“Feminist” Policing of Empowerment

Dear Jezebel,

I read your article by Erin Gloria Ryan entitled “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” Thanks for telling me that all the pictures I post of myself are completely self-indulgent and narcissistic. I’m just going to sell my iphone right now and shut down all of my social networks because it’s obviously all a cry for help. I’ll go back to not celebrating myself, wallowing in my own imperfections and hiding from anything that might seem even the slightest bit self-indulgent, because you know – women (or people in general) shouldn’t be celebrating who they are every minute of every day because someone is annoyed with the internet and how people have evolved to express themselves.

It’s a digital age, we don’t communicate face to face nearly as much as we used to. We barely use our phones to actually speak to one another anymore. It’s all texts, tweets, facebook updates and blog posts. A lot of inflection gets lost in the cyber-ether, so humans being the ridiculously adaptable creatures we are, have found new ways to allow people to get to know us. One of which being the “selfie.”

I was thrilled when my husband bought me a phone with a front facing camera for our anniversary. (I know, OH MY GAWD YOUR HUSBAND BUYS YOU THINGS! YOU’RE NOT A FEMINIST!) The first thing I did was take a selfie with my dog and post it on the internet. You know why? Because my hair looked great, my dog is ADORABLE, and my husband bought me an awesome gift and I wanted to share my feeling awesome with the people that weren’t there. I wanted to share my happy facial expression of feeling awesome!

Since then, I’ve taken quite a few selfies, most with my phone, but one or two with my laptop. All of them have a purpose of expression, but I’m going to share a few here and explain why they empowered me.

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This was the first time I really embraced my curves. It was right around the time the show Mad Men was gaining popularity and everyone was swooning over Christina Hendricks and all of her voluptuous, red headed glory. I’m not Christina Hendricks, but damn if seeing people appreciate her figure didn’t make me feel amazing when I tried on this dress. I had always been made to feel as if my hips and thighs and butt were too big, my legs too short, and my boobs too small. This is me feeling great about how I look for one of the first times in my life.

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This was last year at Thanksgiving. I was hosting the whole family at my house, including my mom, my grandmother, and my stepmother (I really hate that word, can we come up with a new one?). I know the women in my family can be a little — what’s the word — control freak-ish? So I came up with the idea of wearing the tiara I wore for my wedding and took this photo to publicly proclaim myself Queen of the Kitchen. It was very tongue-in-cheek and everyone thought it was pretty funny. I made a fantastic meal, and everyone had a great time.

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This is me wearing the same green dress pictured above. I was on my way to my dad’s birthday celebration and I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror and thought, “Damn, I look good!” As someone who grew up in a town full of spring break parties filled with skinny, blond beach girls, my curly red hair, pale skin and chubby cheeks weren’t exactly considered the epitome of beauty. I wanted to share a moment, where as a woman who had always been told she was kind of weird looking, felt like a knock out. I’m pretty sure I even posted this with the caption, “I feel pretty.” Narcissistic? Maybe. But when people I didn’t even know told me I looked great, it was affirming. Affirmation is important when we are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images of “beauty”.

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This was a tough one. This was a real coming to terms with my body. I hadn’t been swimsuit shopping in probably 10 years. You know why? Because I felt uncomfortable with my figure. Again, my hips and thighs feel too fat, my chest feels too small, I’m so pale that you can see every bruise, bump and dimple in my skin and since I don’t tan, it’s something I don’t get to hide underneath a nice bronze hue. I posted these because I was at a point in my life where I was finally feeling confident in my clothes, but the moment I took them off, I could see every thing that all of the beautiful women in the media don’t have. This is me very publicly, and very vulnerably, coming to terms with the fact that I have cellulite (GASP!), I have a doughy little paunch in my belly, I have a little bit of a muffin top, and my thighs touch all the way to my knees.

You know what happened? Women came out of the woodwork to tell me I was brave and beautiful and they wish they had the courage to post stuff like this. I told them they did and they could. Some did, some didn’t, but the seed was planted. If one woman can become comfortable in her skin, so many more will realize we all have different shapes and sizes and it’s perfectly wonderful to embrace that.

