I’m just about the very last person one might expect to relish in extensive selfie-taking. I think I’ve taken a sum total of six selfies in my life, all with the express purpose of sharing an outfit of particular merit with my mom. So when Amelia asked me to selfie for the month of July and I said yes, I immediately regretted it. In the pit of my stomach.
I write about fashion — the philosophy of it, the intention behind what we wear and the role that clothes play in our human experience. Not just in terms of how we look and feel on the outside, but inside, deep down, in our essence and spirit. I am fascinated by the power fashion has to make us whole. But selfies have always made me acutely uncomfortable. Not other people’s selfies — I can enjoy those. But my selfies. My self. What does it mean to stare into a mirror at a reflection of your outer self and snap an image at a moment in which you presumably like what you see? And what motivates the impulse to share that image? Self-centeredness? Self-love? Does sharing a selfie underscore our desire to connect with others and expand our being, or to make our broader world even more narrowly about ourselves? I’ve mostly evaded these questions by avoiding this ubiquitous form of self-authorship.
It wasn’t just the selfies I was anxious about, either; I was faced with a litany of fears at the outset of this assignment. For example, is my style sufficiently compelling to merit you clicking through 30 days of it? Do I have enough pizazz to curate a month of interesting looks? I have yet to experience, in my adult life, an entire month where I’ve felt secure about the role fashion has played in my experience in the world; would I have to fake it? Knowing you’re peeking over my shoulder as I look in the mirror, would it be possible to really dress solely for myself? Or would I succumb to some of the more performative aspects of dress and dress for you? How honest can I be with you about all of this as the experience unfolds? How do I make sure that before you see my selfies, you see my self — my fears, my insecurities, the pieces of me that don’t neatly fit in the frame of a mirror?
But sometimes life has a way of serving up exactly what I need at the exact time I need it. And slowly, over the course of this endeavor, regret gave way to relief and fear to the realization that here was a chance to learn something about myself.
So what did I learn from 30 days of self-reflection? I’ll start with this: I loved this exercise, which I never remotely imagined I would. I looked forward to my selfie each day, and there’s a part of me that will miss the ritual. I was aware of you, but I didn’t feel compelled to dress for you. I didn’t cover my under-eye circles; I didn’t fuss over my unruly, humidity-crazed waves. I was myself for my selfies, and I wanted to be seen as I am.
I’ve spent a long time convinced that if I really relished in taking a selfie, or if I posted one every now and then to social media, I might seem, to the outside world, self-satisfied. Full of myself. Someone like that, I imagined, doesn’t have the fears I do, or the hangups or the insecurities or the heaps of self-doubt — not just about their physical appearance, but about their whole self. Clearly, I concluded, selfies are not for me.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched a great conversation with Oprah in which she was asked a question about negotiating the boundary between selflessness and selfishness — balancing caring for yourself with taking care of others. In her response, she talks about how important it is to be full of yourself. To be so filled with the knowledge of who you are and what you’re here to do that you literally overflow and share the goodness that is you with the world that is around you. This was an epic reframe for me of the concept of self. Self-fullness as the gateway to all of the higher things we aspire to: fulfillment, love, a life of meaning and of service. All I could think was, get me some of that.
And then it clicked. What if a selfie isn’t necessarily a vehicle for indulging our narcissistic tendencies, but one we could use to nourish our deepest selves? To help us get full of ourselves? What if, in sharing our selfies, we’re not putting forward a veneer of unflinching self-satisfaction, but instead giving each other permission to be equally full of our selves? Selfie as a tool for self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love.
If I could give my pre-selfie self a piece of advice, it would be this: Go ahead, take the selfie! Take a selfie a day for a week. Or a month. Do it just for yourself. Or maybe text it to a friend or to a group of friends. Or put it out there if that feels right for you. The key is to look in the mirror and despite it all — or, more precisely, because of it all — realize it’s okay to genuinely love what you see reflected back and to use that, little by little, to fill yourself up.