The mirror in an uncrowded elevator is an invitation to look at myself, as are the floor-to-ceiling display windows in the mall. Rarely do I say no. Ever notice that when presented with a group photograph, your eyes search for you first? Is this vanity or normal self-absorption? I have sixty-one selfies on my phone. Perhaps I should not call them selfies. The Oxford Dictionary defines a selfie as a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. Not one of my digital self-portraits is uploaded on my social networks.
My favourite ‘selfies’ are those where I employed the tricks my eighteen-year-old friend taught me to make a selfie not resemble a selfie. All that posing and angling, so I look as though my photo is the view from another’s lens, why?
Apart from a desire to pretend that I did not tilt my head, tuck in my chin, suck in my cheeks, and find the best lighting, before stretching my hand to click, I want to try to replicate an unguarded moment—what others see when I am unaware that they are looking at me, an honest picture of me. But a selfie is manipulation, a digitally enhanced, filtered, and cropped representation of how I want to see myself and how I want others to see me.
I find selfies useful as picture diaries to share privately with friends, but too subjective to tell me what I really look like. Sam Anderson captures this paradox in his New York Times‘ article. He begins by asking: What do you look like?
You are the world’s leading authority on the subject. You have studied your face for many years, with life-or-death intensity, in almost every mirror and tinted car window and unrippled pond you have ever passed. You are the Sir Isaac Newton of your own face: the one true discoverer of its laws of motion, its particular gravity.
You are also, simultaneously, the very least qualified person in the world to know what you look like. You have no idea. You have never actually seen your face — not truly, from the outside, the way other people see it. This is because of a nonnegotiable quirk of the human anatomy: You have to use your own face to look at your face. You are both observer and observed.
Is this why we ask others, “How do I look?”
As a child, my mother was the first yardstick I used to measure my looks by. When people called me little Gina, alluding to our resemblance, I realized I was beautiful. External validation aids self-perception. I have wished on occasion that I could step out of my body and see myself. The next best thing is my reflection in the eyes of those I trust, a realistic picture that transcends the selfies on my phone.
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
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