me think about self portraiture again.


That summer I was doing some research on a particular hair trend buzzword that has been popular in Japan. I needed to interview hairdressers, and since getting my hair cut more than once was not really an option, I had to find another way to approach them. Luckily, an acquaintance of mine had a hairdresser friend who was looking for models for a contest.


In a very ironic twist of fate, the still camera shy me was now the object of a semi-professional photographer. Since they were aiming for a prize the shooting had a very serious feel to it - we rehearsed multiple times and took quite a lot of pictures, some of which were actually very beautiful.


However, I couldn't help but feel some kind of discomfort. Clearly the pictures that the team liked were quite different from what I would have chosen. There was still a gap between what I wanted to show of myself and what the people behind the lens were aiming for. Although the pictures were definitely the most beautiful they had ever taken of me, I felt like I was being robbed of my power to determine who I was.


This is when I realized that there are power relations in photography as well. I started to take selfies more seriously, as a way to explore and define my identity. I still don't take selfies everyday, but I have stopped resisting the urge to take one when the light is good.


Although might be an element of narcissism in selfies, they can also be an instrument to learn how to love and understand oneself. As a person who has trouble liking herself, taking silly self portraits has been a huge help for putting things in perspective, and it has made me realize that maybe I am not as bad as I think I am.


Now that everything is visual, photography is increasingly becoming a bigger part of our life. What relationship do you have with cameras? How do you feel about selfies?


Images by Eli

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