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Selfies give women the agency on how they want to be seen, instead of how others see them. In this context, I’d say selfies are empowering to women.
I remember being mocked by a man, that I take too many selfies. My phone is full of selfies- I have often taken multiple selfies in the same clothing, in my effort to click that perfect selfie in which I appear beautiful – possibly better than my actual self. I use filters- usually face whitening filters to make myself look fairer and with impeccable skin. I, like many other women, don’t self-identify myself as ‘beautiful’ without filters or foundations. I look for validation for the way I look by keeping a track of how many likes I manage to get on my profile pictures uploaded in Facebook.
Often the man would mock me because I took way too many selfies of myself- as it appeared a “frivolous activity” in contrast to the “important work” he thought he was doing, and who also often also joked that selfie taking was “a woman’s activity” and not a man’s. Whereas I was concerned with how I looked in selfies, taking hundreds in an effort to pinpoint that selfie which seemed perfect and which I can upload, he was busy with his work.
African-American sociologist Du Bois had employed the usage of the concept of “double consciousness” on his study of the African Americans. Double consciousness arises when the identities of blacks are split between how they view themselves amongst the people of their own ethnic background, and how they view themselves from the imagined perspective of the whites, and how they face the internal conflict between their black African heritage and growing up in the White milieu.
Women too can be said to feel similarly. Women are constantly hyper-aware of how they are being perceived. We know of the “male gaze” coined by Laura Mulvey, which is a way women are viewed from the heterosexual male perspective, especially how women’s bodies are viewed. So women’s bodies are constantly under watch- being evaluated- satisfying various standards, fetishes, or fantasies, primarily men’s.
Or as Berger says, “Men act, women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”
Simone De Beauvoir had said in her famous Second Sex that women are often accused of being narcissistic. She said women are not born narcissist but become so due to socialization. She explains this behavior of women by saying that when women view themselves in the mirror their personalities are split. One as the active viewer or the gazer of her reflection, the one who desires, and the second, being the object of that gaze- and through this exercise they obtain what she calls “the solitary pleasure of this arrangement”.
Although women are cast into narcissism, they manage to find pleasure and agency within this arrangement. She also said that women are narcissistic because they do not have better engagements unlike their male counterparts, and they are thus complicit in their own subjugation.
If we consider the theory of symbolic interactionism– it says that words or objects inherently have no meaning in themselves unless we derive some meaning through interaction with others and our own experiences.
A like on my selfie uploaded in Facebook has no meaning by itself, but we all know a like on the picture is a validation by the crowd of my appearance- my ‘beauty’. If a girl manages to get 200-300 likes on her selfie she might feel beautiful, desired, appreciated and ultimately feel empowered.
She now has the technology which can capture those moments in which she feels beautiful or empowered or happy, as Berger had said that photography had enabled art to become mobile and accessible. Previously a piece of art remained static- in a museum or elsewhere, after the invention of the camera, this piece of art could be available anywhere at any point of time.
Technology has empowered women to capture herself at any moment. She is the person who gazes at herself, views herself as an object, and upon her satisfaction of the look that she has been able to achieve for herself, she herself captures herself. She’s no longer the passive subject like the women portrayed in the medieval oil painting either wearing a look of charm or engaging in nothingness with the sole purpose of pleasing the men- the spectators, as John Berger notes in his Ways of Seeing.
Women tend to click more pictures of themselves and post more pictures of themselves than men. But when the woman engages in taking selfies, her personality is split between the viewer and the viewed. She scrutinizes herself before she presents herself in the public space- social media.
If taking a selfie in those moments when she feels beautiful, happy and powerful endows her with the agency to control how and when to photograph herself, I see it as a tool which empowers women, a tool which enables her to decide in which photograph she looks her best, and consequently what to post, and ultimately a tool which enables self-expression.
Image source: pexels
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Research scholar with a passion for writing, music, art, cinema and animation.
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