Selfies. We’ve all read how that it is the word of the past couple of years. The buzzword that sums up the zeitgeist. They’ve mutated now to the point for the true selfie aficionado, the timer on your camera phone is your New Best Friend. Of course the true classics of the genre still occur in a bedroom or bathroom. Or if really bored, on public transport. Swiftly uploaded to social media with a snappy caption.
However as a Gay Man, I’m aware of a whole other sub category. This is the locker room selfie. Yes, the post workout shot in a mirror, usually accompanied by words like ”Arms Day!” or ”Making Progress!!”. These are the selfies that invariably elict a groan as they pop up on the newsfeed. Whilst eyeing that half empty packet of digestives with a mix of regret and guilt.
I know personally I once deleted an acquaintance from Facebook who not only posted a daily locker room selfie (I felt I knew the geography of his gym changing room better than my own kitchen) but also posted an album entitled ”My New Vest”. Twelve pictures. Wearing a new gym vest. From different angles. That was my tipping point.
Each picture elicited comments of ”Looking Good!”, ”Getting Big Buddy” or an ever articulate ”Grrrr!!!”. And indeed he was impressive, if way out of proportion (it was plainly not often Legs Day). So it was all for validation. Or vanity. Or both. Well, yes. But the cult of the selfie also stems from a basic need for material.
Newsflash: bodybuilding existed before the invention of camera phones. Also people bought new clothes prior to the dawn of the Internet. But now we live in an age when if something is not documented and uploaded, did it really happen?
So a self portrait is if not a substitute for conversation, then an artificial starting point for it, provoking comment or ”likes” in a quick, obvious way. And being good at social media is reliant on a constant stream of Something. In a short attention span, sound bite world then it can only exist if we constantly upload the new and the current. We’ve all cottoned on that anything is fair game. A new vest, you on your daily commute to work, a pumped pair of biceps. It’s why Instagram exists at all.
Every day is Judgement Day. We share glimpses of our bodies on the internet, be it via a post workout snap or a holiday beachwear photo all the time. Now you know what your work colleagues look like in shorts. You may not necessarily want to but… And as human beings it’s virtually impossible not to compare. The sheer number of images that exist makes it inevitable.
Growing up in the 1970s, cameras were wheeled out on high days and holidays. Having a picture taken was An Event. Something for Christmas, Birthdays or Holidays. Now sitting at home bored and watching telly is an event. A quick fiddle with your iPhone and the world can see your sitting at home, watching telly, bored face. Boredom and the mundane is worthy of being documented in the rush to fill a vacuum with new material to share.
In a similar way, the accessibility of cameras has changed the way we view our bodies. The naked selfie, like those we send to a potential or current lover. We are part of a generation that can do that. In the old days, which seem like the Stone Ages now, no one would dare take anything ”rude” to Boots for developing.
Horror stories abounded of the nice lady down the road who was dragged out of the local chemist by the Vice Squad and labelled a pornographer just because her husband was feeling artistic one evening. And Polaroid cameras were all well and good but now we are surrounded by the instant technology for capturing images.
More means to photograph ourselves means more opportunities to view ourselves. More room for self criticism. The massive world of images of each other that engulf us is a constant invite to comparison. We are now more aware of how each other look undressed. A casual lying in bed on a Sunday morning selfie tweeted to our followers is now not only an invite to judge ones bedlinen but to survey the muscle tone in ones arms and shoulders.
Of course this is not to say that everybody is frantically uploading near naked pictures of themselves. There are many who never would, which in its own way is just as telling. The absence of a casual (or posed) display of flesh in itself becomes a statement. I have a good friend who swears he would rather die than post a shirt off photo on Facebook as he ”doesn’t have the body”. Not strictly true. He does indeed have a body. He is also a smart, attractive man who exercises regularly. So why the insecurity?
But also I understand the reason why. In a time where gym selfies have become a genre all in themselves, where fit, well muscled men can upload pictures of themselves and complain they are not yet big or defined enough, then is it that much of a surprise? And yeah, many of those same ripped fitness types are stereotypically vain, egotistical tossers brandishing their camera phones like a weapon. Just as many however look at the pictures and see only what they consider flaws. Just like those of us who never break a sweat.
That’s the other thing about selfies; we dismiss them a lot of the time as vanity. Yet we still look and judge. We show people a split second of ourselves. It may be contrived, edited but 15 years ago did you ever dream you would see an old school chum straight out of the shower, getting ready for a night out in the privacy of their own bathroom? And what do you think on seeing that? That her taste in bathroom tiles is a bit suspect. Oh and hasn’t she put on a lot of weight…
Our selfies say a lot about ourselves. How we view each others says more.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.