“Show business kids, making movies of themselves,” sneered Steely Dan, suggesting that said kids were indifferent to all other considerations. Pertinent observation, or just typical cross-class, and possibly cross-generational, abuse?
When I was a substitute teacher, during a poetry lesson, I read aloud “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou and asked the classes what they thought. Five classes of kids, and four of them would only talk about how cocky and full of herself the author was. They talked about her with disdain, sometimes outright shock. How dare she?
However, one class loved the poem. The kids in that class loved how she owned every wonderful aspect of herself, in spite of what society deems appropriate. They called her a “badass”, and asked me to read the poem again.
Incidentally, this class was also the so-called “remedial” class. It was full of kids who lived outside the box, who spent the majority of their time bombarded by low expectations. Those kids understood exactly what Maya Angelou was talking about.
We live in a world that actively PUNISHES confidence. We’re not allowed to think we’re attractive. We’re not allowed to agree with compliments. I have spent so much of my life minimizing my intelligence, my looks, and my accomplishments; because I was socialized to believe that owning your beauty, your intelligence, your hard won success, equals being “cocky” or “full of yourself”.
Now I’m not the one to argue against humility; I have much to be humble about. But if all you ever do is hide your light under a bushel, eventually something’s going to catch fire, and not in a good way either.
So I don’t sneer at selfies qua selfies; after all, they’re not being done to get attention from the likes of me. And besides:
I see people posting selfies all the time, and I never think they are being shallow or are too full of themselves. I think “That must be nice. To feel so good about yourself in that moment that you freeze it for all eternity and post it for the whole world to see.”
I’m sick and goddamned tired of living in a world where we are forced to minimize ourselves for the comfort of others. Where we have to actively neg ourselves so no one will feel threatened by our worth.
Incidentally, “Phenomenal Woman” dates back to 1978, but its descendants are everywhere. The opening lines:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
Not so different, really, from these:
Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it, shake it like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
All the right junk in all the right places
The true narcissist is not just a person who takes a selfie; it’s the person who takes a selfie because it matters to him and therefore it should matter to you.