People who take selfies are vain, narcissistic and self-absorbed. Why post self portraits taken in a dirty bathroom mirror on social media every. Single. Day? Is it for attention? Validation? Are you hooked on how many "likes" you get? Get over yourself.
Before I decided to take a selfie every day for a year, I didn't take selfies at all. Because I didn't want people to judge me like I was judging others.
This story was originally published in August 2016
Hang on, wait - if I hate them so much why am I taking a selfie every day for a year? Let's rewind.
I used to believe, genuinely, that women who entered beauty pageants were stuck-up, shallow and conceited. Ugly, right? I thought so too. So I entered one.
At the risk of sounding like an inspirational Instagram post designed to eventually sell you yoga for both you and your cat, that competition taught me a lot about myself. Mainly, if I find myself judging others, attempting to understand their motivations is crucial to my growth as a Decent Human™.
When I recognised the same thought patterns in regards to selfies, I threw myself in the deep end.
Rae Vs The Selfie: Overcoming The Discomfort
I know this sounds dramatic, but the thought of transitioning from a selfie-free social media presence to one where I spam my followers with my mug on a daily basis was pretty daunting. I set up a separate account, @raevstheselfie, that would become the home for this experiment -- #blessed hashtags and all.
Let the light-hearted exploration of online narcissism begin!
Day One: I spent a full 5 minutes deciding if I should put on makeup before taking this. I eventually went with a tinted moisturiser and some mascara. I walked around the house trying to find light that made me look less exhausted from New Year's Eve celebrations last night. So here we have it: the basic smiling #selfie. I'll be recreating all different selfie styles over the next year and monitoring both public reactions and my own comfort level. Here's to the first day of #raevstheselfie!
The least threatening of the selfies, the smiling selfie. Friendly, not vain. Although I spent a full five minutes deciding if I should put on makeup before taking this, then walked around the house trying to find good light. This photo gained me 400 followers in one day. The comments were overwhelmingly positive, and on board with my "journey" (oh man, this is so reality TV right now).
#raevstheselfie Day Two: I was comfortable posting a "smiling selfie" yesterday. It seemed friendly, as opposed to vain. I was blown away by gaining 400+ followers in one day! I thought about doing a gym selfie today, but there were too many people there and I felt too conceited taking one in front of everyone. Then I thought about putting lots of makeup on - and that made me feel conceited as well. It's a funny thing that I feel most comfortable being self deprecating. This is me, red blotchy face just out of the shower. No makeup, no filter. Blank canvas. This is the selfie I felt most comfortable uploading today.
It's a funny thing that I feel most comfortable being self-deprecating. This is me, red blotchy face just out of the shower. No makeup, no filter. Blank canvas. This is the selfie I felt most comfortable uploading.
Day 3: I chickened out of taking a gym selfie again today. FAR too many people. So I thought I'd tackle the post-gym selfie AND the bathroom mirror selfie all at once. I've been blogging my thoughts as I go and will be publishing them on raejohnston.com every week. This one didn't feel TOO bad, although maybe if I was showing off a more muscular figure it might make more sense :P
The gym selfie (kinda). I chickened out of taking a gym selfie at the actual gym.
Three selfies in and I was already bored.
Comments rarely strayed from the usual respectful unconditional praise of my genetic structure I somehow found so uncomfortable to accept.
posty._.lord You have lovely eyes
allyjm88 You are beautiful Rae! @raevstheselfie
kevinjamesgee This one turned me on
pixelatedlord You look more refreshed today :3
m_d_g_v Liking oneself's image is a good thing, and that is a bit narcissistic
michaelbmctighe I'm not sure if you own that residence, but if I were you, when I got the money for it I'd have all that tile redone in that bathroom.
Overall everyone was wonderful. These people are strangers, but posting a selfie was allowing them into my world far more than a regular photo could.
Selfies are an interesting medium of communication because there's a barrier being removed between the audience and yourself. There's no photographer, it's just you. It's more personal, it's one on one -- or one on millions, depending on your following.
People online might be lovely, and they might be gross. But let's not forget there are people in the real world too -- and they are watching, judging.
