By ROSIE WATERLAND
My little sister Tayla, 19, is obsessed with taking selfies.
See that little Tayla-Selfies montage I put together on the left? That’s just the tip of a very large iceberg. (And for those with awesome attention to detail, you’ll notice there’s even a selfie of her holding a stuffed animal with a face made from one of her selfies. Yeah – this ‘berg is a deep one.)
She posts them on Facebook and Instagram constantly, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, manages to pull an almost identical facial expression in each one. This has always constituted a lot of eye rolling on my part, because, to be honest, I just don’t get it.
To me, the selfie culture populates a mysterious part of the social media universe where a language is spoken that I just don’t understand. A language that feels like it’s lacking any kind of irony or self-deprecation. And people who can’t make fun of themselves are people who make me nervous. To me – selfies all just look so… self-indulgent.
But I’m a progressive gal with an open mind and given so many people are now populating SelfieLand, I decided I needed to broaden my horizons and try to at least get my head around the basics of this exotic realm. So I asked Tayla if she would be my guide while I explored – David Attenborough-style – the unique and completely baffling land of Selfies.
This is what I found.
There are five main kinds of selfie that I managed to document.
1. The ‘I found a look that works for me and I’m sticking with it’ Selfie.
My little sister is the perfect example of this very common kind of selfie. Evolved from the posing phenomenon that took the social pages by storm in recent years (hand on hip, head cocked slightly to side, duck-face), these women have figured out the perfect pose and they’re not letting it go.
Tayla uses a slight smile (with just a hint of duck-face), chin tucked in – either to the centre or side – and completes the look with wide Disney Princess eyes. And hey – nobody can deny she looks gorgeous doing it. If it aint broke, don’t fix it.
2. The ‘Backdoor Brag’ Selfie.
Anybody who watched 30 Rock would know that ‘backdoor bragging’ is when you sneak something wonderful about yourself into everyday conversation.
The ‘Backdoor Brag’ Selfie is basically the photo version of that manoeuvre. Rihanna pulled off a great one last week when she showed off a new pair of thigh-high boots by posting a selfie of her INCREDIBLE ARSE. See how it was about the boots but really all anybody talked about was her INCREDIBLE ARSE? Backdoor bragging at its best. (Another notable example: Miranda Kerr reading a book.)
3. The ‘Warts and All’ Selfie
In my first year of uni I did an assignment making some kind of pretentious comment on social media. Twitter had just become a thing and I thought everything WAS GETTING OUT OF CONTROL, MAN. It basically involved me taking a photo every ten minutes for a day to prove how inane and tedious it would be if things went that far.
I was wrong. Clem Bastow basically lives my assignment, and her Instagram is one of my favourites to look at. She’ll take selfies anywhere, anytime. Without make-up. Watching TV. Whatever. It sounds tedious but it’s really not. Plus I kind of feel like I know her now and we’re BFF’s in my dreams.
4. The ‘I’m acting like this is ironic but really I know how good I look’ Selfie
Subject: Any hipster, ever. See also: Me (if I took selfies).
Not to be confused with The ‘Backdoor Brag’, this selfie is for those of us who feel above the lame act of taking selfies but also really want to take them sometimes. Hipsters navigate this move by taking a photo of a teapot on a table with only half their face in the frame.
They’re always looking down and smirking to themselves behind thick-rimmed glasses. There’s also usually some kind of vintage-looking filter involved. Often crafted so that it doesn’t really look like a selfie at all, this is the kind of thing that would be right up my alley if I ever moved to SelfieLand.
5. The ‘All-out I don’t care how vain this is bikini in the mirror’ Selfie
This one pretty much explains itself, no? I find when you think of self-indulgent celebrity selfies, the old ‘bikini in the mirror’ is the first kind that springs to mind. This was probably the style of selfie I came into this exploration liking the least. It’s just so… serious. Like, chuck a funny hat on or something, am I right?
But I did find that the majority of women who live in this part of SelfieLand are the ones who have worked bloody hard for their bodies and are subsequently really proud of them. And what’s wrong with being proud of your body and not afraid to show it?
In fact, that’s pretty much the main thing I’ve taken from this Selfie Safari: the realisation that there’s nothing wrong with a bit of vanity. Emily McCombs recently wrote on xojane about why she’ll never stop taking selfies, and made an interesting comment on the impossible expectations on women when it comes to vanity:
“Women are encouraged to cultivate a pleasing appearance since birth, but never to show satisfaction with their efforts. We’re to be always quietly striving without seeming to be, never feeling like we measure up. What makes us beautiful? When we don’t know we’re beautiful.”
I’ll admit that before I began exploring SelfieLand I was guilty of this mindset. I could appreciate when a woman was pretty (like my sister), but the second she started flaunting it via selfies I immediately recoiled into eye rolling country.
But why? Why can’t we know we’re beautiful and show ourselves off a bit, damn it? When I asked Tayla why she takes so many selfies, I was expecting some sort of answer about her self-esteem or wanting approval, but what she said surprised me:
“I just take photos when I think I look really pretty. I don’t really care about ‘likes’ or anything like that. It’s not about approval – half of them I don’t even make public. It’s honestly just about capturing the moments when I feel awesome. And geez, Rosie, just because I take photos when I think I look nice doesn’t mean I’m a total luvvo.”
(Note: I think ‘luvvo’ is teen-speak for narcissist.)
I think Tayla – along with this Attenborough-style Selfie Safari – pretty much put me in my place. And like any good completely uncertified anthropologist, by delving into this alien culture, I’ve learned an important lesson about its core value-system: It’s all about loving yourself.
No matter what kind of selfie you’re partial to, it’s all about thinking you have something to show that’s totally worth looking at.
Self-love, hey? I have to admit: That doesn’t make you a luvvo. That makes you awesome.
What do you reckon – narcissism or self-love? And do you have any other sneaky selfie-types to add to the list?