Believe it or not, selfies can be a tool we use to cultivate self-discovery and self-love.
I didn’t always realize this. I used to not like selfies at all because I thought they were pretty egocentric. Also, I usually hated the way I looked in pictures in general. Selfies seemed like just one more way to cause myself photographic suffering.
Let the Selfie Games Begin
And then one day in grad school, I was really stressed out after writing and grading papers all day, and I started taking taking selfies as a form of stress relief. I was surprised at what I saw in my selfies.
My selfies revealed to me different aspects of my face I had never noticed before when looking in a mirror or looking at myself in pictures taken by other people. (Note: Of course the rest of this post has selfies of me–both bad ones and good ones–but at the end, I want to talk about selfies of you, too.)
This is a selfie I took in my car before the pandemic when I was waiting to go to hula hoop class. I think it has a vintage feel to it, and I liked it for that reason. It has a filter on it, which I will talk about shortly.
I started taking selfies in different settings and lighting, and I discovered that selfies could function like a type of grown up play-acting or dress-up. Sometimes when I take selfies, I wear specific clothes and use different props or backgrounds to create a mood.
These are two selfies I took the other day when I was stressed out after grading a lot papers. I took these selfies in a corner of my home office and was trying to create a vintage professor look. I was really surprised at how they turned out. Both of these photos have filters on them.
What Selfies Show Me
I see expressions on my face that I didn’t realize I could make, and I realize that I am capable of expressing a wide range of different moods. I can look silly, sophisticated, confident, coy, daring, and dynamic.
Sometimes when I look at my selfies, I feel like I am meeting myself–or certain aspects of myself–for the first time.
Some people view selfies primarily as an exercise in egocentricity. And I understand why people think that. For me, however, selfies have become a photo journal that help me explore my personality and appearance.
I love taking pictures, and I take them of everything–my food, the walks I go on, my cat, my husband, cemeteries, the sky, flowers. I am just one of the many subjects I take pictures of.
Taking pictures of the world is one of the ways I become better friends with the world, and taking pictures of myself is one way I become better friends with myself.
This is a selfie I took in my back yard the other day. It also has a filter on it.
Becoming Friends with Ourselves
I think this kind of activity is essential. We are often taught very well as young children to be friends with others. And this is so important. Unfortunately, we are often not taught very well to be friends with our self. But this is also equally important.
Every human being carries a unique goodness that is a combination of their personality, their body, their lived experience, and their perspective on the world. We have our own unique goodness, just like everyone else. When we learn to be our own friend and to treat ourselves with kindness, compassion, and respect, we give ourselves the confidence to express our unique goodness in the world.
There are many different ways to become better friends with our self and to understand our own unique goodness. For me, selfies–I like to think of it as Selfie Games–are one such tool.
Selfies have not only helped me become better friends with myself–they have helped me in another way, too.
Feeling Peaceful in My Skin
When I was younger, I suffered symptoms of body body dysmorphia which also caused me to develop symptoms of orthorexia–an obsessive-compulsive disorder focused on healthy and clean eating.
There were many causes of this (including some painful bullying experiences in my youth). But one of the causes was that growing up, I compared images of myself in my worst moments to perfectly manicured pictures of movie stars in the media.
At the time, I didn’t understand how curated those pictures were or how much lighting, angle, and background can affect how someone looks in a picture.
When I started playing with selfies, I better understood how to take a good picture. I began taking selfies I really loved, and it helped me recognize my own unique beauty. And you have your own unique beauty, too.
Selfies helped me feel peaceful in my own skin.
Manipulated Media Images
I also realized that media images were highly manipulated and that they were not to be compared with my worst moments or my non-staged moments. In this way, selfies helped break the bad magical spell the media had cast on me.
You probably know this spell. It’s the one that says, “Look at all these beautiful people in the media. You will never look like them, and you will never be worthy of love, unless you buy all the products we tell you to buy and spend your every waking moment worried about your appearance. And even then, you probably will never be worthy.”
Selfies helped me realize that no one–not even movie stars and models–look the way they do in pictures 24/7. And increasingly as media images are more and more digitized, almost no one looks in real life like they do in pictures.
Selfies are a Process
Media pictures are a highly-orchestrated process. To illustrate this, I wanted to describe my selfie-taking process.
To get several selfies I like, I often take as many as thirty selfies at one time, and I check my pictures several times throughout the process to make sure the lighting and angles are right.
And then I go on my computer and crop the photos I like; adjust the lighting and clarity (and sometimes touch-up weird spots); and sometimes add a filter. My favorite Instagram filter is Clarendon. I also use a photo editing program that comes with the Microsoft Office programs, and my favorite filters on that are Icarus and Napa. The first three pictures in this post are filtered with Icarus, and the fourth is filtered with Napa.
An Example of Recent Selfie Games
The other day, I was stressed from grading too many papers again, and I decided to play Selfie Games again. (This is a recurring sequence of events in my life.)
I thought that for this post I would include a bunch of selfies that didn’t make the cut in my last Selfie Games. They get increasingly silly and pretty bad as they go on. I took all these selfies behind the shed in my back yard because the lighting is best there at this time of day.
Our compost bins are also behind the shed, and in some of the later pics, you can see them. Also, none of these pictures have a filter on them. You will notice arrows on some of them because I posted them on my Instagram page in a post related to this blog post.
It took me about twenty pictures to get some selfies I liked. Here is one of them.
Wood Nymph or Compost Queen?
I look like a wood nymph in this picture, but I am really standing on a pile of rocks behind my shed with rotting compost. This picture also has a Napa filter, and you will notice that this makes the lighting in it quite different from my pictures above, even though they were all taken in the same location. In the original picture, there was also a tree branch behind my head that looked weird, so I edited it out completely.
Here is the original picture:
Update: Here’s Another Recent Photo I took in a Selfie Game. My silver hair is much more grown out, and I like the sunshiny look my yellow shirt gives me:
You, Me, and Selfies
Selfie Games are just one tool people can use to become better friends with themselves. I have used other tools as well like journaling, playful movement, affirmations, visualization, and breathing.
And no one needs to feel pressured to take selfies. They aren’t for everyone. Selfie Games the way I play them take a lot of time. It’s a form of artistic express like painting or writing or playing an instrument–it requires some practice and polishing.
In case you want to play your own Selfie Games, here are some tips I have used to help me use selfies a tool of self-exploration and self-friendship:
Taking photos, including selfies, is an art form, and it takes a while to develop skill at it. Don’t worry if you don’t like your selfies very much at first. I didn’t like mine very much either at first. Over time, I have developed a selfie style I feel good about, and it is still developing. Give yourself time.
The most important thing you can do to get a good selfie is to avoid cluttered backgrounds. Don’t take selfies in a cluttered areas of your house or outside in a spot in which there is a lot of “stuff”–whether natural or man-made stuff–in the background. Find a simple, uncluttered spot, such as in an uncluttered corner inside or in front of a tree outside.