For International Women’s Day I started off my train of thought with photography and in particular, selfies. Opinions range from viewing them as self-absorbed to empowering. My personal opinion ranges up and down that spectrum depending on the day. Like most things there isn’t one perspective that’s the whole truth. Every tool can be used to build us up or tear us down.
Personally, I really struggle with having photos taken of me whether it’s someone else pointing a camera at me during a photoshoot or me pointing my phone at my face. Honestly, some of the best pictures of me generally happen when I’m not paying attention to the camera or thinking about having my picture taken. It’s like my face decides to become a mask when someone points a camera in my direction. Perhaps it’s a carryover from organized family photos where everyone is saying “cheese!” and the photo truly does look cheesy. Perhaps it’s in my DNA from when my Grandma Nicks had the experience of a camera actually breaking when she was in the middle of being photographed and honestly believed it was because of her face (and she was a beautiful, classy woman)!
In university a friend of mine took a series of photos challenging stereotypical masculine and feminine imagery. He posed me sitting on a couch in front of a TV wearing a white tank top and holding a beer. He posed my friend Marc in a bathtub full of bubbles, wearing a shower cap and shaving one of his legs (an avid bicyclist, he didn’t want the tiniest hair to get in the way of his speed). When I finally saw the photo on display in an art gallery I hardly recognized myself. My date had no idea it was me until I pointed it out. Typically stereotypically “feminine” in my appearance, it was fascinating to see myself portrayed in a stereotypically “masculine” way.
Today I tried my hand at a selfie which actually means far too many selfies until I found one I feel captures my face in the best possible way at least for today. I made a lot of faces to get there. One thing another photographer friend of mine taught me is to make faces to trick my face into relaxing and hopefully looking more natural when a photo is taken. It’s a torturous, hilarious process!
In a similar vein, my sister will take hours with her friends to get the perfect picture. It’s absolutely painful in my opinion. But the result is fantastic! You know if Sabrina is in charge of photos, she won’t stop until she gets the best shot. So today I channeled my sister and kept taking selfies until I found one I could live with. I would rather be taking a picture of someone else. Even then I still have a ton to learn because it’s an incredible challenge to capture a photo of someone that does them justice or captures the true spirit of the moment that’s shining out of their eyes.
A photo or selfie can create an illusion. It can make you believe someone is beautiful who is cruel and unkind. It can make you believe someone is ugly who is actually luminous and compassionate. Don’t believe everything you see. The character we develop is far more important than how we look to ourselves or others. In fact our beliefs and ideas about ourselves may be based on something that’s not true. Case in point: my grandmother believing she was ugly because a camera broke when she was sitting in front of it. Case in point: the slow-to-die idea that how women look is more important than who we are and what we contribute to a harmonious planet.
I think selfies can be empowering and fun. I also think if I focus my attention purely on how I look physically and try to get you to see me a certain way rather than letting you discover me for who I truly am, I neglect the most powerful internal work of building character. This is accomplished by applying the qualities of compassion, discernment, kindness, honesty and love in every experience. This has been said before in so many words but it’s worth repeating again. How we dress, do our hair and do our makeup can be a fun expression. It’s important to take care of ourselves physically and present ourselves the best way we can. But appearance never replaces character. Share your selfies and express yourself with your latest hair colour, gorgeous dress and weight loss and remember to cultivate the qualities of character that will shine through your eyes as well.