The Self-Portrait Blues
By R. C.
Miss G. asked me to write about why so many girls do that thing of taking tons of photos of ourselves. We remember having an interesting conversation about this subject years ago (I have a ton of photos I’ve taken of myself since I was little). I don’t recall coming to a conclusion about why so many of us are inclined to take so many self-portraits; if I did draw a conclusion, years ago, I can’t imagine what it was, because today the question stumps me. All I can do is come up with a list of observations about this phenomenon.
1. When I was a teenager, I took a picture of myself whenever I was in the middle of crying.
2. The girls I know who do a lot of self portraits are, across the board, a) beautiful, and b) insecure.
3. My instable and emotionally immature mother used to have really bad fits of anger. She’d either cut herself during these fits, or give herself a really fucked up haircut. In the midst of these tantrums, or maybe during the calm after the storm, she often (always?) took a photo of herself. She takes her photos on disposable cameras and always orders doubles. In many of the letters I’ve received from her throughout the years, she’s included one of these disturbing self-portraits.
4. Sometimes, girls’ self portraits feel like an empowering art project, an homage to Cindy Sherman. When I was a teenager I took 2 series’ of photos using the self-timer on my 35 millimeter camera, and I was really proud of both of these series, I felt like a real visual artist. Both series’ of photos required dressing up and creating a set that contributed to a narrative: one was of me kneeling to pray and then packing to run away, with the TV on in the background. The other series I took, in the really neat garage at one of the houses Miss G. and I lived in, was of me dressed up and dancing with a broom.
5. I’ve known many girls who take pictures of their injuries after cutting themselves. Sometimes I think they end up showing them to people at the time of their crisis, which makes these photos seem like a cry for help. But all the self-mutilation photos I’ve seen or taken were kept to the photographer for years, shown much later after the fact/phase of cutting.
So I don’t know what conclusion to draw from these observations. I think the most significant clue here is that, like I said, all the girls I’ve know who’ve taken lots of photos of themselves have been beautiful and insecure: I’m thinking of a lot of specific girls when I say this, like at lease twenty female friends are coming to mind off the top of my head. To take the pessimistic route, which is the only one I can figure here, maybe it’s because we feel we’ve survived this long, as wild as we are, by “depending on the kindness of strangers,” and we’re afraid of what’ll happen to us when we lose our looks, so we want lots of documentation of the salad days.
Please tell me I’m wrong.