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Last, but certainly not least, is the photo I took about two weeks ago. I was trying on dresses for a formal occasion and this is the one I chose. I had always felt awful in mermaid style dresses. I love the way they look. I adore how they accentuate beautiful curves on women like Sophia Vergara, Christina Hendricks, Marilyn Monroe and so many others. I tried one on when I was wedding dress shopping and I almost cried because of how ugly I felt. I don’t think I even came out of the dressing room when I put it on. Somewhere along the lines, I became confident in my body, Sure there are still some places I’m self-conscious. I admittedly spent $70 at Victoria’s Secret on form-fitting under garments to smooth all my bumps, but I’m okay with that. I feel like a million-bajillion dollars in this dress. I feel like I want to walk the red carpet and like I’d make Brad Pitt look twice.

As the girl who was really only ever told she was pretty by her parents, whose best friend in the whole world thought she was the ugliest thing on the planet the day we met (we joke about that now, since we’ve both grown in to being absolutely beautiful women, inside and out), I celebrate the selfie. I celebrate it because it’s an expression of me feeling good about ME. In my opinion, that’s something we need more of. We need more people feeling confident in all their flaws and facial expressions and goofiness. The internet and social media gives us a way to do that, while also offering a buffer between our most vulnerable selves and those that would criticize us and tear us apart for our flaws because we embrace them.

My mom taught me something that I’ve sometimes forgotten over the years. Those that want to tear us down for what we look like or what we do that doesn’t harm others, are those that are insecure about themselves and are projecting those insecurities on to you in hopes of bringing you down to their level.

She also taught me “I’m rubber and you’re glue, anything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

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4 thoughts on ““Feminist” Policing of Empowerment

  1. This is very powerfully written and I completely agree. Jezebel does not and will never speak for the feminist movement – the site itself is a sad, corporatized version of women’s rights. I stopped reading the site earlier this year because I could not allow them to benefit from my page views anymore in light of their overt exploitation of rape victims (even if it’s just a couple of cents for each click, I just can’t allow them to benefit from my attention).

    To your point, I think our culture’s recent obsession with feminine “narcissism” is just another way of policing women and their bodies. Anyone who thinks that posting selfies isn’t brave has clearly never experienced the intense body shame so many of us go through as we get older. When I was in junior high, my parents had a sit down discussion with me because they thought that I was becoming too overweight, and they were worried that if I didn’t change my dietary habits that kids at school would start making fun of me. For context, at the time, I had just had a growth spurt and I was about 5’6″ and a size 13 in the juniors’ department. Not a single person at school (or anyone outside my family, for that matter) had said a word to me about my weight.

    I struggled with off and on anorexia throughout most of my teenage years. I carved my hatred for my body into my skin and polluted it with drugs and cigarette smoke. I dated violent guys. The idea of loving and respecting my body seemed outside the realm of reality.

    In my early 20s, I started to come around to the idea that people thought I was attractive – not because I had learned to love myself, but because of attention that I was getting from men. When I became pregnant at 22, I treated my body with respect for the sake of the child growing inside me. Obviously, I gained weight. Post-partum, I started a new medication that made me gain more – a lot more – and for the first time in my life, I found myself shopping in the plus-size department at stores. I had never wished more strongly that I could just be invisible.

    It is a few years later now and I am still ashamed of my body. I have made slight progress, sometimes snapping a webcam shot and posting it if I’ve dramatically changed my hair. Every time I do it, my heart catches in my throat and I am overwhelmed with anxiety. Posting a selfie makes a bold assertion: that you deserve to be seen. As confident as I am in fighting for my right to be heard, I am not ready to deal with being seen. I don’t know if I ever will be. If I do get there someday, it will be one of my life’s greatest accomplishments.

    Please keep posting your pictures and being brave. Anyone who criticizes you for it is blithely unaware of how many of us can’t.

    Like

    • Cam says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I hope one day you have all the courage in the world to show flaunt a fantastic selfie! What’s important is our voice and that it’s heard!! *hugs*

      Like

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