There are few harmless actions that seem to infuriate guys more than young women taking selfies.
And it is mostly young women who have been snapping pictures of their faces and posting them to Instagram since the social-media platform’s inception in 2010. In 2014, a survey by photography app Selfiecity revealed that in New York, 23-year-old females take the most selfies and 62 percent of selfies are taken by women. (That’s still less than in other cities — in Moscow, for instance, 82 percent of selfies depict female faces.)
Taking pictures of yourself is an action that harms precisely zero people, but you wouldn’t know that the way some people respond.
In 2015, Prince Harry once snapped at a teenaged female fan who wanted a selfie with him, “Seriously, you need to get out of it. I know you’re young, but selfies are bad.” He declined to elaborate on why.
He’s hardly alone. Male journalists regularly rail against the practice. Like Chris O’Shea at The Daily Lounge, who bemoaned: “The selfie. Is there anything more annoying in the social-media world?” while concluding that, possibly, babies and ultrasound pictures are more annoying. Meanwhile, a Lifehack article by Robert Locke implored: “Guess one reason why aliens do not want to visit planet Earth. An obvious one is that the whole planet is addicted to posting selfies on the Internet.”
There’s a fairly common refrain in these pieces that selfie takers are “narcissistic,” despite the fact that a 2017 study from Brigham Young University indicated that’s not generally true. As Alicia Eler points out in her new book “Selfie Generation” (Skyhorse Publishing), “Generally, it’s men telling women that they are narcissists for selfie-ing.” She further remarks that “young women are simultaneously told that their self-worth depends on their appearance, but they are referred to as ‘vain’ and ‘narcissistic’ if they post selfies, which are all about appearance.”
When society is constantly telling women to make their faces look pretty with lotions, makeup and skin-care regimens, it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone that women want to show off their faces when they feel they look pretty.
And why shouldn’t Kardashian be the one making all the money? It’s her face that people want to see
The only difference is that those images used to benefit (typically) the male artists or photographers capturing them. Women were supposed to be looked at but not in control of their own image or all the profits that came with it. Today, Richard Avedon is more famous than most of the models he shot. Leonardo da Vinci’s name is better known than Lisa del Giocondo’s (the supposed model for the Mona Lisa.) Female models might achieve a measure of fame in their own era, but it’s the people capturing their images who are remembered.
Selfie culture subverts that traditional arrangement.
In any other era, Kim Kardashian, whom Eler calls “the embodiment of the selfie” would likely be a model. Her image would be making a lot of money for a company like Revlon. Perhaps it would also be making a photographer famous. Instead, as Eler states, she’s found a way to “create and commodify her own image.”
In 2015, Kim Kardashian released 500 copies of a book called “Selfish” comprised of her selfies and sold it on Gilt for $60 apiece. It sold out in one minute. According to Us Weekly, companies pay up to $500,000 to have her post about them on Instagram.
And why shouldn’t Kardashian be the one making all the money? It’s her face that people want to see. If the popularity of her book and her 104 million followers on Instagram are anything to go by, she’s as capable of capturing her image in an appealing way as any photographer would be.
Other women are following in her footsteps. CR Fashion Book claimed in 2015 that Cara Delevingne, Gigi Hadid and Kardashian’s sister Kendall Jenner each make up to $300,000 per Instagram post. Even lesser known figures like Rachel Brathen, who runs the Yoga_Girl Instagram account, can earn around $25,000 per post, according to Forbes.
They’re not posing politely for photographers anymore. They’re capturing their own image when they want to, the way they want to. And, if they have enough followers, they can make thousands of dollars in the process.
Men aren’t mad because the women taking selfies are putting their image out into the world. They’re mad because they’re not in control — and they’re not profiting — from those images the way they used to.
At the same time, women who used to be told they’re “just a pretty face” can finally prove they’re worth a lot more.