Selfies are the self-portraits of this current technological age. They tell you a lot about how the person sees themselves; how they want to be seen by others. The angle, the tilt of their head, if the smile is candid or staged, forced or relaxed, or even there at all.
In this age of social media we can (to some degree) control our image: how we are seen, what info about us and our lives is shared, and what is not. Sometimes. Sort of. We can try to tailor our image to fit into what we want to look like, who we want to be, or we can bare it all, our prides and our failings, letting the viewer or reader decide what to keep and what not to.
At the same time, we can only control so much. Other people will post about us, post pictures of us. Other people will see what they want to see, what they can see. What people see will always be filtered, not just through their screens, but through their own perceptions and life experiences, their own projections and assumptions. Do they have context for your words, your hair, your clothes, your all of you? Do they have to fight against their own or your own illusions to see you, or are you real and genuine? Are they real and genuine enough to see you?
How much are any of us related to reality?
I love posed professional-looking glamour shots, candid photos when no one knows a photograph is being taken, group action shots capturing an experience, and everything beyond and in between.
I used to hate photos of myself or having my picture taken, a reminder of this body I also hated. This Self I kept hidden and locked up from the world, buried beneath flesh and blood and muscle. Buried deep in some hidden corner of my heart. I tried, often desperately, to stay alive in a world that does not want my kind, which in a world that desperately needs us.
I was praised for emulating others and discouraged from expressing what I genuinely thought or wanted or needed. So I locked myself up so tight I often forgot to breathe. I forgot to move. I forgot to dance. I made a small space inside of myself where I could be free, and I called it paradise. It was a cage. Bits of me leaked out, because I could not help it, but inside I was frozen. Lonely.
I learned to adopt others’ ideas, others’ perspectives, others’ personae just to keep me alive. Though there were plenty of times I did not want to be. I thought for many years of the ways I could end what felt like the torture of living. I never really had access to knives sharp enough in the hardest moments, never a hand steady enough to apply the necessary pressure in the right places with knife in hand. Some kind of self-preservation sabotage, or cowardice.
Just one more day, I would tell myself. One more moment. One more breath. One at a time until the numbness takes over again.
Feeling nothing was often preferred to feeling everything.
The suffocating overwhelm of hopelessness was always more than I could handle.
Paradoxically, perhaps (in that way that life is), I found my outlet on stage acting larger than life and speaking four hundred year old lines about love, longing, pain, death, betrayal, revenge, cunning, magic.
I identified with longing: longing for love, longing for belonging. I identified with the uncertainty of desire for life, search for a sense of self, and mistrust of others. I identified with fighting to stay alive against seemingly insurmountable turmoil.
I let other stories, other characters, other personae infuse my being. They lead me back to some depth of myself where I had been hiding. Slowly. Only ever slowly. I got little glimpses of life then through these, glimpses of what life could be, though I never felt like I was part of it. Always a little removed, always a little numb, always a little (or a lot) the outsider. Always terrified of ridicule and mostly indifferent to praise, unable to really believe just about anything as real.
Although acting brought me back to myself, it was still more for others than it was for me.
I woke up one day and realized I was terrified of the world, of the other people in it, and, most importantly, of myself. I had designed a life around this fear, attempting to keep myself safe through hiding, locked away from the world in hopes that would mean I would no longer be hurt.
Determined to understand and integrate the fear, I began to investigate it. Where did it come from? What is real and what isn’t? Why do I act the way that I do? I had already been asking myself some of these questions, but did not realize just how numb I was. Just how locked inside. Just how broken.
I began to crack open the shell I had built up around myself over so many years, letting the outside in and the inside out. I embraced vulnerability, connection, change. I began feeling again. Deeply. Not just when I was having sex, but all the time. Sometimes more than I could bear.
Somewhere along the way I realized I was missing love for myself and trust in the world. The more I love myself the more I am able to take up space in the world, to be comfortable with who I am and what I am doing. It’s cliche, I suppose, but cliches are cliche for a reason. As I began to love myself more, I began to take selfies and revel in them. Or maybe it was the other way around.
A selfie, for me, is not just about finding the right pose, the right angle, though sometimes it is. It’s about sharing a moment in time, even if my smile often looks the same. It’s allowing myself to open up to myself, open up to the camera, open up to the viewer in a way I used to abhor. It’s showing myself off to the world. It’s taking my place in the world through allowing myself to be in it and take up (digital) space.