“This is an experiment in not being afraid of seeing myself. Of not being afraid of seeing my body. And, more importantly for me, not being afraid of other people seeing these things. So, enjoy the photos. I’m not sure all of them will be flattering, but I hope to have more than 314 pictures by the end of this year.”
These are the words that opened my first self-love photo project three years ago. I was 24, and up until that point, I was convinced that I had no real idea or understanding of what my body looked like, particularly my face. My physical presence was a mystery, and photos, like mirrors, were something I avoided like Iggy Azalea’s world tour. A sentiment I’m sure most people who’ve lived a majority of their lives terrified of their body can understand. But here I was, fat, Black, and supposedly ugly, taking a leap, and with my snazzy smartphone camera in tow, the journey began.
It was slow at first. While I didn’t force myself to take a photo every day, nor did I complete the project by the end of the year, this adventure in vanity, opened the door for a much needed period of visioning around my body and its relation to my sense of self and the world. Folks who write about body positivity and liberation do a decent job of talking about bodies, fat and the space we take up and yet are somehow constantly denied, but often do a shit job of recognizing the specific ways race plays into the conversation, particularly when it comes to Black folks. For me, selfies were a revolutionary way of saying “fuck you” to the overwhelmingly white narrative that drove so many body positivity conversations.
Most of the selfie magic and resistance took place in my bedroom at the end of a long day. This led to many sad, deadpan expressions, sometimes accompanied with random backgrounds to lighten the mood. As I went about my day and confronted myself with myself, I would struggle to find the right angles and lighting to properly capture the image of me I thought the world wanted to see, but the images would come nonetheless. Sometimes with a caption, sometimes not. Some were dramatic. Some were fierce. And some were a perfect example of smizing. And as I saw my photo timeline develop, and received the often inconsistent but much appreciated Facebook likes and words of encouragement from friends, I started to fall in love with being in love with myself. I knew from the beginning that this wouldn’t be a project focused on perfection, but rather, an act of vulnerability birthed from a basic need to know my face and love my Blackness.
As with most things involving people of color, the media I was presented with and consumed lacked any authentic images of Black and brown bodies, faces, simply existing and being worshiped for their existence. The few images that were lucky enough to be praised were often the right kind of beautiful; skinny and light. Without real representation, without having a variety of Black and brown faces to look to and reflect back on, it was no wonder my mental image of my face was so distorted. I longed to be able to look at a photo, or in a mirror as I snapped a photo and recognize myself despite the lack of similar images in my life and the ever present negative feedback loop telling me that I was too fat, Black, and ugly to be documented. To be known and captured. To captivate. It was in this longing that my narcissism took on a radical purpose. Through selfies, through freezing my face in time and creating proof of my existence, I was able to stare down the internalized shame over my fatness and Black skin, puffy cheeks, blemishes, and all. The images weren’t always pretty or flattering. And I still wonder every now and then what was up with my face’s automatic transition into a deer in the headlights pose or blank stare with mouth slightly ajar whenever the camera popped outlook, and that’s another story, but I was able to fall in love with my fat Black face.
More Radical Reads: 10 Ways Body Positivity is Changing the World for the Better
This is my testimony. And with you, I share these three lessons I’ve learned on my journey to selfie self-love in the hopes that you too can take revolutionary selfies and fall in love with loving yourself.
- We Flawless!
“Start out perfect and don’t change a thing. Always accentuate your best features by pointing at them. And conceal your flaws by sucker punching anyone who has the audacity to mention them.” – Miss Piggy on Beauty
Miss Piggy’s suggestions might seem a bit extreme, but this is one of those rare cases where intentions actually matter. Though, I wouldn’t blame you for sucker punching anyone who dares to exist in your space only to point out the ways in which they think your body is wrong. In my experience, my selfies forced me to further recognize the ways in which my Blackness and fatness were not flaws to be hidden or fixed. That the problem existed not with me and how I had learned to survive and thrive in this body, but rather, with a society that constantly told me through structural fat antagonism, racism, and various forms of body terror, that I should be ashamed of myself for daring to be not only Black but also fat. In challenging these systems of marginalization, and the thoughts that accompany, we can learn to be unapologetic in our being.
- Maybe it’s not a bad photo, maybe your camera’s just racist!
For BuzzFeed, photographer Syreeta McFadden writes, “today, the science of digital photography is very much based on the same principles of technology that shaped film photography…even today, in low light, the sensors search for something that is lightly colored or light skinned before the shutter is released. Focus it on a dark spot, and the camera is inactive. It only knows how to calibrate itself against lightness to define the image.” Yep, white supremacy can and does manifest itself in our tools. And no, you’re not too Black, your camera just expects you to be white. As easy as it might be to get frustrated at trying to take a photo and constantly having it come out “wrong” each and every time, accept that cameras were never intended to record our lives, and know that you’re going to be great anyway! This journey is not about finding your “perfect” self, but recognizing the beauty and magic of your presence in this moment.
- Selfies are one way to prove we were and are here!
“We must leave evidence. Evidence that we were here, that we existed, that we survived and loved and ached. Evidence of the wholeness we never felt and the immense sense of fullness we gave to each other. Evidence of who we were, who we thought we were, who we never should have been. Evidence for each other that there are other ways to live–past survival; past isolation.” – Mia Mingus, Leaving Evidence
More Radical Reads: F!CK Flattering: Why I Wear What I Want & So Should You
In the same way that community generated photos and video have been used to document the state sanctioned murder of Black folks, to honor the stories and memories of the countless murdered trans women of color, particularly Black women in the US, and to hold mainstream media accountable for the often biased way they share our narratives, selfies can be and often are one of the many tools marginalized communities can utilize to frame our existence with reverence. We know that conventional media has often proven to be a piss poor site for finding authentic representations of marginalized peoples.
Through selfies, we can reject cultural tourists and exploiters and “leave evidence” that’s accessible and reverberates with our hearts and minds. Selfies can hold the fine as fuck complexity of our communities in all our queer, trans, dis/abled, chronically ill, fat, femme, Black and of color, broke as hell and everything in between galactic and infinite glory. So I say fuck the margins, fuck finding the best light, fuck not knowing your angles or what patterns or colors really bring out your normativity to appease standards of beauty that were never meant for us. Take a metaphorical leap, take a revolutionary selfie.
Are getting more comfortable with your image? Learning how to love the selfie even on the “bad” days? Join us for our next workshop 10 Tools to Radical Self Love.
[Headline Image: Individual with dark skin and large curly afro stands in a darkened room smiling while holding up their cell phone. Flickr.com/Automotive Rhythms]