Self-obsessed. Insecure. Narcissist.
I’ve heard these words thrown around with little-to-a lot of venom and disgust to describe someone who “takes too many selfies.” That someone is often female, though not always. Derision directed at selfie-taking seems to me unnecessarily vitriolic, and well, I want to offer up some defense at selfie-taking, even in “excess,” and encourage you to ask yourself why you think selfies are annoying, if you do.
I want to share a little of my own experience and observations as a woman working the fitness industry, as well as someone who has worked through really low self-esteem to become pretty into themselves and confident (though by no means 100% confident all the time, because that person probably doesn’t exist).
For those women who have come to fitness and lifting from a background of crippling self doubt, anxiety, depression, poor health, and low self-esteem, celebrating our victories is a way we reinforce to ourselves that we have control and that we are not victims of our pasts. Those celebrations are often a way to keep us on the path to taking care of ourselves.
For many of us, fitness and working out is an existential and spiritual battle where we reclaim ourselves from the internal wars we have struggled in.
Celebration can be anything: a meal from our favorite restaurant, a new pair of workout leggings, an evening to ourselves, and maybe even just a selfie in the locker-room. These celebrations can be small, they can be totally meaningless to other people, they can be grand, they can be humble, they can be self-indulgent — and all of that is totally, absolutely fine.
Sometimes we are surprised by how good we feel about ourselves. Sometimes we celebrate that feeling good by taking a selfie. But selfies are discussed in op-eds as a symptom of a culture self-obsessed and materialistic. Selfies are taken by the “narcissistic.” “People who take too many selfies are crazy and insecure.”
These are all headlines and comments I have read on various fitness and health blogs and magazines. And I’m wondering, what is the point of criticizing selfie-taking/sharing? What are we accomplishing when we say “she takes too many selfies?” or when we stop ourselves from posting one because we don’t want to be “that girl”?
Who is “that girl,” (or person?) and what’s wrong with being them? Are they too confident? Too into themselves? Too insecure? Too too too — what?
When you have spent years being at war with your own image and hating yourself, ANY act of genuine celebration that comes from pride in yourself, pride in your body, pride in what you look like, or pride in how you feel just in that moment, can be remarkably significant to the person experiencing it.
Yes, it can feel really good to get “likes,” and “hearts” and comments from friends. Sometimes it is about external validation. And there is nothing wrong with that. A lot of the things we do are for external and social validation, because we are group mammals and that is just how we roll. That should not be damning. There are many aspects of lifting and fitness that are magnified and enriched by being shared with the group. Personal victories experienced alone are, of course, meaningful, but that doesn’t mean something shared is less meaningful.
“But-but what about that girl who posts a bunch of selfies in a row”?
What about her? Why do you care?
I’ve asked a lot of women about how they feel about selfies, and SO MANY OF US endure lengthy internal debates with ourselves about whether we should post that cute pic we took when we were feeling really confident. Maybe we felt great taking it, but then when it comes to SHARING, we start judging ourselves. Why? What’s wrong with being the person that’s into themselves? And who gets to decide how much you get to be into yourself?
I’m over it. If you don’t like my selfies or my friends selfies, here’s a tip. Don’t follow me. Don’t engage with me. If you are somehow offended people celebrating their bodies, if you find the act of self-admiration so offensive, you can cease to engage.
Self-admiration isn’t a crime, and everyone gets to decide for themselves what is “too much.” Sure, maybe that one girl you met at band camp posts identical up close face selfies every three hours. If you find it really annoying, unfollow her. But maybe she’s actually dealing with some crippling body and image confidence issues and her posting photos of her face helps her feel like she’s asserting herself into the world. I don’t know, and neither do you.
People are complex, and we all act out our insecurities in different ways. Hell, I might argue that half of everything we do in the public sphere is about projecting or battling our insecurities. And there is nothing wrong with. Humans are, by and large, pretty insecure a lot of the time, and we all cope in different ways. And if you ask me, taking cute selfies is probably way less harmful than a lot of other ways we act out our insecurities.
But that is all predicated on the assumption that selfie posting is inherently the act of someone insecure. I contest that.
Here I propose healthy reasons to post selfies that are actually acts of owning one’s identity and experience IN SPITE of your insecurities, or as a means of connection with our social circles.
