Sisterhood Blog

Our Bodies, Our Selfies

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Move over Mommy Wars, breastfeeding wars and other categories of intra-feminist warfare. The selfie wars have arrived. Soon after “selfie” — a picture one takes of oneself — was proclaimed word of the year, the debate over the value of selfies began.

Erin Gloria Ryan caused a furor when she wrote at Jezebel that selfies concern her:

Retaking a photo 12 times until your chin looks right is in no way analogous to asking your boss for a raise. Nor is it the sort of self-promotion that results in anything but a young woman reinforcing the socially-engrained notion that the most valuable thing she has to offer the world is her looks.

Ryan’s argument boils down to this: selfies, like lipstick or high heels, may be something women do to get ahead in a patriarchy, but they’re not somehow an empowering or feminist act. I have written similarly that high heels and makeup are in fact, extra patriarchal burdens on women. They may give women some form of control and pleasure in crafting their own images — but they are never feminist. So I’m sympathetic to Ryan’s line of thinking for that reason. Beyond that, I am one of those cheesy people who really believes human beings shouldn’t be judged by how we look, and I try to fight against my own aesthetic snobbery. Thus I find selfie culture among women in my cohort overwhelming at times, in that it calls for us to even more regularly have to literally put our best faces forward. In addition to being accomplished, witty, “put together,” groomed and always able to fit into our jeans, now women have to take semi-occasional cute pictures of ourselves too? I poked fun at the trend, and my own complicity in it, by dressing up as a selfie for Halloween (see photo below).

The question of wresting control of our images is a perturbing one for feminists. I’ve been to feminist rallies and media trainings where young activists were told to have a good picture of ourselves on hand. I always chafe at this advice — worrying about looks for The Man?! — but have simultaneously found it to be incredibly useful.

I’ve learned from observing social media that for many people of all genders who are younger than I am, selfies are just like tweets or texts. They are a language of communication: here’s where I am now. Here’s what I’m up to now. Here is a face I’m making. Beyond that, many women of color or women with disabilities responded to Ryan’s piece explaining that they use selfies to fly in the face of beauty standards, to present themselves as worth looking at in a media culture that ignores or erases them. They are crafting their own counter-narrative. In this sense selfies can be incredibly affirming and powerful, even feminist, as the humorous hashtag #feministselfie demonstrated. Selfies are the definition of taking our own portrayals into our hands.

Selfies are a medium that can be used for purposes both inspiring and insipid. For many selfie-takers combating conventional beauty standards, their act should be applauded as subversive and empowering. For others, an over-interest in selfies may indeed veer into vanity or approval-seeking. Because I enjoy judging people, I reserve the right to inspect individual selfies that float into my timeline and ask whether they stray into ridiculous territory — and to judge my own potential selfies the same way. But I won’t castigate the medium writ large. Selfies are evolving to be their own mode of communication, and I am fascinated to see where the trend goes. Besides, I want to be hip. Far be it from me to say, “Get off my lawn!” or in this case, “Get out of my Instagram feed!”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: selfies, feminist, Jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.