How many times have you taken a selfie to share on social media, only to delete it moments later? 81% of us don’t like the way we look in photos, but it’s time to stop trying to be ‘perfect’ and appreciate what’s actually real, says writer Melissa Blake.
One morning a few weeks ago, I found myself at the library. In the midst of writing, I noticed the mid-morning sun streaming in through the nearby floor-to-ceiling windows. The lighting was perfect, so I decided to capture it with a selfie.
A few clicks of my iPhone’s camera captured that light all right. And my big head. And my huge nose. And… oh, wow, I thought, I really hate that photo of myself. On a disaster scale of one to 10, this photo was an 11.
But a few days later, I did the unthinkable. I actually posted it on social media. On multiple platforms.
I shared the selfie on Facebook. I posted it on Twitter. I even uploaded it to Instagram. I have more than 79,000 followers on Twitter alone, so I knew the photo was going to be seen by a lot of people. But then I started to second-guess myself – maybe I shouldn’t have posted it?
Unfortunately, my initial reaction to seeing myself reflected in that selfie is all too common, especially among women. In our age of social media, where we tend to overshare every aspect of our lives, the pressure to look “perfect” has never been greater than it is in 2020.
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Women, especially, are constantly feeling the weight of that pressure. We certainly aren’t born pre-programmed to hate our bodies, but somewhere between the Disney happy ever afters and the school hallways, the way we see ourselves changes.
This message is reinforced in everything from TV adverts to the airbrushed models we see on magazine covers. Women are forever being sold an image of “perfect” beauty. We must have flawless skin! The shiniest hair! The most toned thighs!
And when it comes to social media, this comparison culture is hard to resist. New research from Stylist found that 44% of women aged 25-40 had low self-confidence in the way they look naturally, while 40% felt anxious after spending time on social media.
Most significantly, among those women who had average to low self-esteem, 81% said they don’t like how they look in photos. And almost half (47%) had asked friends to remove photos of them from social media if they perceived them to be unflattering.
While it’s fun to see what our friends and family are up to, these results prove that endlessly scrolling on social media can leave us feeling pretty unhappy. As a disabled woman, I’ve lived my entire life chasing those standards of perfection held up by social media. I was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder, and I’ve had 25 surgeries to correct various deformities.
My body has often felt like a jigsaw puzzle, where none of the pieces actually fit, and growing up all these messages about how to be perfect just made me feel even more different. No matter what I did, those puzzle pieces never quite fitted together.
We live in a culture where we’re taught to be critical about how we look. We’re taught to analyse every inch of our skin and to strive for this image of “perfect”, even though it doesn’t exist. In other words, our lives – and especially our photos – must be Instagram-worthy in order to be worth sharing. So we’re left wondering: how on earth can we ever live up to that? And even more damaging… Why don’t I live up to that? What’s wrong with me?
That’s exactly what I was thinking after I snapped that selfie in the library and, truth be told, I almost deleted it altogether. In fact, that was my first instinct; part of me wanted to erase all evidence of that not-so-perfect photo, as if I were trying to hide some deep, dark, shameful secret from the world.
But here’s what I realised: that photo is more authentic than any other selfie I’ve taken recently. It’s real, and we need real. We need raw. In a way, posting that selfie was liberating: it allowed me to just be myself, to celebrate my flaws and my imperfections, and to reject those societal pressures to be perfect. Now more than ever, when so much of our social media identity is curated to be as Instagram-worthy as possible, we need to see more of those almost-deleted snaps.
It was important for me to show that a selfie doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. A selfie can be awkward or messy or feature your big head prominently. And maybe sharing our real selves will inspire others to share their real selves, too. I’d take real over perfect any day, which is exactly what a selfie should be, because there’s nothing more beautiful than the real you.
So may we all go forth and share our “imperfect” selves with the world – over and over and over again.
Images: Getty, Unsplash