Fighting Negative Self Image
When you are used to having a really terrible idea of yourself, whether that means fighting an eating disorder or just low-self esteem, catching moments where you feel genuinely good about yourself can be really powerful. Sharing those moments with your friends, or just feeling bold enough to share that image of yourself can be indicative of the strides you’re making.
If you used to be ashamed to have your photo taken and now you are triumphantly posting photos of your own face, that can be a HUGE victory over past demons. If you used to deprive, starve, or hurt your body and hide it and now you’re posting ab or butt selfies in the gym, it might not be about vanity so much as it is about survival and overcoming self-loathing.
Didn’t think selfies were that deep, huh? Think again.
I have met lots of incredible people from all over the country and world through competing in Strongman. Some of these lovely people I will likely only ever actually see in person a handful of times over the course of my life due to said geographical obstacles. You can BET YOUR ASS I WANT TO SEE PICTURES OF THEM, whether that is a selfie or not.
When I posted the question to a women’s fitness forum I’m in about how everyone felt about taking or sharing selfies, here is one of the responses I got. It made me cry, for what it’s worth.
“After my mom passed away, I started using her old phone because mine was broken and I still had to pay for hers. Seeing all of her selfies was really beautiful (and heart wrenching) She felt beautiful in the moment she took that photo, or maybe she too wanted validation. Maybe she wanted people to tell her she still looked beautiful despite the fact she felt down she no longer had hair and was sick, etc. but damnit, I am SO GLAD she took every single one of those selfies!! In fact I wish she took more. I love having photos of her even though I can’t always look at them now. I wish I had more photos of us together. Everytime she would joyfully ask me,”let’s take a selfie!” and I asked her to delete one because I hated my face, I regret it SO MUCH.” – Brigid
My bottom line: if I care about you, I like seeing pictures of you, of any kind.
Training for Aesthetics and Progress Tracking
This should be obvious, but if you’ve spent any time at all working really hard to change your physique, you know that noticing even very minute changes can be incredibly rewarding and validating of your hard work. While most of my friends are strength athletes and not bodybuilders, many of us still have aesthetic or weight goals and it can obviously be helpful to get visual and communal feedback on these changes.
In the effort to push back against, I suppose, emphasis on the superficial and aesthetic in the personal training world, I’ve read too many trend articles about how how being hyper disciplined with your diet and caring about how you look is stupid or less pure of a goal than just being strong and fit (as if being disciplined about eating good food has nothing to do with being fit and strong…).
Yes, being strong is AWESOME. But feeling good about how you look, whether that’s at 20% bodyfat or 30%, is also a pretty important part of a person’s confidence. It’s why we don’t just go to work in stained t shirts and pajama pants (well, most of us). We don’t have to all have the same goals, but that doesn’t mean someone else’s goals are stupid because they are more aesthetically based than mine. Heck, I also know lots of powerlifters who are ALSO physique competitors. Visual progress tracking is an excellent tool for a lot of people, and calling it self-indulgent doesn’t strike me as very different than calling my competing in Strongman self-indulgent. Of COURSE my lifting is about me. Who else would it be about?
Encouragement to Be Into Yourself
I have had many insecure moments where seeing a powerful muscular woman with a body I admire taking a triumphant selfie and flexing her arms was encouraging to me to celebrate my body in a similar fashion. Not everyone finds that encouraging or motivating, and THAT’S FINE. You don’t have to. But many of us really like seeing pictures of women we respect or like being into themselves, because we are working hard on being into OURSELVES. Celebrating our bodies and being proud of them visibly can give others the same permission to do so.
Essentially, I am not remotely convinced that selfies are a sign of someone being “too” into themselves. I see someone working on becoming “into themselves”, or just being proud and having fun with themselves. I see someone sharing, and I appreciate it.
There are many that see vanity in any form as the ultimate sin – but I couldn’t disagree more. Our bodies are extensions of our deepest selves, and I believe that my body is both a gift I get to work on as well as a reflection of my experiences. In getting to know, celebrate and share my body, or rather its image and abilities, I get to know, celebrate and share parts of my spirit and my life.
To sum up, if you aren’t into selfies, that is totally fine and no one will force you to take any.
But if you find yourself passing judgement on someone’s selfies, I encourage you to take a moment to realize that you might be witnessing a huge step in someone’s self-esteem, a moment of personal triumph over doubt, or hell, maybe just a cool outfit or well-hit bicep flex — but the intentions are probably good, they literally do not hurt anyone, and if you hate it so much, maybe you’re the one that has a problem.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.