Feminism and the Power of Selfies

Selfies are front page news, subject to intense, widespread public and private scrutiny, shaming and revelation. – Jerry Saltz, 2014

Four days ago, Kim Kardashian, true to form, posted a nude selfie on Instagram. Unsurprisingly, a myriad of responses ensued, from both the general public and well-known female artists, actresses and public figures. Both the image posted and the responses to it, raise questions about the nature of communication through selfies, how the media impacts on identity, as well as feminist ideas about consent and empowerment.

Selfies are a new visual genre that instantly communicate “where we are, what we’re doing, who we think we are, and who we think is watching” (Saltz, 2014). In the current digital age, everyone takes selfies. Politicians, actors, clergy members, astronauts, and celebrities alike, share selfies with the public and in doing so communicate something about themselves.

Primarily, selfies are a way of controlling your image. You control how you look in the photo and when/where the image is posted. However selfies can be complicated by misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The audience may not fully understand who a person is and how they think/feel, and individuals can lose control of how an image is shared and used.

It is interesting to take a feminist perspective on the convention of selfies and they role they play in depicting and socially constructing female identities. “According to research form the University of Buffalo, women who base their self-worth on the way they look are likely to post more selfies on social media”. This is linked to the quantification and validation that is embedded in social media, and is generally an unhealthy measure of self-worth.

Alternately, social media is being increasingly used to promote positive messages about body image and beauty. Lena Dunham and Petra Collins are two artists that actively promote positive and ‘real’ images of beauty on social media platforms. Dunham regularly posts about body image and recently spoke out about Photoshopping. Collins captures raw female beauty through her photography and has challenged Instagram’s censorship rules that are discriminatory to women.

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@its_meandyou 's angels on @dazed today 💕

A post shared by Petra Collins (@petrafcollins) on

There were a variety of responses to Kim’s selfie, and people voiced opinions about her body, her choice and the significance of the image in society (Read more here: Oyster Magazine & Catalogue Magazine). However, one of the most significant comments was in response to the negativity and feminist criticisms.

Why are feminists mad at [Kim Kardashian for] consensually posting a pic of her own body? … I think that is an awesome thing [to] teach young girls: to be accepting of yourself and use the selfie to choose how you want to be viewed [and] try to gain control of your own image. – Rowan Blanchard, 2016

Kim K’s selfie also reminds us the problems society has with female nudity. The image was only permitted on Instagram because of the small black lines covering the parts of the image that deem it to be ‘nudity’. “Female nudity is everywhere, but not the real version (Shanti, 2016). There is such a lack of diversity and non-sexualised images of women throughout global media, and this raises the question: should women let their bodies be silenced and censored?

We live in a significantly mediated society that has a lot of influence over the way we look, feel and act, and a significant amount of global media imposes unrealistic standards of beauty. While there are still restrictions such as censorship that may influence how we are allowed to represent ourselves on social media, it is liberating and empowering to freely communicate your identity through social media, and selfies are important because they offer a choice in how we portray ourselves.

References

‘Amber Rose Defends Kim Kardashian, Schools Everyone on Female Choice’, Catalogue Magazine, blog post, March 10 2016, viewed March 7 2016, https://www.cataloguemagazine.com.au/news/amber-rose-defends-kim-kardashian-schools-everyone-on-female-choice

Dalton, R. 2016, ‘Is Instagram Good or Bad for Women’s Bodies?’ Catalogue Magazine, blog post, March 4, viewed March 11 2016, https://www.cataloguemagazine.com.au/feature/is-instagram-good-or-bad-for-womens-bodies

Evans, N. 2016, ‘Looking at Ourselves: Social Media and the Quantified Self’, Lecture Week 2, BCM310: Emerging Issues in Media and Communication, UOW, 9/03/16

‘Rowan Blanchard Drops Wisdom on the Kim Kardashian Nude Selfie Situation’, 2016,Oyster Magazine, blog post, March 9, viewed March 9 2016, http://www.oystermag.com/rowan-blanchard-drops-some-wisdom-on-the-kim-kardashian-nude-selfie-situation

Saltz, J. 2014, ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’, Vulture, blog post, January 26, viewed March 8 2016, http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/history-of-the-selfie.html

Shanti, M. 2016, ‘Why is  Woman’s Body Still Not Her Own’, Catalogue Magazine, March 24, blog post, viewed March 28 2016, https://www.cataloguemagazine.com.au/feature/why-is-a-womans-body-still-not-her-own

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