I recently ran across an article which said that women and girls were growing vainer. This selfie culture, in which women could and even were encouraged to post pictures of themselves to general thirst on Instagram, was leading to women who were under the (obviously mistaken!!) impression that they were really good-looking. Despicable.
I’m guilty of feeling ashamed of selfies, myself. I always try to get a “candid” profile picture — in other words, I always want to give the impression that I’ve been captured smiling, laughing, loving life from afar, uncaring or even unknowing that I’m being photographed.
It’s because I don’t want to be perceived as vain.
I’ve been told I’m pretty, but any kind of acknowledgment of that fact through my knowing gaze, smiling directly into the camera, acknowledging that I look great, feels narcissistic. Though I have been objectified and sexualized ever since I grew breasts, it is unthinkable that I should see myself as beautiful — or worse, use that beauty as a type of power.
One of my favorite quotes about art and feminism is by an author called John Berger.
“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.” — John Berger
He puts his finger on the crux of the matter. Women’s beauty, attractiveness, sexuality? It can only ever be for men, for men to watch and enjoy and comment upon. The minute a woman turns her gaze upon herself and realizes she’s pretty, she’s vain.
And when women take selfies, they’re not taking them for men. They don’t need men to validate their beauty, to grant them that status. They’re taking it for themselves, and that pisses men off.
Women are only beautiful when they don’t know they’re beautiful.
Here’s an example: recently, there was a model who was videoed having a friend take multiple photos of herself at a baseball game.
The model posed several times, changing her position to get plenty of options. Her friend kept up the good work of getting those action shots.
Let’s skip over the fact of how hypocritical it is to hate on a woman for getting pics of herself during a game while filming her doing that very act, still during the game. Let’s focus instead on the fact that she’s being called out for posing for pictures in a way that indicates she knows she’s attractive.
First, she’s objectively beautiful. A bit of research revealed that Justine Soranzo is a French model, having worked with Vogue, Givenchy, and Chanel, among other institutions of fashion. Her job is literally to be attractive on a runway.
And the funny thing is, men have no problem eating up that content.
Men love looking at beautiful women. Men will avariciously comment on the Victoria’s Secret Show, and have been demonstrated to treat women worse if they don’t meet society’s standards of beauty. A male friend once told me, believing that he would make me feel better about a boy not liking me back, that he was sure someone out there was jerking off to me.
Paraphrasing Erin McKean, being pretty is the rent women pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’
The problem arises when women acknowledge that they’re beautiful. Let a woman or girl use a selfie filter on Snapchat such as the dog filter, or the flower crown filter, and she’s literally decried a ‘ho’ for the act of feeling like she’s looking nice in a photo.
However, let a woman not pay her pretty-rent, let her dare to come outside not looking her absolute best, let her dare to believe her worth might come from outside her looks — and watch as the men descend.
So here’s the paradox:
I am aware of constantly being an object of the male gaze. I, like many, many, many women, can’t walk down the street without being shouted at for legs, boobs, body, won’t you give me your number. I know from reading comments on any woman’s Instagram that men are there, lurking, ready to let their views be aired on the woman’s face, body type, habits. If she meets their standards, if she’s too ugly to f*ck, if they’d do her in a heartbeat. I know.
And yet, we can never, never show in any way that we’re aware. Selfies are seen as narcissistic. Posing is seen as vain. If we bravely agree with the compliments (or harassment) men deem to pay us, those compliments are quickly withdrawn — we obviously think too highly of ourselves.
In the eternal words of One Direction, a woman can only be beautiful if she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. If she realizes it? The beauty is gone.