"Tourist" selfies are somehow more "acceptable", as far as public selfies go. Your face with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background? Totally fine. Your face with a comment about how you're seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge today? What's the point, other than fishing for compliments?
Gym selfies are a whole other kettle of fish. I ran from the place when I realised someone saw me take this.
I took this selfie in a crowded seafood restaurant while wearing a bib and rubber gloves.
My level of public shame whilst selfie-taking was diminishing rapidly.
Two weeks is all it took for me to go from "everyone is looking at me and judging me and oh gosh they are going to think I am an awful narcissist" to an overwhelming "meh". Two weeks.
Bathroom mirror #ootd selfies showing off T-shirts, selfies on the bus, selfies in the street, selfies in the car with my friends, the "super close up of my eye" selfie made famous by College Humour's Instagram-themed "Photograph" Nickleback parody.
But the self-deprecation theme was strong. I didn't want to be judged. What if, despite all my assurances in the captions, my followers thought I was "up myself"?
#raevstheselfie Day 22 - I almost duckfaced today. Couldn't quite bring myself to do the whole thing. Despite that, this is still the scariest selfie I've posted so far. Makeup on, not smiling. This is the selfie I judge others for the most. It's the "please tell me how pretty I look" selfie. It seems desperate, shallow. I feel like a complete narcissistic posting it.
The comments were getting gross and judgemental too -- but not towards me. I was enabling this, encouraging it even.
eve_nation This is the selfie I see most posted to me it comes from people who need other people to validate there own self worth and need to always told they pretty because they do not accept the fact they are
Then there was this.
muse_shake I see nothing wrong with people wanting to be told they're pretty...
muse_shake was right. I may have felt uncomfortable with the idea of compliments from strangers on social media about my looks, but why do I even care if other people enjoy that? What business is it of mine? If you want to post a selfie of your head and possibly have people tell you you're looking fine today, power to you. Despite selfies being bandied about as evidence of the downfall of society, in reality they hurt literally no one.
In fact, they do good.
Representation of regular people in the media is pretty dismal, to say the least. To combat this we see advertising campaigns and initiatives from beauty companies that aim to "celebrate all shapes and sizes", while at the same time it's all for a pat on the head, brand perception -- ultimately, profit.
Social media changes that.
When you post a selfie on social media you are changing the landscape of the images on the internet. You are putting real faces out into the world. You are normalising normal. It's empowering, and it's important.
Yes, it's all about you. You don't need anyone's permission to feel good about you. If you are having a good face day, I want to see it, and so do other people. Take that selfie, post it everywhere, share your self confidence and allow others to do the same.
If someone has a problem with you posting selfies on your social media account that's their problem, not yours.
This got deep real quick, and I finally understood. Somewhat awkwardly, I'd achieved my goal in less than a month into my year-long commitment.
Then the direction of this project changed dramatically.
Being (A) Human On The Internet
By this point these selfies had become my daily dairy. The people that were following my account were seeing a glimpse into my life I wasn't revealing publicly anywhere else. I wasn't just gaining comments on how attractive they thought my head was at any given moment, I was gaining friends, support.
If you asked me before I started this project what I honestly felt the worst kind of selfies were, I'd have told you the sympathy-grabbing ones. If something awful has happened in your life, get off the damn internet and hug your loved ones.
Then my dog Obi died.
I've been avoiding taking this #raevstheselfie selfie all day. My Aunty passed away today and I haven't been on social media at all. I needed a day. It feels wrong posting this and talking about it and I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. I know my Aunty wouldn't have cared but it feels disrespectful. Thank you all for your support with this project. It's hardest on days like today and I appreciate you all being so wonderful.
My Aunty Beryl died.
Today I took this photo waiting for my Mum to arrive at my house. Waiting to tell her my Uncle, her only surviving brother, passed away this morning. This is the third time now I've had to post a selfie when someone close to me has died and it's just awful. It feels so narcissistic and attention seeking and selfish and rude. Thank you for all being so respectful and non-judgemental of these moments. I think it would be a lot harder with a less understanding audience.
My Uncle Jimmy died.
