The Radical Politics of #selfies

Nov 22, 2013 @ 1:02 pm | By TheFeministGriote | 20 Comments








I really did not want to write a reactionary blog post about the disgusting article on selfies, that the not-so-feminist site Jezebel posted yesterday. I tweeted my thoughts about the article and thought that would be the end of it for me. But this morning I re-read the article and knew that I wanted to add to the larger conversation about selfies. The post by Jezebel was very judgmental, myopic, and rooted in anti-feminism. A beautiful Twitter moment came out of that ridiculous post which was started by @thewayoftheheid, #feministselfies was born to counteract all that was wrong with the post. My main reasoning for not wanting to write a reactionary piece is because it is exhausting. Literally, there is not a week that doesn’t go by where a mainstream white feminist blog site does not say or do something extremely racist and egregiously offensive about women of color. However, I am reminded by the words of Audre Lorde, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”  In the Jezebel article the blogger writes:

“Selfies aren’t empowering; they’re a high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.” 

On the surface I agree somewhat with the blogger, yes society does put an enormous value on the way women look. The media also invests an extreme amount of time and money to ensure that all women irrespective of race, class, gender, body size, and ability feel pressured to look like the one version of beautiful allowed by society. The blogger in her sentence fails to make space and understand that not all people who identify as women are allowed to see themselves as beautiful, desirable, sexy, or fit for human consumption. The writer is a white woman and so she has the luxury of being tired of seeing her reflection reflected back to her from the media, politics, and globally. So I am sure to her another selfie of  a white woman is not revolutionary, but to me selfies by Black women of all shapes/shades/gender presentation/expression is pretty fucking awesome and revolutionary!

The reason it is revolutionary and empowering to see selfies of beautiful Black women is because proper representation of people who look like me is nowhere near the point of over saturation. The internet is the only place where I can see women who look like me freely. I don’t have to wait for the bevy of white magazines to have pity on me and show me a white washed version of myself in print. Social media allows for people of color, queer folks, fats, femmes, trans* folks, and differently-abled folks to find proper representation of ourselves sans gatekeepers. Sites like IG/tumblr democratizes beauty and makes it accessible to us. For e.g.


Natural Hair Daily

Trans* women

 If you go on IG you can search any hashtag you want and find endless people, real people who do not fit the mainstream definition of beautiful, but how are beautiful nonetheless and confident. There was a time I thought that selfies were obnoxious and that the people who over used them were narcasisstic and ridiculous. Upon further examination, I realized that I was projecting my stuff unto others. My struggle to accept myself was clouding my vision therefore, when I saw others who were unabashed and deliberate with their self-love and acceptance it made me uncomfortable. The fact that people who are maligned, marginalized, and strategically erased find the courage to make the deliberate choice of seeing themselves as beautiful, is both astonishing and miraculous. Many of us did not grow up hearing positive affirmations about ourselves, never heard genuine compliments unless it was pre-packaged in an insult e.g. pretty for a dark skin girl, you have pretty face for a fat girl, or you don’t look like a Haitian.

Social media for the marginalized  allows us to dictate and shape what is beautiful without the white gaze and it decenters whiteness.

Further, self-taken digital portraits are typically posted on social media, ostensibly with the intent of getting people to respond to them — that’s what social media is. In that respect, selfies aren’t expressions of pride, but rather calls for affirmation.

Fat people, queer people, trans* people, femmes, disabled people, POC need and deserve affirmation too! For many of us taking selfies is an exercise in putting our self-love into praxis. The act of loving, seeing, and accepting oneself in real time. Also, so what if people take pride in the likes and comments that their selfies garner?! There is nothing wrong or gross about freely accepting compliments. Folks need to stop pathologizing those who relish in the compliments that they receive. It takes lots of work and practice to be able to freely accept a compliment, especially when you struggle to see yourself as worthy and never was accustomed to receiving them! Black feminists coined the phrase “the personal is political” (no matter what Wikipedia tells you a white women DID NOT coin that phrase) and indeed taking selfies is a personal act deeply rooted in the radical politics of self-love. If someone can’t see that that, it simply means that their mainstream pretty, thin, & skin privilege is getting in the way of that.

Feminism is about dismantling patriarchal power structures, ending misogyny/sexism, and making space for those who are outside the margins of society and bringing them front and center. Attacking selfies and those who take them shouldn’t be an item on the feminist agenda!

*Updated to reflect that @thewayoftheheid started the hashtag  #feministselfie 11/22/2013 4:26 pm EST


20 Responses to “ The Radical Politics of #selfies ”

  1. Such a thoughtful post! I especially agree when you write, “Social media for the marginalized allows us to dictate and shape what is beautiful without the white gaze and it decenters whiteness.” Like you, I also understood where the Jezebel author was coming from, but it’s so refreshing to see people of color showing the world what makes us special.

  2. YES. YES. YES.

    To all of this, but what really resonated for me today was you’re so right about how hard it can be to accept a compliment. When you’re told your whole life, in general and specific, you aren’t beautiful, it takes a lot of work to be able to believe and accept yourself as beautiful, and a lot more to believe and accept when someone else calls you beautiful. Selfies can be such a powerful tool in that work. And that’s just one of the many things that Jez piece left out.

    Thank you for an awesome post.

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  7. YES

    Trying squelch a movement where women take pride in their appearances, particularly when these images are often contrary to what the corporate patriarchy constantly shoves down our throats as “the norm”? That’s helpful how?

    I am so tired of feminism that excludes other women, or tries to pit women against each other. We should be working together to fight for equality and representation among ALL women.
    Thanks for this!!

  8. Well written piece!! I never thought of selfies as self love movement but that’s exactly what it is!

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  14. Actually…the article(and the responses) kind of proved Jezebel’s point. Yes there are women who find “empowerment” in selfies due to society’s racial & unhealthy images of beauty. But if the selfie is a response to that, it is some weird twisted way an inferior mindset. Your reaction is in relation to a higher power, an “oppressive” standard. That isn’t equality, confident, or forward looking. It’s simply another way to spin the hamster wheel. So yes, you may have gone your entire life being led to believe you weren’t beautiful. But you’re still responding to that insecurity. Responding to your insecurity…instead of looking past your insecurity and not letting it affect you are two completely different things

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