How The Selfie Transformed My World

I absolutely hate photos of me. Or I used to hate them. Now I sometimes like some of them a little bit.

Like many women, I am my own worst critic about my appearance. I’m fat, ugly, crooked teeth, scar on my lip, etc, etc, etc. But the thing I’ve hated the most are my eyes.

I have a condition often called exothalmia – literally, my eyes protrude or bulge out of my eye sockets more than most people. It is a condition I inherited from my father and he inherited from his mother and she inherited from her mother. We didn’t inherit the underlying cause (usually a thyroid problem) but just the protruding eyes. I also have a lazy eye that wanders. I wore a patch for a while as a child, but they weren’t able to fix the muscle.

Neither of these causes any medical problems – in fact, I have excellent peripheral vision so I like to think it is my super power. I do have actual eye problems including astigmatism and near-sightedness, but those are stable and haven’t changed in nearly 20 years.

But, then there was junior high. Sigh.

It was brutal. I was scrawny, poor and smart. And I had big eyes. I was mercilessly taunted for two solid years. I was assaulted, pelted, chased, and the victim of many cruel pranks. I don’t have words to describe what my 7th and 8th grade self experienced. My parents had no idea what to do other than tell me it would be okay. The school had no concept of bullying.

I got lucky.We all moved to a new building for 9th grade and then again for 10th-12th so I had some semi-fresh starts. I also was very smart and quick to realize I could barter that for protection. And I joined the band, a land where protruding eyes are far from the goofiest thing going. But it was still there – every once in a while someone would whisper those old names and I would flash right back. I could not wait to graduate and escape my hometown.

I was confident that I was smart, but I was convinced I was ugly and that never left me. Not in college. Not in graduate school (Round 1) or even when I had my first, second or third serious relationship. Nope. I was ugly and I just avoided pictures at all costs. Usually, I offered to take the pictures.

Still, I was a little shocked when adults – mostly other women – would say “What’s wrong with your eyes?” or “What’s going on with your eyes?” I had no response, no witty retort, no “stop being fucking rude” answer. I just went right back to 7th grade when Janelle and Lorraine would say that in a much, much more menacing tone of voice. I don’t mind when kids asked because kids are kids and usually just curious. Plus, I would tell them about my superpower and they would TOTALLY get it.

I still believed it when I met Ledcat, but she was smart enough to ask me about it and offer me something no one ever had – comfort. She told me I was beautiful and pretty and all the lovely things I had never heard. And one day, I began to believe it. Well not believe it so much as believe that she meant it. And that was enough. Because I really didn’t care what other people thought. At least not as much as before. And I knew without a doubt that if anyone ever asked me that question in front of her, she would defend me. And I wouldn’t have to do her homework in exchange.

So what does this have to do with selfies? Well, I like using my phone camera and I take a lot of selfies and groupies of myself with Ledcat. One day I realized that I could teach myself where to look by using selfies so my wandering eye would straighten out in the phone. What a revelation! I practiced over and over and over. I took scores of selfies. It made all the difference in the world – I could take a normal photograph. You have no idea how empowering that is for me.

I cried. I remember standing in our bathroom wearing a white scoop necked tee-shirt and my hair up in an orange scrunchie. I have those photos. It was an amazing moment for me, but also so inspiring because I solved my problem. I changed the way I looked at myself, literally (paging Rob Lowe.)

I stumbled upon a project #365FeministSelfie which challenges the idea that selfies are vapid, narcissistic, and anti-feminist. The project conceives of the selfie as an opportunity to create media portrayals of real women, not just the enhanced versions we see in popular culture.

Yes, selfies can be annoying and vain, but who cares? That’s true of many things (such as blogs!) I don’t look at photos that aren’t interesting to me. That’s why God invented scrolling bars. I don’t care about duck faces. I care about the people in my various social networks – I care about what they want to tell me, share with me and show me their lives.

I am a selfie believer. I’m also a fan of the groupie with Ledcat so I’ll count those in my contributions. I love capturing moments in our everyday life. She’s such a good sport about it and has actually begun taking photos of me. It is pretty awesome to see myself through her eyes.

Selfies didn’t fix my eyes and they won’t eradicate rude questions. I won’t look you dead in the eye when we speak – I’ll tilt my head and move my eyes around to minimize the wandering. I’m still watching you and listening.

After all, I do have a superpower. Now I know how to use it.

#365FeministSelfie

Selfie Day One

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