the sacred selfie and claiming space

I want to see your face.

I want to look into your eyes.

I want to know the shape of you, the depth.

I want to see you in your life.

Your hands.

Your feet.

Your presence.

I want to see you with the people you love and alone in your garden and traveling through your day.

Both as a creator and an observer, I love self-portraiture.

It was self-portraiture that hooked me as an art student all those years ago, and I find just as rich and evocative now as I ever did.

I have always been drawn to self-expression that others find self-indulgent.

From confessional poetry to gritty Polaroids of the seventies underground, my eye seeks out the personal story, the hidden made visible.

I want to see you and I want you to see me.

I want to know you through your stories, your moments, and I want you to know me through my stories and moments, and this field of the face – the canvas of the human body – the temple – this vessel in which our souls temporarily reside – it is the perfect story-telling vehicle.

You can hold your camera an arm’s length out in front of yourself and take a picture that communicates to me something otherwise unspoken about your experience as a human and therefore, mine.

Honest humility is a good and holy thing to be humble.

But for women, humility often carries a high price tag.

When humility doesn’t come from within – from her own desire to adhere to religious practice or belief – but is demanded from an outside governing body – when a woman is told by others how she should act, what she should look like, how she should feel, when she should feel good about herself and when she should not – her humbleness is no longer holy.

It is a prison.

We live in a world where middle school girls are told they can’t wear sleeveless shirts to school because it might be distracting to boys.

So I’m not sure why I’m still surprised by the hostility that is sometimes directed toward women’s self-portraiture.

But I am surprised.

I’m surprised how often I see posts on Facebook admonishing selfies, shaming women for taking them, for posting them – shaming women for changing their profile picture too often.

Posting too many photographs of yourself (too many being a nebulous undetermined number known only by others), posing the wrong way, using too fuzzy a filter – will get you called vain faster than you can push delete.

You probably already know the levels of your vanity – how much pride you take in your accomplishments and appearance, or how much fear you carry about not living up to one standard or another. You don’t need someone else to assess this for you.

Calling girls and women vain for posting selfies is just one more way of controlling women’s voices.

We want you to express yourself, but not like that.

We want you to feel beautiful but we don’t want you to show us that you feel beautiful.

Your comfort level with your appearance? It makes us uncomfortable.

When people are uncomfortable with your self-portraits, it’s because they’re uncomfortable with themselves.

A woman is criticized when she posts a selfie- because she is the one in front of and behind the camera. She is making the decision. She is claiming herself, her sexuality, and dominant culture hates that.

Dominant culture uses women’s sexuality to define us – to sell products, to entice and seduce, to categorize and control.

Dominate culture can’t abide a woman owning her own sexuality…because that ruins the whole structure of society.

A woman is criticized when she posts a selfie that reveals her uneven skin tone or the fat under her chin.

How dare she be accepting of the parts of herself society has decided are ugly?

A woman is criticized when she posts a selfie that has been retouched, photoshopped, or filtered to make her skin appear smoother than it is in real life.

How dare she try to trick us into thinking she’s more beautiful than she actually is?

A woman is criticized when she posts a selfie with too much skin showing, not enough skin showing, wearing something too youthful for her age, wearing something too matronly for her age…

What are you trying to prove? The critics want to know.

It’s just a rehashed version of the old refrain, She was asking for it.

Deeply wound into our cells, embedded in our ancestral memory, the old story flows through a woman’s blood – Don’t draw attention to yourself, don’t put yourself on display, don’t show off, don’t speak unless you’re spoken to…

Women are indoctrinated to the unyielding hypocritical blade of beauty culture from the moment we are born and yet we are condemned when we dare to consider our own beauty.

The next time someone calls your selfie narcissistic, please direct them to the definition of narcissism.

Better yet, take another self-portrait.

To be humble is a good and holy thing, but in a misogynistic culture, a woman’s self-portrait is a political act.

It’s commentary.

It’s defiance.

In a world where it is a dangerous thing to be born female, a little self-love and reflection can be powerful medicine.

Women, I urge you, create self-portraits.

Claim your right to be visible, to be seen.

Turn a kind and unflinching eye toward yourself.

You are not an object created for others’ consumption.

You are not a decoration.

You are not here to make other people feel comfortable in their prejudices.

Allow yourself to see yourself – as you are.

As you wish to be.

You are here to live. To be. To love.

You don’t belong to culture; you belong to yourself and God.

When you create and share self-portraiture, you are not only allowing others to see you, you are peering into yourself, your story, your existence.

Do you run the risk of revealing that which you do not wish to reveal?

Do you run the risk of exposing your vulnerabilities, your weaknesses, your…vanity?

Of course, you do.

All life is a risk.

All expression is dangerous.

But you are also opening to the possibility of seeing yourself the way God sees you.

You are taking up space in the world, the way you were meant to do.

Let your selfie practice be sacred practice.

Infuse it with love.

Give yourself permission to be alive, right here. Right now. In this moment.