‘The One Who Gives Birth to Herself’: Rachel Syme on Empowerment and Agency Through Posting Selfies

It’s difficult to select just one perfect quote as a representative sample of Rachel Syme’s excellent ode to the selfie, at Matter. She comes at the subject from so many smart angles that there are too many to choose from. A prolific self-portrait poster herself, Syme defends this hugely popular phenomenon–so frequently derided as narcissistic and shallow, especially in reference to women–as a respectable act of self-expression and self-determination:

We are living in times of peak-selfie, and therefore, peak selfie-hatred. When a phenomenon leaks so completely and quickly into the cultural water supply, people are bound to get freaked out…

Those who see selfies as signs of the end times are focusing on the outliers; the bad actors. The people who accidentally fall into a waterfall and die in the pursuit of the perfect shot. The kids who get addicted to the digital feedback loop and start relying on hearts to get up in the morning. The moms and dads who take selfies when they should be watching their babies; the seething loners who use their selfies as a way to spread hate (if this hate spills over into violence, then selfies will surely get the blame). But these types of delinquents have always existed: the teenagers who don’t pay attention in class, ​the bros ​who snooze through cultural events,​ the trolls who care about snark over compassion. ​There are always going to be tourists who shove themselves obnoxiously to the front of the line, people who put their needs over the needs of others, people who gawk at fires and funerals: these are not unique social problems created by the selfie or its accoutrement.

​What the critics don’t focus on is how to decode the language of selfies when they are being used correctly: what the people in them are trying to do with their portraiture, what big message each individual’s self-representational practice all adds up to in the end.

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