A Defense of Selfies In 10 Selfies

"Selfies" are universally mocked and yet also totally widespread. Let those who've never taken a selfie cast the first stone, and I think we'll all be safe. These days, selfies are no longer the province of hipsters, teen girls and narcissists. Your grandfather posts selfies. That kid from high-school with the redneck tattoos posts selfies. Your little sister's best friend's little sister posts selfies. I post selfies. And apparently we are ruining everything.

Image: Ashley Benson via Instagram

"Selfies" are universally mocked and yet also totally widespread. Let those who've never taken a selfie cast the first stone, and I think we'll all be safe. These days, selfies are no longer the province of hipsters, teen girls and narcissists. Your grandfather posts selfies. That kid from high-school with the redneck tattoos posts selfies. Your little sister's best friend's little sister posts selfies. I post selfies. And apparently we are ruining everything.

Image: Ashley Benson via Instagram

According to media accounts, selfies are ruining relationships, enabling predators, causing our Facebook friends to hate us, corrupting youth, making celebs act more ridiculous and spawning even dumber buzzwords than 'selfie.' At HuffPost recently, Porter Novelli CEO Michael Ramah speculated that we're all just a few degrees removed from Anthony Weiner or Amanda Bynes territory. But there's a world of difference between reckless and indiscriminate selfie behavior and a nice, appropriate-time-and-place selfie (like this one of Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul on his wedding day), no?

Image: Instagram

Maybe part of the problem is in the term "selfies" itself. It's just a cutesy Instagram-era way of saying self-portraits (though "selfie" was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2013). People have been doing self-portraiture forever. Look, here's a selfie the Russian princess Anastasia took in 1912.

People have always liked to document their lives. We now have the tools to do it easily and indiscriminately—which means, sure, you'll have people who abuse the power. [A general rule of thumb: If you post more selfies than pictures of other people (or cats), you're doing it wrong.] But in moderation, the selfie impulse seems natural and harmless to me. If selfies weren't safe, would cops be posting them?

Photo via copselfies.tumblr.com

At their core, selfies are a form of documentation—of how you look but also who you're with, where you're at, the mood, your clothes, the atmosphere, everything. When we decry "selfies" in general, we lump together things like this Chelsea and Hilary Clinton photo and the kind of X-rated images that are sparking revenge porn laws. There are all sorts of selfies, and they register on all different levels of the harmlessness and obnoxiousness scales.

Image: Twitter

Selfies taken at some landmark, your grandma's 90th birthday or next to a famous person are pretty much above reproach. Selfies taken with best friends visiting from out of town are totally understandable. Selfies because you like your outfit are okay if posted infrequently. Solo selfies on your bed—like this one—are almost never okay. Yeah, you might want to Instagram it so you can put on a pretty filter before you send it to a boo. Fine. But then delete that shit from your feed immediately.

Selfies get a lot of flack for their grip on teen girls, but they can be a normal part of development, psychologists say. “Self captured images allow young adults and teens to express their mood states and share important experiences,” Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist and research fellow at UCLA, told Time. "As tweens and teens try to form their identity, selfies serve as a way to test how they look, and therefore feel, in certain outfits, make-up, poses and places."

Image: Stratigram

"When I briefly had blond hair and felt insecure about it, I took photos of myself constantly, trying to convince myself through photographic evidence that it looked OK," writes xoJane's Emily McCombs (pictured here) in an ardent selfie defense. There's something to be said for taking frequent selfies that never see public eyes. When you see how beautiful you look in some and how terrifying you look in others, you realize you are probably a normal looking human being who sometimes looks good and sometimes looks not so good.

Image: Webstagram

Selfies don't have to be about looking good, either. Their are gads of public selfies of people making funny faces and not taking themselves too seriously. And the fact that anyone can post a selfie kind of subverts the idea that only "beautiful people" are worthy of being photographed. As Clementine Morrigan (pictured here) writes: "The selfie is...a way to subvert what is considered beautiful. Like femme identity, the selfie is in a complicated dialogue with the oppressive mainstream production of beauty. The selfie takes the power to decide and declare what it beautiful; it doesn’t ask for it. The person who creates a selfie does not wait for someone else to declare them beautiful enough to be photographed." Hell, yeah.

Image: clementinemorrigan.com

So selfies are a democratizing medium. No longer are celebrities and socialites the only ones who can easily control their images. "The cult of the selfie celebrates regular people," said Pamela Rutledge, faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, in Teen Vogue. "There are many more photographs available now of real people than models."

Image: Webstagram

The bottom line is that selfies "can be a healthy mode of expression, particularly for the young women who make up the vast majority of its practitioners," as Jamie Peck (pictured here) wrote at the gloss this summer. "Throughout most of history, a woman’s beauty has been seen as something for male spectators to ogle, and never for the woman herself to enjoy ... . To take control of your own avatar by presenting yourself how you, yourself, see yourself can be a valuable step in a person’s development." In other words: Selfie away!

Image: Instagram