and communities of color, queer and trans/gender non-conforming people, fat folks, disabled folks and the whole host of us challenging desirability and defining ourselves for ourselves one selfie at a time.
there's this thing that i've been witnessing over the past several weeks, this discourse on #selfies and #selfieculture where more and more, as many folks coming out in support of unapologetic vanity there are folks coming out to say that selfies actually aren't all that great.
i'm thinking about the most recent jezebel.com article titled "Selfies Aren't Empowering. They're a Cry for Help." as you can probably tell by the title of my blog post that reading that article on jezebel annoyed me. deeply. angered me briefly and now i'm trying to collect myself again.
many articles on selfie culture provide an analysis of the toxic environment girls and women grow up in: cite statistics on the alarming rate at which girls and women are pushed by cosmetic companies to look like a skinny Victoria Secret model, present reports on how girls and women seen themselves and their self esteem, analyze the shit out of misogyny and what it does to bodies and spirits.
articles like the one found on jezebel talk about the culture we live in where people - especially women - are judged by how pretty (or not pretty) they are. there is this fixation on presentation and attractiveness that is defined by misogynistic standards. what a lot of these articles don't talk about is the other ways desirability are defined. many of these articles leave out what selfies do and have one for people of color, queer and trans people, fat folks, disabled folks and all of us living at the intersections of those identities.
presenting that sort of information and creating that kind of analysis is great. it's necessary. yet, very rarely do we read articles and analysis that talks about girls and women of color from folks who are so interested in a better world, rooted in a feminist and anti-misogynistic definition. that's a problem. when we think about the landscape of desirability and prettiness and beauty, the analysis we offer must do and be two things: rooted in intersectionality and compassionate to the complexity of our lives when we are searching to be so much more than how society has programmed us to look at ourselves and for others to look at us.
that jezebel article and articles similar to it piss me off and aggravate me because i can't help but to read it as the perspective of cis white women who feel that their investment in eradicating misogyny, tearing down the patriarchy gives them power to define what is empowering and what isn't. it ignores how everyone else is engaging with selfie culture. and more so, it just seems like a gloomy interpretation of how so many of us are attempting at being more than the culture that picks us a part.
i want to talk about selfies and selfie culture for people of color, queer and trans people, fat folks and disabled folks in particular.
my low self-esteem for the majority of my life was a result of growing up a southeast asian american girl surrounded by not only annoying, bratty (not the cute kind), cisgender, straight, white men who talked not only about my body as a girl but my body as an asian american. my ugliness was not just tied to their fucked up understanding of what a woman "should be, should look like, should at," my ugliness was tied to their fucked up understanding of race, namely people of color.
today i am still struggling with ideas of desirability as i confront internalized sexism, racism and ableism. but i know that in the past 3 years, with the help of my iPhone and Instagram, not only have i have been able take hella cute pictures of myself, i have been able to be affirmed by people of color, queer and trans folks and disabled folks who are facing the same internal wrestlings as i am.
it is okay for me to seek these affirmations. and it is true, i have always lived in a world that is super invested in how i look, how fuckable i appear, how on point my face is. i share that world with many others who are struggling daily to figure out how to resist those demands. and i want us to be reminded that we are not the institutions that oppress us, that create racist, misogynistic, ableist, fatphobic and otherwise fucked up standards for beauty.
it is okay to seek affirmations from people who see you. there is not a better feeling for me than to know that a fellow queer person of color thinks that i'm cute because this "like" and comment on how nice my face is or how awesome my unibrow is about way more than both of those things; it's about getting recognition for who and how i am in the world; it's about letting each other know that we are creating a space in this world in the image of weird, pretty, ugly, un/desirable, awkward queers, people of color, fat folks and disabled folks. and my unibrow is fucking fierce, damnit!
it's about knowing that when there is this collective experience of feeling insecure about how we look and how we feel about how we look, there is a place to hold us. we are not crying out for help. we are reaching out for affirmations, for community, for love, for lust, for creating what we thought we would never experience growing up as the little weirdos that we were.
selfies of, for and by people of color, queer and trans folks, fat folks and disabled folks have continuously been a process of creation. it has continuously been a process of ownership of who we are, it has been a public separation with who we aren't.
i know i am getting woo but when i think about creating intentional communities rooted in transformation, justice and freedom i think about unapologetic vanity and the critical conversations that come with it that say "selfies are great AND our culture is fucked up" instead of "selfies are great BUT our culture is fucked up" therefore invalidating this vanity that has proven to be important to so many people and shows to have the potential to be both a place of creation and mourning.
none of this is to say that even within our communities we don't reinforce and recreate these systems of attraction that are, indeed, very racist, colorist, misogynyistic, ableist and fatphobic. but what i'm saying is that give this queer some hope that not all of what we do is always in reaction to our programming. give this queer some hope that every selfie i take is a proactive measure against the further defining of beauty to be white, cisgender, heterosexual, skinny and able-bodied people.
and here, enjoy a selfie.
[photo description: selfie of loan. they are wearing pink glasses and a hat. they are looking into the camera, smiling slightly, wearing one earring. maybe even looking seductive.]