I have a love/hate relationships with pictures of myself that started with this school portrait from the 6th grade, circa 1978.
Do you like the gold chain and baby fat? The only thing missing from this late ’70s hot mess of corduroy, plaid and my semi-grown out Dorothy Hamel wedge is Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” that I sang along with as I got dressed that morning.
But what you’re really looking at are the weight of my expectations.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, pictures weren’t part of every day life they way they are now; they were saved for special occasions, vacations and school portraits. You would wait days for your pictures to develop, holding your breath with anticipation that they turned out as beautiful as they were in your mind.
And when they didn’t, it left a mark.
Enter the heft of the school portrait; an annual rite of passage that sets the tone for how kids saw themselves for the rest of the year. Looks weren’t a barrier for the first ten years of my life, but with my body, skin and teeth changing in all the wrong directions, I was worried.
Uncertain about how I would fare in the junior high jungle, my fragile soul had a death grip on hope that this picture would validate me, and reassure me that I was cute enough to land in the upper ranks of the teenage caste system.
What I got back was not a personal best and neither was the year that followed. Even though I’ve had my share of decent portraits since then, I wince when a well intended shutter bug whips out their camera or phone, especially if I’m eating, drinking, dancing or all three simultaneously.
Fast forward to right now and selfies.
I didn’t even know what it was until 2011 when I noticed the interns posting pouty pictures of themselves with an abusive use of flash on Facebook. My first thought was that it was obvious, narcissistic and immature.
But around the same time, I found myself getting spooked by new iPhone when the front camera would accidentally flip around, revealing double chins, jowls and nostrils as if to say “ha, this how you look to small children”. My camera phone was taunting me into a game of photo chicken and I accepted the challenge, game on.
Since then, my dirty little secret is that I now selfie myself.
I’ll do it in the cab, in the elevator, the ladies room (by the sink), my office (door closed) and sometimes, lying in bed or during my son’s soccer practice when I think the other parent’s aren’t looking.
I do it to reality check, reassure and validate myself – but I’m no longer afraid of camera because I’m in control. There are filters, light and angles to play with, and if I don’t like it I hit trash. I get as much bad as I do good, but it’s all OK. In fact, it’s made me more incredibly comfortable with what I look. When I look in the mirror, there are no “moment’s happening”, only a means to an end, be it getting dressed, seeing if my butt looks big or putting on make-up.
Psychology Today tells us that a lot of this fascination with self expression is normal human behavior, especially as we grow and try on new identities. The only difference between the selfies of today and the formal portraitures is that we have the technology. Just imagine what Marie Antointte’s Instagram feed would look like? #cake #headless
But there’s an inherent distinction between what an 18 year old can get away with as they figure themselves out, versus someone over 35, who is in theory supposed to have it all together.
Further, too many of us our influenced by celebrity selfies, which are nothing more than a PR tool. You’re not getting an intimate glance into their lives as much as you’re often getting a carefully crafted moment approved by their PR team to reinforce an image, get a reaction and stay top of mind.
So I rarely share my selfies.
When I see some of my peers doing it, it comes out all wrong. Either too humble brag, too smug, too badly constructed or just wrong. Some suggest you shouldn’t share it all if you’re over 21.
I might agree, but then I saw Nigel Parker’s tips on how to have some selfie dignity, which inspired this list for how to take a grown up selfie.
1. Above all, have fun and capture how you’re feeling. This might be because of the people you’re with, your surroundings or what’s happening.
2. Think about why you’re sharing. If you’re someplace great, capture that in the background. If you want to show off an amazing outfit, state that, but when you’re older make sure there’s context behind it like a special occasion.
3. Think about who you are, who follows you and why. What works for a celebrity won’t work for mere mortals because your followers probably know you in real life.
In my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, I occasionally share a selfie, but usually my son is featured because they want to see him. On my narcissista.me platforms, I peek out for teaching moments like this, but my followers aren’t interested in what I’m wearing or what I look like on a regular basis, so I spare you all.
4. Consider what you want the take away to be as well as your headline and hashtag strategy. This gives context and humanity. For instance, this one is from my personal Facebook/Instagram account followed by people who know me in real life. I like this one because I’m so happy here, even though I’m not picture perfect.
My friends and family knew I had a huge pitch that had me stressed for weeks. #nailedit was appropriate in this context, but if I used it under my blog identity, it wouldn’t have made sense. Your imagination might have gone into overdrive imagining what it was I nailed if you didn’t know me off line.
5. Look directly at the camera lens, not at your image on the phone. You’ll get a nice focus on the eyes, otherwise you’ll look possessed. Better yet, Nigel Barker has a tip for reducing your chin; stretch your chin to the ceiling for 10 seconds and then take the shot. Instant lift!
6. Shoot in natural light, preferably early morning or the Golden Hour. Light behind your head will darken your face (maybe not a bad thing if you want to capture the sunset and just suggest you’re a part of it). Light directly overhead will give you bags, and indoor light is almost always unflattering.
7. Instagram filters are Photoshop for the soul. They create a mood and erase the hands of time. My favorites for selfies are Mayfair, Valencia, X-Pro II, Sierra and Nashville. If you look amazing without anything, be sure to #nofilter.
8. Vary the pretty. Not every shot has to look hot. Add a sense of humor, share some of your down moments (if there’s a reason), and use the platform to paint a faceted picture of who you are.
9. Less is more. Limit the full on selfies you share to once a month.
1. Try too hard to look good. You’ll either come off like a supreme narcissist, or very stiff. We get it, you’re super hot and have a face/body we would kill for, but you’re more than just a hottie, so show us what else you’ve got? Or is that all there is?
2. Making a duck face, giving the peace, love or heart sign with your hands. See below as a teaching moment gratis of me and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
3. The humble brag. This looks like Rhianna (look at my boots, no really, my boots) or my friend who shoots her semi-bikini self and makes sure to headline things like “Back again, feels like home” #fourseasons or #Theoneandonlypamilla.
4. The pretty/ugly selfie. I kind of like this, it’s fun to not take our looks so seriously, BUT…I hate it when some one supremely beautiful does it purely as humble brag acid test to just how damn good looking they are. We can see right thru it.
The next frontier of selfies is happening right now on Vine, but I think I’ll pass, how about you?
- Taking The Perfect Selfie On Your iPhone: Nigel Barker Offer’s 8 Photography Tips (ABC)
- Vine Selfies Are Even Worse Than You Would Expect (Huffington Post)
- Ugly Is The New Pretty: How Unattractive Selfies Took Over The Internet (NY Mag)
- 5 Rules For Taking Selfies On Instagram (The Week)
- #Me: Instagram Narcissism And The Scourge Of the Selfie (ReadWrite)
- Celebrity Selfies (Huffington Post)