Do Selfies Really Empower Women?

 

If the meteoric rise of mainstream (read: highly marketable) feminism in recent years has taught me anything, it’s that it’s important for the modern woman to always feel empowered. And as some of those lesson plans go, one of the easiest ways to do that is by taking selfies. I know this, and you probably do too, because Kim Kardashian (leading authority on the subject) told us so.

If I’m being honest, I don’t take selfies all that often. Less from a lack of concern over missing out on all that sweet, sweet empowerment getting doled out by Instagram, and more due to me not knowing my angles, which ends up being a massive time suck. The hours it takes to figure out how your human-person smile stacks up against the languidly powerful contents of Kim’s coffee table book projects is time you’ll never get back.

For those of us who don’t possess an innate inability to catch light, the lack of power one feels after sending 50 face shots to the only home they’ll ever know (the delete folder) makes you wonder if maybe the world’s leading expert on selfies is feeding everyone a line.

Turns out, she is. According to a recent study by Penn State, in general, selfies don’t make you feel good about yourself. Not only that, but the outtakes hanging around in your photo folder can compound negative feelings surrounding self-image. Why is this? It probably has something to do with the fact that sharing a picture of yourself online will either garner likes and comments--”engagement,” if you will--or it won’t. Negative data can be hard to argue with, and you’re suddenly stuck with a low-performing selfie, staring at your reflection, questioning your decision not to get lip fillers. A decidedly unempowered stance.

Coincidentally, the worse you feel about yourself the more you will cling, Gollum-like, to social media. A feedback loop of bad vibes. Virtually no research exists to support the idea that selfies are empowering for women. And somewhere down the line, self-esteem and empowerment got conflated. Empowerment became less about engaging with the vulnerable in your community to provide them with  actual tangible  power, and more about personal self-worth. Feeling good about yourself isn’t the problem, and it’s something that should indeed be promoted. But let’s not kid ourselves here: How do we expect to empower those around us when our incessant self-portraiture seems unable to even empower (in both the modern and traditional sense) ourselves?

As it turns out, the antidote to all the misfired social media induced anti-empowerment lay in a much more traditional interpretation of the term: empowerment through altruism. It’s been observed that the more you help people, the better you feel about yourself. Volunteering at a food bank, donating old workwear to Dress for Success, or teaching girls how to code all have a much higher ROI on both feeling better about yourself and lifting up your community than the selfie mill you’ve been running out of your bedroom.

If you’ve been feeling down about the girl in the front facing camera, it may be time to try something different. Maybe next time you take a selfie that leaves you feeling less than empowered you could try donating to the ACLU or weeding your local community garden. Who knows? Maybe the best selfies are the ones taken in tandem with selfless acts. Selfless acts and natural light, of course. Kim didn’t get it all wrong.

-Rachel Siemens