#raevstheselfie on the train out bush. My Uncle passed away last night. Taking selfies on these days are hard. They feel self absorbed and attention seeking. You guys have seen me lose 2 of my Uncles (my closest ones, too), my Aunty and my dog during the course of this project. Thanks for your understanding, compassion and lack of judgement at these times.
My Uncle Kirty died.
#raevstheselfie Lost a good friend today. Justin "Acharacter" Costello was such an enormous part of the Australian cosplay community. He was our Uncle Justin. And now he's gone. And I have to take a stupid photo of my stupid face for this stupid project. I always strive to have a positive presence on social media. This project has made that tough. You guys see all of me, not just the happy times. It makes me feel like I'm fishing for sympathy, and that makes me uncomfortable. I'm a very fortunate person - great family, friends, career - and I never want to seem ungrateful for all of that. I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me, there are so many others out there that need that care and attention so much more than I. Maybe the honesty I am forced to show will help others be more open when they are feeling down or to reach out when they need a hug. I'd like a hug right now.
My friend Justin died.
I was that person. I was posting a selfies on the way to funerals. I was posting selfies with tears in my eyes. I deserved everything the comments section could throw at me
What I got was support. Constant, unwavering, genuine, heartfelt support. One comment stood out.
slartibartfaste It's good to share
I shared my son's first day of high school.
I shared cosplay adventures.
I shared my TV segements.
I shared good hair days. (Seriously, my hair was great this day).
The community I'd built on @raevstheselfie simply by posting photos of my face going about my daily business weren't just randoms on the internet any more.
I have met some of these followers in person, mostly at comic conventions. As soon as they say, "I followed your selfie account," I instantly know they are among the people that are now the closest to me in this world, even though they are what most people would consider complete strangers. If this project was a "post a photo a day taken by someone else with a personally revealing caption" project I honestly don't believe it would have had the same effect.
What I Didn't Share
"Oversharing" is often seen as a negative online. "TMI!" people might say to your expressions of love, or photo of the gross thing you found on the bottom of your shoe this morning. When online, the difference between good sharing and oversharing isn't so much the content itself -- but who your audience is. Although they were willing participants, I often felt like I was oversharing to the followers I'd gathered on this account.
It's good to share, right? But in reality I was undersharing something important.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression on this day.
Literally every other moment of my life was documented and shared with the @raevstheselfie community, except for my diagnosis. There were clues -- the black and white filters, the insomnia, the "not getting out of bed today" images -- but I never outright said anything about my depression. Looking back, I know I could have. And probably should have. But I wasn't ready.
"Ugh, I've got the flu. Send soup"
"Oops" (Caption under a picture of a bandaged wrist)
*checks into hospital*
We are used to seeing this kind of medical-related sharing online these days. Once we might have considered this as oversharing, too -- but now it's pretty standard. And that's a good thing.
There have been a bunch of studies showing that people are more likely to share their own health experiences online if it means it will support others with the same condition. The result of this is overwhelmingly positive -- people are gaining knowledge and support networks while the publicly available information can be used to assist healthcare programs.
Mental illness unfortunately still has a stigma surrounding it. Making the decision to share your experiences with it, with the fear that it will impact on people's perception of your ability to function in daily life, is a big leap to take. And it's a leap I'm ready to take now. I might not be re-opening @raevstheselfie, but I'm not going shy away from sharing the lows as well as the highs on social media any more.
Sometimes knowing you're not alone makes all the difference, and the fact that a simple selfie can help with that is a beautiful thing.
I <3 Selfies
This is it - the final #raevstheselfie This project has been an extraordinary experience. I have learnt so much about selfie culture, about myself and even about all of you. I'll be posting how you can read about my research and discoveries in the coming month. Keep an eye on my Facebook page or my Twitter for details. Thank you all so much for your kind words and support during what ended up being a pretty tough year. I'll be over at @raejohnston If you'd like to keep following my adventures - and my next project!
In a year I went from hating selfies and judging those who took them to recognising the selfie as an important tool for self expression, confidence, representation and building a community of people online that understand both you are a real person and treat you like one. It's a way of sharing genuine human experience with other humans in a digital world where the nuances of humanity is often lost.
Long live the selfie.
You can follow my entire journey from selfie hater to selfie advocate at raevstheselfie