Sometimes I hate selfies. Really, I do. Selfies have taken over the Internet. You would never believe that I hate selfies if you looked at my Instagram account. You would probably respond by saying something nice, like "How can you of all people hate selfies? You take such cute selfies."
There would be an element of truth to what you say. After all, the selfies that I choose to share with the world are "cute." You have no way of knowing that my phone's trashcan is full of selfies that I hate. Oh, you know, the real selfies: the ones that give me a double chin, accentuate my neck wrinkles, showcase a frumpy outfit, and reveal a bad hair day. Go ahead. Name a negative attribute. I can probably dig up a photo from the trash can to prove its existence.
Just by way of example, and since I am an honest forty-something, here's what really happens under the fluorescent lights of a dressing room when I have to try on swimsuits.
Well, you would undoubtedly say, "Everyone has a collection of those selfies. That's why we have delete buttons." Again, you would be right. You would probably even tell me, "Look at what a great life you have." The proof would be right there. After all, I have selfies with my beautiful, healthy children. Never mind that sometimes when I take those pictures I think to myself, "Hey, there's no husband who is going to frame this photo and put it on his desk at work." I have selfies of me with my hair and make-up done before going out for the night, but I have no significant other to say, "Wow, babe. You're gorgeous."
I have selfies of me on the beach for a beautiful sunset.
I have selfies of me on a hike alone at Joshua Tree (Friendly note to selfie takers: I accomplished this by propping my phone on a boulder and setting a timer).
It was a great hike, but until this moment I probably would not have captioned the pic, "I am scared to death that I will go missing in this vast desert and that no one will know where to find me."
My hunch is that I am not alone in these feelings. Then again, who really knows? If I went to my Facebook account right now, I would probably find "Samantha," with perfect hair and makeup, in her sports bra and Lululemon yoga pants in front of a mirror in her fancy gym. For all I know, she is struggling with an eating disorder or is depressed because she has a mound of credit card debt and can't get a job. I could probably dig up a selfie of "John," surrounded by beautiful actresses on the red carpet. For a moment, I might think, "Whoa, I want that life." I might miss the fact that due to his fears of emotional intimacy, he is completely incapable of having a real relationship. I could find a selfie of "Bob and Sarah" celebrating their anniversary at one of the finest restaurants in town. I might even feel envious for a minute, all the while not knowing that they actually fight like cats and dogs and sleep in separate bedrooms.
Of course, there is a dichotomy between what we choose to share and what we could share. It reminds me of what Jack Nicholson once said: With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson. Without them, I'm fat and 60.
All of us wear sunglasses at some point, particularly on social media. No one on social media wants to be connected with Debbie Downer. More importantly, none of us want to be to seen as "acting out" on social media. After all, isn't it important to work through our internal challenges and temper the ways in which we share those challenges?
So, are we just a bunch of narcissist liars hiding behind sunglasses in our filtered selfies? To the contrary, and this is ultimately why I love selfies -- selfies enrich our lives. Selfies give us the opportunity to share our lives with a diverse group of people, ranging from close friends and family to all kinds of new and interesting people. I have friendships online with people whose path I would never have crossed, but for social media.
Our snapshots document our journey through life, as we navigate relationships, parenthood, work and free time. Through our smartphones, we have a chance to inspire one another. By way of example, I can't tell you how fulfilling it has been to share my fitness journey, a journey which simply started as "I need to stop smoking" and is segueing into a half-marathon in May. When I feel like giving up, I know that I can post a fitness selfie from my run or hike, caption it with "Argh," and get heartfelt support from my friends. Similarly, I get to celebrate the great moments with those same friends online, such as when I posted this pic after running a 10k in February (sitting in my car because of the rain). Likewise, I love to share their special moments with them.
Not only do selfies encourage us to engage with others, but ultimately they afford us an opportunity to connect deeply with ourselves. Who knows me better than me? What I most love about my selfies is that they chronicle my journey. Yes, it's true that there may not be a "significant other" to take the photo and frame it on his desk. So, what? I am there to enjoy the moment, whether it is a breathtaking sunset, a vast desert, a frothy cappuccino, or a gorgeous new blouse. I am the one honored with the privilege of being there to take that particular photo. I am the one who can frame it or share it online, if I so desire. I am the one who can say "Wow. Beautiful."
So as with everything in life, I'm going to take the good with the bad.
Wear my sunglasses if I feel like it. Laugh a bit. Toss the bad selfies into the trash can and forget about them. Avoid the pitfall of comparing myself to others. I don't know their story. Nor do I need to know. I know my own story. I owe it to myself to be genuine about it. My selfies can do the rest.
All photos: Heather Piper