Many folks are surprised when I tell them I’ve always been shy. Painfully so. And I’ve always found myself awkward at having my photo taken. Let alone being comfortable taking selfies. A deeply embedded shame from taking up space, mostly.
And doing it wrong.
Under the gaze of constant criticism, the five year old in me is ever cautious. Hyper vigilant.
I rarely share images of myself. When I do, I hold back, catching myself in that dance of avoidance and self criticism. Legacy of learned ways of being.
technically, these aren't selfies but sharing photo evidence in attempt to drive home my discomfort levels
Friends who are no longer friends would love to tell me “selfies and people who take them are grotesque and show how vain a person is.” Of course, the gurgle of defiance in their throat always revealed a deeper truth. A self loathing they were processing.
It was personal.
I don’t have a problem with selfies. In fact, I find them to be empowering. Choosing how to present yourself. But also a practice of self acceptance.
There’s levels, obviously, but I remember the years of avoiding catching myself in the eye in any mirrored surface.
Dodging my own reflection. Cringing in despair. Depositing slurs to myself like mantras. Keeping wounds open and fresh.
To entertain the idea of liking myself was absurd. I mean, for as long as i can remember, most days i'd find confirmation of just that from the world. Most often shouted at me from the street. How ugly someone thought I was. Often peppered with accusationary rhetorical questions “Who the hell do you think you are?!”
I echoed and internalised the sentiment. "Who indeed?"
What always felt confusing was the assumption by so many strangers and later friends, who when meeting me as strangers, met me with the same gaze and judgement. And too often to count, the same reminders of why i shouldn't like myself. Generally shouted so others could bathe in the remnants of my shame.
“You think you’re nice, huh? But you’re a (insert slang of the times- cunt, bitch, disgusting, fucking tramp, half breed, mongrel, n—gger. Pa-i ” etc) Sneering. Revealing that they felt they had done their duty and brought me down a peg or two.
If only they knew the torment of self hatred I’d carried for myself long before they ever set eyes on me.
Or opened their mouths.
No facial expression would lessen the potential of humiliation.
No practiced hunched walk-shuffle to make myself as discreet as possible would do.
No slicked down hairstyle could disguise the target.
No eye movement-no twitch of my mouth- no stiffening of my hips could satisfy them.
It was always too much.
I was always too much.
They were defiant in their cruelty and had no intention of surrendering their (mis) judgement. And because they assumed I liked myself, they served as much hatred to harm me so I wouldn’t get any ideas.
Cameras were a luxury afforded to few in my community back then, and if your family had one, their use was reserved for very special occasions. One snap had to do on an outing to Wattingdean Manor that Bank Holiday Monday in my Sunday best - careful not to crease it - on the three hour drive.
One take to get it right so careful poses were enforced. They were adjusted depending on what disruptive hindrance my changing body presented that day:
Lost a tooth? Smile without showing your gummy mouth. Not like that, careful not to gurn.
Chubby knees? Turn your toe in.
Baby fat? Hold your stomach in.
Growth spurt you’re insecure about? Stand up straight. Hand on hip but not like that.
Smile like you’re having fun. Not too much though, you’ll get wrinkles.
It’s a lot to remember when you’re eight.
The Myspace years
Two decades later i was exploring new technologies of presenting yourself. Namely, Myspace (and Hi5 + other temporary portals in those years of social media infancy). It was everything i wanted and more! My "freedom" period. Mid 20s and armed with a Cannon powershot A80 and terrible lighting, i was inspired! "Fuck it all to hell!" i thought. "I'm free to create myself as much as i like but not just in real life!"
I was between a life in Barcelona and London and it was exciting...clean slates and Pandora radio moments in dodgy internet cafes. I sometimes miss those days you know...i was braver. Arguably more risky though tbh...
And i documented my self with pictures via bathroom mirror reflections. I was attempting to create yet another fresh start. To be anonymous and free. It was a hopeful time.
No one knew what they were doing and they were really honest about it. We were earnest and clumsy and willing. I feel so lucky to have been on the internet in those years...connecting with folks who i hold dear and who are still in my life to this day.
This exploration and experimentation was liberating.
Until the hate mail of course... The reminders by a few that i was nothing were destined to come full cycle.
Bar a crossover period in the advent of Facebook when i spent far too much time drinking to forget, i was ok with being photographed for a little bit, for it served a purpose of memory - meeting friends from all over the globe in our transient and weird and often disgusting jobs on superyachts...it felt ok to archive that. Well, perhaps i was too wasted/hungover to care at that point... This is digressing into too many sub plots. Let's skip forward a decade.
Still unsavvy but ok with it.
And here we are. In a land of possibility to present oneself. One's tastes. Ones ways of being to strangers on the internet.
So when I see other people’s selfies, I feel positive, receiving it as a reclamation of the self. Also feelings of admiration and awe. I’m delighted that other girls and women are owning
I still don’t post many, cause
I still hear those voices now and then.
Learning to take up space
I’m learning, and with every comment from someone on the street who feels the need to tell me how unpleasant they think i look, I regress to those parts of myself, questioning how dare I think I am anything at all. Sure, it's superficial, who cares what people think. I hear you, but if you are tuning into this transmission more than anything else, you can't help but explore ways to lessen yourself somehow. To make yourself smaller. To try to be invisible sometimes.
Yeah, this is all tied up to my explorations with expression this year.
You can dive into more of that over here
And so, it’s a process, everyday, to show up and take up space. But i appreciate everyone who inspires me to explore all facets of myself, particularly those that feel challenging and uncomfortable, like documenting the self, visually!
This journey of self care is very much about learning to accept and like who i am, inside and out. I don't know. It sounds so fluffy in ways, but i suppose my point is that it's far from it. As superficial and narcissistic some might think selfies are, for example, or in a broader context, those that scoff at the idea of self care making us "a nation of egomaniacs" - i'd say that surely exploring the self (be it internal or external but hopefully both!) is part of that process of learning to like and perhaps eventually love ourselves. Hopefully. Isn't that the goal? Love?
As wise words said “yuh cyan’t love nobody if you cyan't love yuself nuh”
Meeting myself, learning to look without judgement or echoes or hauntings of ways to judge my appearance still makes me squirm. But i'm learning to appreciate how far my journey has brought me. That i'm still even here is an achievement. And the experiences, be them traumatic or joyous, are mapped within me. Everyone i've ever loved and held dear are etched into a part of me. As they say, i'm my ancestors wildest dreams. Which never fails to humble me.
Many of us now have tools to document and record moments. Feelings. Things. And this feels liberating. To practice (albeit rarely) the action of documenting something with a "selfie" just as i do much more easefully with words is my goal. I'm not talking about being one of those wankers at a concert filming themselves for the entire performance (lol), i mean, now and then, challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone.
To honour a life lived. However small.
Admittedly as i mentioned before, it's very much a practice, and i'm avoiding saying "i'm crap at this" because it's not helpful and shame rhetoric. However i am t r y i n g - mostly in temporary realms, like instagram stories.
...Is it just me that finds it easier somehow, to deal with something being out there for a limited time? ...Unlike this blog post? *gulp*
So, where do you stand with it? Are you comfortable with baring yourself? Are you also on a journey of expression?
Ps if you're the type that can whip out your phone in public and go for it please share how you do it! I am especially in awe of your skills. Actually, props and love to all of you that are out there doing your best to show up in ways that feel meaningful for you, especially those of you learning new ways of being with yourself.
Here's to learning to like and love ourselves in whatever ways we can.