Everybody nowadays seems to have their own opinion regarding selfies; from being a narcissistic damaging action to women’s empowerment, to a harmless trend and part of the cyber antics that have come to represent our generation in popular culture.
Selfies have also infiltrated ‘high’ culture, with the news that Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies, “Selfish”, is being published by the prestigious art bookseller, Rizzoli. Its been said that Rizzoli are publishing the already infamous book because of its portrayal of what they like to call the ‘sex icon’ of our times, seen through the eyes of social media. Kim is seen as the new Marilyn Monroe, and in turn represents our desire of attainting and communicating what we believe is beautiful now.
I personally do not agree with generalising such a broad statement about our culture and its definition of beauty, but I suspect many scholars will try to cash in on Kim’s search for cultural importance through pictures of herself. Because of this and many other factors, selfies are now being scrutinised on basis of cultural importance, how they define women and the future.
Upon further research for the true cultural importance of the selfie- and what it means to girls all over the world- I could not help but make a connection between the person posing for the selfie, and the invisible audience that is inherently part of the pose-n-pout-n-snap process. Whilst scrolling through hundreds and thousands of Tumblr-ready selfies of red-lipped fashionistas branded with designer logos, photobooth punk princesses, unabashed, greasy haired, cigarette smoking, no-fucks given female artists, amateur porn entrepreneurs on their days off, normcore girls in minimalist, sardonic settings, high schoolers adopting a Mileyesque aesthetic, and many more, I realised that apart from the act of snapping a selfie itself, the only common thread connecting these extremely different women were the poses held in their self-portraits.
Now, thinking of the history of women posing or modelling, there is an origin which puts into question women’s ideas of themselves and their definition of beauty today. Before feminist art, before the rise of girl culture, before wanting empowerment and before selfies, male artists were capturing images of women on their terms, based on a male idea of what it meant to be a beautiful and attractive woman. Matisse, for example, an artist who had an obsession with his female models, would instruct them on how to pose for him. How to place those sensuous curvatures of the hips, what angles favoured the dimensions of the breasts, and so on. Like him, you also have Picasso’s use of Parisian prostitutes, Gauguin’s nudes of young Polynesian girls and Renoir’s impressions of 18th century women of the home laying down while brushing their hair nude and bored. Nevertheless, the most influential female pose in art is the ever controversial odalisque. First represented in 1814 by a French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in “Grande Odalisque,” (which depicts a slave from a harem nude with her back turned as she stares back towards the audience), and the reclining nude addressed by the Impressionist artist Manet in “Olympia,” in 1863 (in the 70s, this pose was readdressed by feminist artists during the Second Feminist Movement, during the efforts to shatter the tradition of male-created images of women).
Interestingly, in today’s social media culture you find the same poses once created by men for men being used by women in selfies. But who for?
Are we modelling for ourselves? Our own idea of what is beautiful now? Then why do we go back to typical poses of women depicted by men, and by doing so possibly reasserting the always haunting idea that the objectified image of women has not really died at all? Or, is this the way we take that image back by readdressing it in our own way? And does this reclamation make it ok to repeat the poses for our peers at a time when feminism is expanding and reaching younger generations?
Obviously, the fashion world and media have popularised such poses repeatedly, but selfies may also show that women envision themselves in the same way males did way before TV and the Internet, or do they instead show a desire to want to fit in with the male status-quo of what is sexy? Artist Gracie Hagen last year created, ‘Illusions of the Body’, a photo-series paralleling a person’s ability to pose in a flattering, ‘sexy’ manner, and then shift to show what our culture considers unattractive poses in all their slouching awkwardness. On her website she says, “This series was made to tackle the supposed norms of what we think our bodies are supposed to look like.”
The internet is full of sensuous self-portraits of women laying on their beds like odalisques baring their bums to the world, reclining nudes portraying proudness of their bodies, and even something simpler like the popular finger in lips pose, or framing your face with your arm. It seems that women are conditioned to believe certain poses will give them a certain level of attractiveness. But, the question still stands. Who is the audience of the female selfie?
Women following a male created formula of how to look and feel attractive for themselves is not necessarily a negative thing, and many of these women are re-appropriating the poses to give them a new sense of purpose. It is women’s way of telling the world, ‘these poses no longer belong to men, but belong to us.’ Or perhaps the selfie is so detached from intimate personal relationships that it becomes a pure act of self indulgence; you are the only audience, and your opinion is the only one that matters. In a sense that can be very empowering for women, the fact that we are creating images to please no-one but ourselves. Whether we’re striking a pose for selfish reasons or to reclaim patriarchal poses, the cultural importance of the selfie lies in female centric ideas.
Words by Adriana Padilla