The Selfie Experiment: #BeautyIs

A few days ago, I saw this video posted on the Facebook page of a friend and Philly photographer. Watch it.  It is 7 minutes well spent.

Selfie, directed by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Cynthia Wade, reveals how we have the power to redefine what is beautiful in all of us.  The video is part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

To say it made me think is an understatement.

Ironically, before watching it I had been giving Phil the hard sell as to why I needed eyelash extensions: to distract from my “accordion eyes and Grinch-like face.” Emma and Phoebe were not in the room, but we all know that doesn’t matter. They hear everything. 

Typically, I try to be vigilant about this kind of negative self talk around my daughters, because I know it sticks. Phil and I consider “fat” and “diet” dirty words.  My sister and I still tease my mom for saying repeatedly: “My sisters were very petite but I was born a size ___.”  A size (for what it’s worth) that she has yet to reach.

I remember what happened the first time I watched one of the Dove commercials:

It was 2006, and I was sitting on my couch watching the Super Bowl.  When that commercial aired, I cried.  Not misty-eyed, not weepy – I am talking full on sobbing. Emma was 9 months old at the time, and the thought of her believing she was anything less than exquisite just destroyed me.

But that’s not why I was crying.

I was crying because, at age 29, thoughts of self-loathing ran through my mind 24/7.  I starved myself to get that baby weight off.  Starved.  And still, It was never enough. I was never enough.  How am I going to teach Emma to love herself?  I don’t even know what that means! 

Well, I had to learn. And I’ve come a long way, Baby.

But, maybe not far enough.

Perhaps it’s because it’s the dead of winter, or because I haven’t been going to yoga, or getting enough sleep.  Maybe it’s my new uniform of a grocery store sweatshirt and snowflake-reindeer leggings that has taken a toll on my self-esteem.  Whatever the case, there has been a whole lot of negative self talk rattling around in my head:

My butt jiggles when I walk.  If my left boob hung any lower I would trip over it. How is it possible to have zits and wrinkles simultaneously?

I asked Phil, “Do I put myself down…out loud?”

He paused. “Well… it’s not like you come out and say, I’m a hideous beast!  But you do tend to make these odd comparisons that are not exactly self-affirming.”

“I do?  Like what?”

“When we are going out, you will say something bizarre like:

Do I look like the last clown in a clown car?

Do I look like a bell boy?

Do I look like a greeter at Walmart?

Do I look like a Wookie?

Do I look like a hostile transvestite?

“Huh.  Yeah, I guess I do say those things.”

When I “poke fun at myself,” I tell myself that I am being funny.  But even seemingly harmless self-deprecation carries the unmistakable tinge of truth.  The truth that I am not good enough, exactly as I am.  Even in reindeer leggings.

A teenage girl in Selfie says:

I think my mom’s insecurities affect me a lot.  When you hear her talk about her insecurities, you start to think about your own.

I asked Emma why she stopped smiling with her lips apart.

“Because I hate my teeth.  So I stand in front of the mirror and practice smiling with my mouth closed.”

Crap.

She’s 7.

So, we watched Selfie together.  As the credits rolled Emma said, “Wow, that made me kind of sad at first, but then the end made me smile.  That’s a cool experiment.”

“Do you want to try it?”

She raised one eyebrow. “What, like just you and me? Take selfies?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Uhh, because you hate getting your picture taken.  Do you even know how to take a selfie?”

“I think I can figure it out.”

She didn’t look convinced. “Ok…”

She wasn’t wrong to be skeptical.  Let’s just say I don’t love being photographed.  When I go to take a picture with my phone and accidentally press that reverse-selfie button, I scream like I am being stabbed.  Every. Single. Time.

In Selfie, the photographer says:

Your mom can redefine beauty, just like you can.

Redefining beauty through selfies?  I wasn’t convinced.  But, hey, I also compare myself to Chewbacca, so…..yeah.

Taking a selfie did not feel natural nor intuitive.  It made me feel like Justin Bieber.  But printing and actually looking at the selfie – now that was an eye-opener.

How often do you really look at your own face?  And no, I don’t mean in that special makeup mirror that magnifies your pores 5,000 times.  I mean, really look.  Like the way you look at your child’s face when she is asleep, and think, Really? How perfect is that little face?

Once I got over that initial GADZOOKS! response of seeing my own reflection, I started to really see.  Not beyond my usual list of imperfections, but beneath them, like the way I look at a painting in a museum.  Instead of noticing flaws and labeling them as “wrong”, I just….noticed.  I asked:

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Who is this person?  What is her story?  What is going on behind those eyes?

I wasn’t a total purist – we had fun with filters and photo apps.

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Why not?  Just like fake eyelashes, hair color or smokey eye makeup, it’s fun to play dress up…to explore…to try on different disguises.  When I was a teenager, we did it with Manic Panic and black eyeliner.  Now they have an app for that.  Blue hair that you don’t have to grow out!  Genius.  In fact, we got so caught up in the possibilities that Emma forgot to hide her teeth.

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Really? How perfect is that little face?

But despite all the options for brightening or blurring or bronzing, it was this makeup-less, filterless, early morning selfie that changed how I see myself:

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When I look at this photo, I see a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an artist, a seeker.  I see a good person who is earnest and kind and loving.  I see lines that come from laughing and worrying…and from a few years of maybe not taking the best care of myself.  I see eyes that have seen a few thousand sleepless nights nursing a baby or changing pukey sheets.  I see a face that is grateful to be needed, to be loved, to have finally found a place to belong in this world, and that place is right here, right now.  I see sweetness in this face. I see peace.  I see someone who does her best everyday to become a little bit more of who she truly is.

And that, dare I say it, is beautiful.

That’s a cop out, right?

Ok…

I am beautiful.

Now you try.

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21 thoughts on “The Selfie Experiment: #BeautyIs

  1. Ok thx…it should have come with a warning- TEAR JERKER!!!! I am at work in the lunch room crying but trying not to let anyone see…my chest is tight and I could explode right now!!! That was really beautiful and really hit home with me! Thanks, Jessie for a beautiful blog! Xo Chrissy

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. awesome! you are beautiful!! i cannot help wondering, though, where are the men and boys are in these discussions of defining beauty and what we value in a “beautiful” person? i definitely think it is a message that we need to hammer home to girls and women, but i think everyone should be involved.
    tell emma her teeth are beautiful because they are strong, and healthy, and hers!! i had teeth the size of chiclets gum (she’ll probably have no idea what that is!) when i was about her age, and i grew into them just fine! sometimes our teeth (or noses, or eyebrows, or whatever) are just “grown-up” before the rest of our faces are! 🙂 xo

  3. That was incredible and so are you! What a beautiful message from such a beautiful person! Thank you for your inspiring words : )

  4. What a beautiful post and thanks for sharing the video. That quote you pulled out about the teenage girl noticing her own flaws after hearing her mom worry about her own was very poignant. (and scary) And even though those comments your husband remembers are not ones you want to be saying anymore, I had to laugh at your particularly funny (yes, though self-depricating) wording. At least the comments had literary flare! 😉

    • Thank you Nina! Yes, I’m not sure I even know what a hostile transvestite looks like, but I guess I thought I did. I was probably wearing too much makeup when I said that. And the Wookie comparison is without a doubt waxing-related. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. As soon as I wipe the tear from my eye, I’m going to type how you ARE a beautiful (and gifted) person and how Phil is a lucky man. Thank you.

  6. Right, let me wipe this tear away… Thanks for sharing your beauty and Emma’s (love that she forgot to hide her teeth)! I think I’ll share this, too, with my 8 year old and we’ll see where it goes.

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