It started at breakfast the morning after Christmas.
We were on vacation, visiting my Grandma on Kauai, I took another picture of my husband. “Why do you take so many pictures of me?” He asked, “Why not a picture of you?”
“Because I like taking pictures of you,” I told him. After a pause I added, “I like you better than I like myself.” I admitted to myself and my husband that I did not really like pictures of myself. I’d gained a lot of weight recently and that coupled with garden variety life-long low self-image I’d rather not be in any pictures. “Well that needs to change. Maybe that’s your New Year’s resolution,” my husband suggested, “a selfie a day for a year to help you like yourself and see yourself as others see you.”
I didn’t wait until New Year’s to start. That afternoon, we visited Opaeka’a Falls. I snapped my first selfie or the series. It felt playful and slightly indulgent, but vacation is a time for taking pictures.
I felt a little silly taking the pictures some days but not every day. Being in a beautiful location 4,000 miles from home helped me to launch the project. The island provided gorgeous backdrops. And with only my husband and my grandmother interacting with me both online and in person, I was free from any teasing or criticism that may have happened if I had started the project at home. By the time our vacation was done, I had collected a pretty good collection of selfies.
We visited a coffee plantation
Explored the coast.
By the time we returned to Minnesota, I had developed language around the selfie project, “it’s an exercise in courage and self-acceptance.”
Selfies are an easy target to make fun of. It didn’t take long for friends, family and members of the congregation that I serve to make Kim Kardashian jokes. These were mostly playful teasing. My sister hated that I named every selfie, “It’s so awkward! Why did you call it ‘selfie with wind, lighthouse and binoculars?’ Just write, ‘lighthouse’ and be done!’
This hurt. Like a lot of people, the comments made by my family carry more emotional weight than those made by friends or acquaintances. I briefly considered either stopping the selfie project all together, or at least stop naming the selfies. But this was the whole point. To develop courage and self-acceptance. Both for my physical self, but also for the silly playful creative self who would give something as seemingly trivial as an Instagram shot a name in the style of classical artists. I kept going.
Then in early January, The Ohio State University published a study that found that men who post a lot of selfies show higher rates of narcissism and psychopathy than other men. By the time the story reached the pop culture zeitgeist it had been translated to roughly,
If you post selfies you’re a psychopath.
After I read this article – [coupled with the Kim Kardashian jokes] I felt some shame. One of my best friends posted a link about the article on my facebook page. I wondered, “Is this a hint? Does she think that I’m a psychopath?” I considered stopping the project, I do not want to be a psychopath or perceived as one. Rather than stopping the project though, I decided to ask her why she posted the link.
“No, I posted it because it was funny. You are the least psychopathic person that I know, and the person who takes the most selfies.” I felt relief.
I decided then that I was committed to this project. This is not always my personality. I usually start projects, especially creative endeavors and drop them after a few weeks.
I pressed on, convinced that this project is about seeing myself, accepting myself and being courageous enough to share that self with the world. But I did learn four lessons along the way.
Lesson #1 – People are quick to tease me for posting so many Selfies, but every time I explain why I’m doing it, I earn their support and encouragement.
And then something changed. Suddenly people started asking to be in the picture with me. I took selfies with my colleagues.
And my family.
One woman from church initially started the conversation about my selfie project by making a Kim Kardashian joke. When I explained the purpose for the project her face went from jokey to serious. She is the mother of a teenage and pre-teen daughters. “I’m so glad that you are in my daughters’ lives and that you are doing this project. There are so many pressures for girls and women to not accept themselves and to shrink back. Thank you for doing this.”
Lesson #2: People are rooting for me.
But the project started to become bigger than me. I was accepting myself and it was infectious.
I took selfies with my spiritual formation group
People who know the purpose of my selfie project express their appreciation for the project. One friend sent me a message that said, “Three things I love: your selfies, your glasses, and most of all your spirit.” This friend has started posting her own selfies. Not every day, but several times a week. I smile each time I see her pictures of social media.
The most popular selfies are the ones I post with my husband in the shot. Those consistently get the most likes. I interpret it to mean that people support our marriage and hope good things for us. As a multi-racial couple, both working in ministry, balancing careers, school, volunteer work, friends and family it’s nice to be reminded of the community that supports us and cheers for our marriage to last.
Lesson 3: Taking Selfies teaches me my story
Taking a picture of myself each day not only has helped develop my own self-acceptance, but has also helped me to be more mindful of each day. I am aware of the story that I want to tell about my day and pick out the more interesting way to tell that story visually.
I think about the places I will be going, the people I will be interacting with and the things that are on my mind. Most of the people in my circles know about the selfie project and support it. I still feel some embarrassment when a stranger or a casual acquaintance catches me taking selfies. I recently spent a week chaperoning the kids from my church at camp. When the camp maintenance staff caught me on the deck of the dining hall snapping a selfie I blushed. But I reminded myself that I could either, explain the project to them, or decide that it doesn’t matter what two men in northern Minnesota think of me.
I still have days when I don’t like how I look, but I no longer feel like I have to wait until I lose weight, or look better to do the things that matter to me.
I make art, I work in ministry, I spend time with my family, I study, I go out with friends, I travel.
I’m not waiting for life to happen, I’m living. Taking a selfie every day has cultivated gratitude. Being able to look at 6 months of daily pictures reminds me of all the people who have been in my life this year.
I can see the beautiful scenery and events that I’ve been able to take part in. I can see the regular rhythms of work, rest and play in my life.
And suddenly I’m not thinking about myself and the weight.
Which leads me to my final lesson…
Lesson #4: My selfie project isn’t about me anymore.