Learning to love your selfie | by Mat Ricardo

Learning to love your selfie

by Mat Ricardo

Recently, ladies and gentlemen, I have been doing something often frowned upon. I have been indulging in a behaviour regarded by many as nothing more than base, disgusting, public onanism. A practice roundly dismissed as evidence of the hopeless future and inevitable downward slide that humanity seems to be diving headlong into. I have been taking, and posting, selfies.

It's not a popular thing for a middle-aged man to admit, is it? It's inviting ridicule by those who wouldn't dream of doing such a thing. Those who tut-tut at all the young people absorbed by the phones. How dare they, right? How dare they take advantage of the single most important technological step of their generation and talk to their loved ones around the world, or browse all the culture and art ever created? No, they should be looking out of the window of this bus at the grey drizzly streets scrolling by. Tut-tut.

Selfies encourage people – often people of my kind of age – to make all kinds of assumptions about the younger folk. But wait a minute – these assumptions – of shallow vanity, of arrogant narcissism, have been levelled at the young – and often at young women – by the older – often older men, for generations. This is just ageist misogyny spat by those too dull or empathetic to give a shit about people they don't bother to understand. They feel confused and threatened by a slight change in behaviour, and fall right back into their tried and tested trope-rants of assholery. So, let me take a stab at what I think is really going on.

To be a young person (hell, to be any person, but particularly to be a young woman) these days means being besieged at every turn by culture telling you what you should look like, what you should want, how you should feel about things, and what you should identify as. And the more popular the culture, often, the more narrow the definition of what you should be. 

But this generation has a new weapon with which to fight this dull barrage. The big change is that for the first time, people have in their pockets and purses a tool not of consumption, but of creation and broadcast. To take a photo of yourself, and show it to the world, is the most perfect, simple, pure way of saying: ‘This is me, and I exist.’

Control gets taken away from advertisers, and from those interested only in labels and categories, and instead, each individual gets to self-define however they choose. ‘This is the version of me I'm trying today.’ A beautiful act of personal creation. 

Timothy Leary famously said ‘Find the others’, and the internet makes that easier than its ever been before. Whatever, whoever, and wherever you are, however unsure of anything you are, you'll find others just like you online. And if you're something less mainstream than the cisgender hetero white guy writing this, then taking a selfie becomes so much more of a defiant choice. Sure, you'll find the usual dull trolling bullies, but they can be counterpunched and blocked. You'll also find people just like you, who, with a simple click of a like button, will remind you that you're not alone, and you're worth taking a photo of. That you count.

I never used to like pictures of myself. Which, as you might imagine, when I make my living arsing around on stage, could be troublesome. I used to spend a decent chunk of every Monday morning, diligently untagging myself in all the Facebook photos that people had taken of my shows over the previous weekend, while muttering to myself about who that chubby bald guy in the pictures was. 

I've worked hard to become more comfortable with it, and as part of this journey, I've been posting selfies. One of the most effective treatments for depression is to spend some time each day considering things you're grateful for. That's how I approach the photos I post. They're little moments of mindfulness. Simple, often unspectacular moments that feel, at the time, precious and special. Being somewhere beautiful, spending time with interesting people, eating or drinking something delicious, enjoying doing my job. Taking a photo of avocado toast because I had never tried it until I saw a picture of it on a friend's feed, and now it’s one of my favourite things. 

You see me take a photo of my food and think I'm a wanker, fine, but what you're seeing is my prayer before eating. A new way of giving thanks. But instead of thanking an all powerful deity, you're making the simple statement: ‘I am here, doing this, and I am happy.’ I think that's OK. (And yes, I chose avocado toast because I knew that it would cause, in some of you, another little tut of disdain for something seen as hipster rubbish. Also: Delicious)

Indeed, one of the very few studies carried out about this, by the University of California, came to the conclusion that taking selfies improves confidence and boosts feelings of self-worth. Because you're not in someone else's picture, you're in your own, you've chosen how to present yourself. And that's empowering as all fuck.

Tina Fey, in several interviews, has said that she believes that there should be some kind of test for getting a Twitter account, because ‘Most people are so fucking boring.’ That only those who are professionally entertaining, to her standard and taste, should be allowed to use it. What a joyless, elitist jerkhat. The beauty of social media is that it's for everyone. No gatekeepers, no door policy, no dress code. Humanity, in all its fractally-branched, unexpected and cacophonous beauty, can play. 

Never before has anyone, pretty much for no fee, whenever and wherever they like, been able to show the world what and who they are, and who and what is important to them. That's something. And it's not boring.

Chelsea Manning was recently released, after seven unimaginably hard years of imprisonment. What was one of the first things she did? Open an Instagram account and post a selfie. This is me. Here I am. Here is my now.

So: apologies if you don't like my selfies. Feel free not to follow me, no hard feelings. But know that every selfie is a postcard back in time to my teenage self, saying, ‘see?’, and another postcard forward in time to my old self, saying ‘remember?’

And it's a way of saying to myself right now, in the moment that I hit ‘post’, that in that instance, I'm OK.

• Mat Ricardo is Chortle's variety correspondent. His website is here, and he tweets here.

Published: 3 Jul 2017

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