Selfie Stigma and the Misconception of the ‘Vanity Image’

How often do you look at yourself in the mirror? Is your camera roll filled with selfies? Maybe you even have a dedicated album for them, a mixture of ridiculous shots of you, possibly alone, pulling a stupid face or maybe alongside friends with one of the latest Snapchat filters on, maybe you’re posing as dogs, you know, the feature that sticks its tongue out and licks the screen? Then there’s probably some serious ones stuck in there too, a snapshot to capture the moment you finally conquered the nemesis that is winged eyeliner or a toothy grin to celebrate an achievement, however trivial or triumphant. Or, perhaps you don’t have any of this. Perhaps you own no front-facing camera and are alien to the concept of a selfie stick… Maybe beauty and vanity is a huge part of your life or maybe it seldom occurs to you.

All these questions and one thing springs to mind: what does it matter? Who cares if you spend five hours a day on your hair and take an accompanying five selfies to prove it? Equally, who cares if you spend five minutes on your hair every other day and haven’t taken a selfie since last December? Sadly, it appears to matter a lot. Unfortunately, in our society today, the former is often branded as ‘self-obsessed’ and ‘vain’ whilst the latter is frequently told she ‘puts no effort in’.

Just last week during a discussion with a peer, I was labelled an ‘empty girl’ because I take ‘too many selfies’ and seem to care ‘whether my hair is ‘just right’ or not’. It is this narrow-minded misconception that spurred me on to write this article. Why should beauty and its connotations automatically equal emptiness? Why does the fact that I have spent several hours on my hair (and why shouldn’t I? Damn curling irons cost too much to let them simply sit and collect dust, I may as well push them to their full potential!) make me empty? I am the same Sarah that sat just hours before in pyjamas, makeup-less and with my hair in questionable pineapple-resembling bunches! I have the same morals and values; my plum lipstick does not strip me of my personality and my straighteners don’t transform me into a hollow version of myself. Yet, if I dare make too much of an effort or, god forbid, take a selfie to show this, I am suddenly vain and shallow.

Effort is the key word here. I am a full believer that people should be pleased with their appearance by whatever means they feel comfortable. Effort is subjective and is certainly a word that leads to negativity. If we take the stereotypical idea that makeup and ‘done up’ hair constitutes of making an effort, then where does that leave individuals who choose to do neither? Do they make no effort? Should they ‘try harder’? Are they simply jealous of those who do? Of course, the answer is no. People should put as much work – or to loosely use the term ‘effort’ – into their appearance as they feel happy with and it’s a shame they are often judged by how much or how little they appear to do so.

Selfies are often considered as vain – the celebration of the self can be looked down upon, yet I believe a person’s chosen look and style is a form of expression, to some, an art and it should be celebrated freely. Additionally, selfies equalling vain or self-absorbed behaviour by default, is, I argue, a tragic misconception. Doing one’s hair and/or makeup and taking a ‘good’ picture of the result can be used to boost one’s self confidence and esteem. Most of us have flaws (albeit, most of these are flaws that only we ourselves see) and if we are feeling good about ourselves and our appearance for once why should we be punished for it?

So, whilst selfie may equal self-love to some, arguably a lot of the time the ‘selfie’ itself is not just of the self… Return to your photo albums, how many pictures taken by the front facing camera are purely of yourself and yourself alone? More than likely you will have countless selfies with friends, family and maybe even your pets – because c’mon who doesn’t love the ironic dog filter on the actual dog snap?

At the end of the day, the amount of time one puts into their appearance and how often (or not) they show this should not automatically be received negatively. Doesn’t the iconic quote ‘you have to learn to love yourself before anyone else’ not ring true here? Whether this self-love and happiness is achieved by a full hour make-up ‘sesh’ and a lime lighted selfie or, by using your camera and time for other means – I personally recommend taking funny pictures of cats: instant happiness guaranteed – then so be it, to quote Tina Fey: ‘Do your thing and don’t care if they like it’.

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