Why do we do it? Those crappy, low-res, underlit, washed out, not wearing makeup, staring into the bathroom mirror lit by the florescent lights that show the bags under our eyes, hair not brushed, totally not our best side selfies?
Well, it’s fun, kind of a camera-phone solitaire if you get tired of playing actual solitaire.
It lets us capture ourselves in the spur of the moment. Maybe we should keep some of those spurs to ourselves, but who hasn’t loved getting a selfie from a couple tipsy friends who decided to see if they could balance a goose on their nose last Saturday night?
I have the most amazing black-and-white daguerreotype of my beautiful great cousins. Taken in about 1905, the original photo survived years in my grandmother’s storage locker in North Dakota, more years in a box in my Mom’s house, and finally years in a box of my own before I finally had it digitally restored to counteract where one edge of the picture had been damaged. Since Ina and Iva were identical twins, the digital artist had the perfect palette against which to re-create a corner of the image. Of course, I have no idea who is who; and the pair were famous in the family for switching places when it suited them.
Ina and Iva McMullen (~1905)
We can snap and snap and snap ourselves, but, of course, people had to hold still for a very long time in those old daguerreotypes. Did that really mean the photographer could see deeper into their soul? Not sure, but I think part of my recent, perhaps short-lived, obsession with selfies is to figure out what I really look like. Am I the one in the mirror or the one in a photo someone else took? Do I look more like myself in the morning or at night? Is the face I see the same one everyone else sees?
A book publisher wanted to meet me for the first time on his way through town. We arranged the meeting via e-mail, and he wrote, “I assume you look something like the photos on your website.” I had to laugh, because it was such an offhand comment from a publisher, used to a barrage of airbrushed, Photoshopped, studio photos. Luckily(?), I couldn’t afford airbrushing, Photoshopping, or studio time, so he was able to recognize me right off, but the real credit belongs to the talented photographer I did hire, who used nothing but a camera and natural light to take my headshots. I like those headshots a lot, because I think they do look like me, imperfect in lots of ways, but also interesting in that way that you look at yourself and wonder how a change of expression can actually change your face so much.
To my amusement, I’ve been told over the years that I look like J-Lo, Sally Struthers, singer Thalía, my neighbor Bob, American Idol contestant Kimberley Locke, the cute little girl (Danielle Spencer) on that old show, What’s Happening, and why do we do this to each other? It’s an interesting proclivity we share to associate features between people, sometimes more true than others. I have a friend who very naturally looked so much like actress Meg Ryan in face and figure that she regularly got mobbed in coffee shops during the Harry Met Sally era.
But as for the selfies, one thing is that for me, it’s a way to help me see my characters. They all spring from our heads in one way or another, even if we think they’re based on that amazingly good-looking man we just saw at the local market, who had on linen pants, a tailored tan jacket and tie, and who our dog liked right away. Too bad we were wearing our second-ugliest shirt and had our hair sticking out and lacked the wit in light of his good looks to mention how we actually could clean up fairly well. So that guy will likely find his way into a story at some point, but by then his character will be an amalgamation of so many experiences it would no longer be fair to claim it was him. But a selfie somehow might help to capture that fun embarrassment of choosing not to “get ready” on that particular day we went to the store.
Or is that a load of you know what, and I’m just self self self self, selfie-obsessed and should quit false reliance on the third person pronoun to try to share my Narcissism with anyone else? Ask me next year, if there’s any memory left on my Android phone.
XO Laurel Leigh
P.S. If you’re in these parts, hope to see you at Village Books on Sunday, September 21, at 4 p.m., for the Clover author reading! We can take selfies together after. 🙂