Listen to me read this piece here:
“There is no solid self but there is the static selfie; and maybe in taking lots of them one can create some assemblage of a whole.” — Rachel R. White, “A Story in the Shape of a Selfie of the Writer and her Friend, Marie Calloway” (Thought Catalog)
The selfie — the self-portrait, turned cute — remains a strangely hot-button topic. Not in the way that the Middle East is a hot-button topic, or in the way that national health care is a hot-button topic, but in a way that will be likely to get certain folks riled up in a more extravagant manner than either of those other topics, because the selfie is so visibly (isn’t it?) about self-exploitation, or self-aggrandization, or perhaps both. Perhaps, as White argues, it is about autonomy.
“I don’t think it’s the selfies that are threatening us[;] I think it’s ourselves. We are scared and we are bold, beautiful and haggard, each in our own way. We get to choose what we share and what is put out there, and I really want my daughters and myself to know five, fifteen, years from now that it, I, we were beautifully messy and broken and wondrous.” — Amanda Magee, “Do You See Me?” (The Wink)
When I was thirteen, fifteen, seventeen, I took self-portraits — I took hundreds of self-portraits — and so did other young women I knew on the Internet.
I essentially stopped in my late twenties, but I started again in November when I developed psychosis. Upon the onset of Cotard’s delusion (i.e., the delusion that I was dead), I also developed a lack of interest in food, leading to weight loss. I surprised myself by the swiftness of it. This is what diet pill advertisements mean when they exhort that the pounds will just melt away.
My clothes expanded around me. Many days I felt myself to be a literal skeleton, which is disorienting while in psychosis, and more disorienting still when a notion of Self has dissolved, is dissolving, is gone on the worst days.
When I did look in the mirror, a practice that I generally avoided because of the delusion — the neurological disruption that created a disconnect between emotional recognition and faces extended to my own as well — my body had, I noticed, changed dramatically.
And so I began to take pictures of myself. Though I was also beginning to shoot film again, I took selfies with my phone and with my Polaroid SX-70 because those were immediate. Those were a sort of proof that I could show myself. Those were the evidence that I could collect, even if I didn’t quite believe the evidence that the phone or the square of developing film showed.
The selfies demanded that I believe in the woman in the photo. I shot them as an act of aggression.
The photo at the top of this piece is of me in a pink organza dress that I bought from my friend F. It’s one of my favorite dresses of all time. Ballet pink, is what I call the color. During November and December, I rarely left the house except to go to doctors’ appointments, but I dressed up when I could, and I wore that dress.
I put on the dress and I took a picture of myself in it.
“Selfies are no more art than a can of paint falling on a blank piece of paper is a Jackson Pollock… What separates a selfie from a work of art in the form of a selfie is that great art turns around and critiques its own medium… It’s possible that you’re taking selfies in your bathroom to investigate the inherent biases of the selfie format, but not likely.” — Kyle Chayka, “Sorry, but Your Selfies Are Not Art” (Pacific Standard)
Chayka asks that an “artistic selfie” critique its own medium. I studied a minuscule amount of art theory as an undergraduate, but regardless of my educational history, I’m not concerned with whether or not the self-portraits that I took during that time were, or are, Art-with-a-capital-A. I cared, and do care, about what they meant in terms of whether or not I existed.
Apparently, I did.
Some notes: I’m still planning on relaunching the site on March 1, which will be after I return from Taiwan. Yes — I’ll be leaving the country next week, and I won’t be back till mid-February. Another thing that’s been on my mind is that I’m not sure how many people are following esmewang.com on their RSS feeds. If you’re not, and enjoy my writing, I welcome you to come back regularly. And, finally, I want to thank everyone who’s been helping me to build out, and/or are on deck for, the editing services I’ll be launching this year.