Last May my daughter sent me a beautiful scarf for Mother’s Day. I texted her the next morning and told her I was going to be wearing the scarf to work. She replied, “That’s great! Take a selfie and send it so I can see it.”
I’m being honest when I say that I’d never considered taking a picture of myself before this moment. Sure, when I was a teenager, I spent my fair share of time staring at my own pouting face in the mirror. But I’d never taken a selfie.
About halfway through this process, I discovered that button that turns the camera toward your face. Although that made it easier, I was appalled at how these pictures turned out. I was in a hurry to go to work, though, so I sent her the least offensive one, and spent the day trying to shake the willies off every time I thought about taking a selfie.
Okay, I’ve never been enamored of my own picture. I can sing or speak in front of a thousand people, but when the camera comes out, I’m a thirteen year old with a bad case of acne and a terrible haircut. My shoulders are crooked, my face looks like a squirrel who’s gathering nuts for the winter, and one eye squints more than the other one when I smile. Och, I don’t think I’m terribly ugly, but I can’t hide my quirks in the eye of the camera. So naturally, I’m also selfie-conscious. As far as taking a picture of myself, I am happy to tick that experience off my list and never attend the Kim Kardashian School of Butt Crack Self Photography.
But there’s got to be a deeper message here, right? After all, I’m an adult, so I need to walk away from this essay with something more meaningful to say than I’ll never take another selfie.
You know, if my daughter had asked for a picture even two years ago, my husband would have taken it. He and I would have collaborated on the picture, and he would have told me ways to stand or how to put my face to the light. It would have then been a shared experience. And that’s what really bugs me about selfies. A selfie has no second eye. A selfie is insular.
My husband was recently in the airport in Paris. He watched as a family of four attached a long arm to their camera so they could take better group selfies. While I think using our cameras for the purpose of taking family or friend photos is pretty benign, isn’t it also a little bit sad? The last time I visited Paris with my husband, we asked a stranger to take a photo of us on the steps of the Sacre Coeur. Part of the expression on my face was related to the joy I shared with the stranger taking our photo. That photo says to me, “Here we all are, on this planet together, sharing this beautiful day in this beautiful place.” Have we lost that? Are we too afraid to let people into our lives for long enough to release the private experience for a more planetary one?
So I have a plan. Tomorrow I’m leading a workshop at a middle school. I’m going to walk up to the first child I see, hand them my phone, and ask them to take my picture. I’ll thank them, look them straight in the eye, and introduce myself. It will be a micro-connection with another human being, the kind of interaction we used to take for granted. It’s a micro risk that our children are no longer taking, and I’m afraid of what the consequences will be if we grown-ups let our kids silently slide into the false sense of community that the selfie phenomenon perpetuates. It’s a start.