A few years ago, before I got my job at the library, I worked at a sporting goods store. It was a pretty shitty job with bad pay, but I did become friendly with a number of the other people there. One of them was a younger woman who was pregnant at the time. She and I became friends on Facebook, as I did with many of my other co-workers.
She was a different kind of person than I was used to when it came to social media. The people I knew typically used Facebook and its ilk to make witty observations, to prove their intellect with articles about sciencey stuff, to prove to the world how funny and clever and cultured they were. This was how I used it, for sure. (Though occasionally I used it for bitching.) Facebook was a convenient way to present a curated image of the best version of yourself. This is who I am. I am smart. I am clever. I am funny. I have good taste in music and movies and books.
But this girl used it differently. She posted selfies. All. the. time. Smiling selfies. Frowny selfies. Selfies in the mirror. Duck face selfies. Selfies with makeup. Selfies without. She rarely made a post with words. It was all pictures. Of her.
Now I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but I made a public post elsewhere saying that people who posted “nothing but selfies” needed to get a life, that it was pathetic. She ended up seeing it and taking offense. I was mortified.
Fast forward five years or so. A friend of mine posted an article about selfies with regard to transgendered folks. The gist of it was: We (trans people,) are not being narcissistic. We are documenting a transformation into a body we actually feel comfortable in. We finally look like who we have always been inside. These are the photos that we didn’t have for all those years of being uncomfortable in our skin – We’re making up for lost time.
This was the first inkling, for me, that selfies could function as a form of therapy. A form of self-affirmation. I am here, and I am alright. I’m beautiful and strong and smart and I am all of those things I have tried to prove on social media and elsewhere. I am the universe and the universe is me. Here’s photographic proof. You can see nebulae in my eyes.
I suffer from anxiety and depression, and have since I was a teenager. There have been times, when an anxiety attack has reached its peak and I feel like I am just a ball of tense, angry ectoplasm, that I go into the bathroom, look at myself in the mirror, and just breathe. I look into my own eyes. “I am here,” I say to myself. “I am ok.”
And recently, while dealing with depression, I realized it was hard to convince myself to do anything. And the same thing helped – The self-reflection on the visual level. And so the selfies started. A photo in the bathroom affirmed my humanity because I managed to put on makeup and brush my hair that day. A photo of my dinner (oh I know how some sneer at food photos,) showed that I pulled myself off the floor long enough to prepare healthy food for myself.
I’m not being narcissistic. I just need some proof that I exist, that I’m doing ok, that I’m a human being that can take care of myself. And that’s helpful, and not to be discounted as frivolous. We all need affirmation sometimes, with no strings attached. We all need the chance to say “look, I’m here and I’m worth the space I occupy. I don’t need to prove that with witticisms and clever observations. Sometimes, it’s enough that I just am alive and breathing.”
I don’t talk to that girl from the sporting goods store anymore, but I do want to say I’m sorry for judging her. In retrospect, affirmation was probably what she needed, too. I hope she’s doing alright, wherever she is.