I have a long, complex and fraught relationship with selfies and my Internet self (who has been a @worthlesslump, an @angel_dumping, a @tropical_wageslave and the new me, @village_wench). I’m flabbergasted that some people just use their normal names for Instagram, but I guess it’s a free world wide web.
When I was around fifteen I would come home from school everyday and look at photos of the Olsen twins, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie, caught somewhere between wanting to be them and wanting to touch their shiny hair and bony bird like chests.
During this era my friends and I would dress up in oversized white shirts as dresses, heels and red lipstick, and do ‘photo shoots’ holding a Polaroid camera and an (unlit) cigarette. It was a little bit emo, a little bit sexy, a lot performative, and all very Terry Richardson. I was extremely self-conscious about being hairier and less skinny than my Internet heroes but that didn’t stop me from publicising my burgeoning sexuality on MySpace.
Then one day I discovered feminism via Germaine Greer (lol, I know), cut all my hair off, stopped wearing make up, and started dressing exclusively in Levis and plain black turtlenecks. My mum asked me if I was ‘dressing gender neutral these days’. I was basically Summer in The OC when she becomes a ‘hippie’ and starts caring about stuff other than being hot, which is actually still my style inspo.
I denounced the selfie and quietly judged other women who dared document themselves online with the single-minded self-importance reserved for really young people. What were they missing out on cultivating with all that time spent documenting their flesh prisons?
At some point I began to notice a more interesting and honest depiction of womanhood flourishing in online spaces; black, brown, differently abled, fat (their words), not ‘conventionally beautiful’ (whatever that even means) women presenting not only their bodies but their lives, personalities and inner monologues.
I reignited my dormant passion for slutty self-portraiture and experimented with using social media to present myself candidly, or as candidly as is possible on a medium that is highly curated and two dimensional by default. I started by changing my display photo to a tit pic (nipples covered for the benefit of my Sri Lankan relatives). Flaunting one’s hairy armpits and use of the morning after pill may seem trivial, but I really do believe that playing with and owning your own self-representation is an important and radical act as a woman.
Sometimes this confuses my publics.
I recently posted a story about going to a party full of strangers, taking a pinger and having deeply connected chats, only to get home and realise I had spit all around my mouth that gave me an unfortunate likeness to a rabid dog, which sent me spiralling into self doubt and anxiety. My boyfriend was really weirded out by this and asked what the ‘purpose’ of putting this experience on Instagram was, and I didn’t really know.
I guess you don’t always have to have a purpose, you can just present what you feel and maybe that will be funny or interesting to someone, or maybe not. If you end up alienating your ‘audience’ maybe it will be nice to get it off your chest and air your inner monologue of dirty laundry on a public platform without having to actually talk about it in the cruel offline world.
A couple of months ago my mum gave me this test to see if anything is wrong with my digestive system. It involves doing a shit in a box and getting a courier to pick it up and take it to a lab where some poor soul has to examine your shit. I joked to my friend about Instagramming the whole sordid affair, and she thought I was serious about putting my actual poo on Instagram and that I was being ‘new wave.’ Maybe publishing your shit on Instagram is the ultimate feminist liberation? Something to ponder.
Either way, I hope that selfie culture today is allowing young (and old) women greater access to authentic and diverse representations of womanhood, and the opportunity to position themselves somewhere in the centre of it all. The democratisation of beauty is infinitely important and sure as fuck can’t be left to women’s magazine.
Germaine encouraged women to drink their own menstrual blood; why not put it on your Insta story instead?