My two teenaged daughters are masters of the “selfie.” They know how to tilt their heads to their most advantageous angle, peer, wide-eyed, out from under their dark eyelashes, and arrange knowing smiles upon their faces. Mysterious to me, they are also aficionados of the Snap Chat pic – intentionally featuring themselves in their least attractive light – blemishes or double chins or oddly unflattering expressions. It’s a thing– snapping to their peers all day long, caring not one bit how they look and in fact, emphasizing their lack of concern. Yet their other social media outlets are carefully curated in another manner that I don’t quite understand but that each of them understands perfectly. There are complicated formulas for their digital lives. And they grew up on this stuff – the stuff of image. They can be painfully real or raw, sharing their dark moments with the world, and then present their perfected reflections.
I have parented my daughters through their developing social media footprints, cautioning them about the perpetuity of any digital image and teasing them about their selfies. I also ponder my own digital existence, trying to find a balance that is genuine without being overly curated.
And, I have tried to perfect my own selfie, only to delete 20 attempts that are entirely unflattering and way too obvious, with a tight smile that looks more like a grimace or my eyes looking to the wrong side of my phone. I have (eventually) managed to take a selfie that somehow reflects what I wanted to in that moment. I have posted it.
And it is that decision that I am rolling around in my heart. Because, maybe, just maybe, selfies are really important. Below is a shot my sister took, of me taking a beach selfie in San Diego. I promise, the selfie turned out terribly. But given the glorious sunset behind me, and remembering the peace in my heart, I can see why I tried.
I am generally the archivist in my family, the one who documents our lives. If it weren’t for my insistence on photos from time to time, it might seem like we had never existed.
My Instagram account announces that I am “Noticing my moments.” And as of today, I have posted 320 such moments over several years. And when I scroll back through it, I am reminded of flowers I have appreciated (turns out, I must really like flowers as they are an ever-recurring theme), sweet dates with my husband, how funny our pets can be (another strong theme – a bit overdone if you ask my husband), special places, treasured friends, and cherished time with each of my daughters. There are a few pictures of me, selfies of me, smiling and happy and present. And I do believe that we can be present in a moment AND be cognizant of our own appearance in that moment. I relive, through my pictures, the moments that I want to be the ones that define my life. I revel in the truth (I can see it, RIGHT THERE), that my life has included beauty and joy and adventure. And, importantly (to me), I have taken time to pay attention and to document and to archive that beauty. Because it is way too easy to forget amidst the often-frantic pace of our lives.
Of course, something is missing. The moments and days and weeks that I felt sick or lonely or discouraged or misunderstood or overwhelmed – they are not reflected in my Instagram account. What does that even look like? There are no pictures of my jeans fitting too tightly, disagreements with my husband, the zillion naps I took last winter when I had mono. All the things that happen. `
But in this insane world of ours, inundated with a constant barrage of images of impossible-to-achieve perfection and impossible-to-comprehend pain, it might be OK to look through the lenses of our own cameras and see ourselves in our best light. It might even be OK to share it with the world.
I think, for me, it goes back to being capable of seeing my own beauty. Of bearing witness to myself. I was there. I did feel happy and lucky and healthy in that moment. I did feel loved and loveable and connected. Below is the very first selfie I took that I actually didn't hate. And the reason I took it was because my husband was busy climbing that peak behind me, and I was very, very, happy to be waiting down below. (Quick tip: sunglasses help...no-one can tell if you are looking the wrong way.)
Last winter I posted a picture of my family at a hot springs in Idaho City. True enough, it was one of the very rare moments the four of us were actually all together doing something random and fun on a cold Sunday. Is it misrepresentative to post something that is not our norm? Would it be more appropriate to post pics of my girls sleeping in late on a Sunday morning and then spending an hour on their phones keeping all of their “streaks” alive and pics of my husband and I remodeling and doing dishes and picking up dog poop? Because that is what we usually do.
Or is it fair and actually important to take in the gift of that rare moment and save it? Is it a kindness to ourselves and the world to go ahead and show what it looks like when we carve out a family moment? To somehow shout out from within that picture “Look what we did!!! You can too!!”
I have friends who have removed themselves from Facebook because seeing the happiness of others made them feel uncertain in their own lives. I get it. But I think I have landed on this for me: if someone feels good enough about a moment to share it, I am going to enjoy it with them. And if I feel good enough to share a snapshot of my life, I invite you to enjoy it with me.
Let’s let happiness beget happiness. Let’s let togetherness inspire togetherness. Those moments, however rare or possibly even contrived, do become part of our histories. They are part of our stories.
And that day in the hot springs was pure joy for me…my three loved ones being silly in the steam and having nothing to do but be right there. And take selfies if I asked them to. So, I won’t apologize for posting it. In fact, here it is again.
PS Send your favorite selfie to firstname.lastname@example.org with an explanation of why you love it - I would love to know!!
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