What I Learned Taking A Selfie Every Day For A Year

Image: Gizmodo

People who take selfies are vain, narcissistic and self-absorbed. I don't understand the point. Is it for attention? Validation? Are you hooked on how many "likes" you get? Get over yourself. I've always hated selfies -- so I decided to take one every single day for a year.

Before I embarked on this year-long experiment, I didn't take selfies at all. Because I didn't want people to judge me like I was judging others. Hang on, wait -- if I hate them so much why am I taking a selfie every day for a year? Let's rewind.

I used to believe, genuinely, that women who entered beauty pageants were stuck-up, shallow and conceited. Ugly, right? I thought so too. So I entered one.

That's me on the far left, a 30 year old in a beauty pageant with teenagers, self-esteem taking a solid beating.

At the risk of sounding like an inspirational Instagram post designed to eventually sell you yoga for both you and your cat, that competition taught me a lot about myself. Mainly, if I find myself judging others, attempting to understand their motivations is crucial to my growth as a Decent Human™.

When I recognised the same thought patterns in regards to selfies, I threw myself in the deep end.


Rae Vs The Selfie: Overcoming The Discomfort

I know this sounds dramatic, but the thought of transitioning from a selfie-free social media presence to one where I spam my followers with my mug on a daily basis was pretty daunting. I set up a separate account, @raevstheselfie, that would become the home for this experiment -- #blessed hashtags and all.

Let the light-hearted exploration of online narcissism begin!


Day One

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Dec 31, 2013 at 7:33pm PST

The least threatening of the selfies, the smiling selfie. Friendly, not vain. Although I spent a full 5 minutes deciding if I should put on makeup before taking this, then walked around the house trying to find good light. This photo gained me 400 followers in one day. The comments were overwhelmingly positive, and on board with my "journey" (oh man this is so reality TV right now).


Day Two

It's a funny thing that I feel most comfortable being self deprecating. This is me, red blotchy face just out of the shower. No makeup, no filter. Blank canvas. This is the selfie I felt most comfortable uploading.


Day Three

The gym selfie (kinda). I chickened out of taking a gym selfie at the actual gym.

Three selfies in and I was already bored.

Comments rarely strayed from the usual respectful unconditional praise of my genetic structure I somehow found so uncomfortable to accept.

posty._.lord You have lovely eyes

allyjm88 You are beautiful Rae! @raevstheselfie

kevinjamesgee This one turned me on

pixelatedlord You look more refreshed today :3

michaelbmctigheFrizzy hair

m_d_g_v Liking oneself's image is a good thing, and that is a bit narcissistic

michaelbmctighe I'm not sure if you own that residence, but if I were you, when I got the money for it I'd have all that tile redone in that bathroom.

Overall everyone was wonderful. These people are strangers, but posting a selfie was allowing them into my world far more than a regular photo could.

Selfies are an interesting medium of communication because there's a barrier being removed between the audience and yourself. There's no photographer, it's just you. It's more personal, it's one on one -- or one on millions, depending on your following.

People online might be lovely, and they might be gross. But let's not forget there's people in the real world too -- and they are watching, judging.

"Tourist" selfies are somehow more "acceptable", as far as public selfies go. Your face with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background? Totally fine. Your face with a comment about how you're seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge today? What's the point, other than fishing for compliments?


Day 11

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Jan 11, 2014 at 6:36pm PST

Gym selfies are a whole other kettle of fish. I ran from the place when I realised someone saw me take this.


Day 14

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Jan 14, 2014 at 2:43am PST

I took this selfie in a crowded seafoood restaurant wearing a bib and rubber gloves.

My level of public shame whilst selfie-taking was diminishing rapidly.


The Epiphany

Two weeks is all it took for me to go from "everyone is looking at me and judging me and oh gosh they are going to think I am an awful narcissist" to an overwhelming "meh". Two weeks.

Bathroom mirror #ootd selfies showing off t-shirts, selfies on the bus, selfies in the street, selfies in the car with my friends, the "super close up of my eye" selfie made famous by College Humour's Instagram-themed "Photograph" Nickleback parody.

But the self-deprecation theme was strong. I didn't want to be judged. What if, despite all my assurances in the captions, my followers thought I was "up myself"?


Day 22

The comments were getting gross and judgmental too -- but not towards me. I was enabling this, encouraging it even.

eve_nation This is the selfie I see most posted to me it comes from people who need other people to validate there own self worth and need to always told they pretty because they do not accept the fact they are

Then there was this.

muse_shake I see nothing wrong with people wanting to be told they're pretty...

muse_shake was right. I may have felt uncomfortable with the idea of compliments from strangers on social media about my looks but why do I even care if other people enjoy that? What business is it of mine? If you want to post a selfie of your head and possibly have people tell you you're looking fine today, power to you. Despite selfies being brandied about as evidence of the downfall of society, in reality they hurt literally no one.

In fact, they do good.

Representation of regular people in the media is pretty dismal, to say the least. To combat this we see advertising campaigns and initiatives from beauty companies that aim to "celebrate all shapes and sizes" while at the same time it's all for a pat on the head, brand perception -- ultimately, profit.

Social media changes that.

When you post a selfie on social media you are changing the landscape of the images on the internet. You are putting real faces out into the world. You are normalising normal. It's empowering, and it's important.

Yes, it's all about you. You don't need anyone's permission to feel good about you. If you are having a good face day, I want to see it, and so do other people. Take that selfie, post it everywhere, share your self confidence and allow others to do the same.

If someone has a problem with you posting selfies on your social media account that's their problem, not yours.

This got deep real quick, and I finally understood. Somewhat awkwardly, I'd achieved my goal in less than a month into my year-long commitment.

Then the direction of this project changed dramatically.


Being (A) Human On The Internet

By this point these selfies had become my daily dairy. The people that were following my account were seeing a glimpse into my life I wasn't revealing publicly anywhere else. I wasn't just gaining comments on how attractive they thought my head was at any given moment, I was gaining friends, support.

Before I started this project if you asked me what I honestly felt like the worst kind of selfies were, I'd have told you the sympathy-grabbing ones. If something awful has happened in your life, get off the damn internet and hug your loved ones.

Then my dog Obi died.

My Aunty Beryl died.

My Uncle Jimmy died.

My Uncle Kirty died.

#raevstheselfie Lost a good friend today. Justin "Acharacter" Costello was such an enormous part of the Australian cosplay community. He was our Uncle Justin. And now he's gone. And I have to take a stupid photo of my stupid face for this stupid project. I always strive to have a positive presence on social media. This project has made that tough. You guys see all of me, not just the happy times. It makes me feel like I'm fishing for sympathy, and that makes me uncomfortable. I'm a very fortunate person - great family, friends, career - and I never want to seem ungrateful for all of that. I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me, there are so many others out there that need that care and attention so much more than I. Maybe the honesty I am forced to show will help others be more open when they are feeling down or to reach out when they need a hug. I'd like a hug right now.

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Nov 23, 2014 at 4:50pm PST

My friend Justin died.

I was that person. I was posting a selfies on the way to funerals. I was posting selfies with tears in my eyes. I deserved everything the comments section could throw at me

What I got was support. Constant, unwavering, genuine, heartfelt support. One comment stood out.

slartibartfaste It's good to share

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:06pm PST

I shared my son's first day of high school.

I shared cosplay adventures.

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Apr 30, 2014 at 5:16pm PDT

I shared my TV segements.

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Jul 29, 2014 at 6:45pm PDT

I shared good hair days. (Seriously, my hair was great this day).

The community I'd built on @raevstheselfie simply by posting photos of my face going about my daily business weren't just randoms on the internet anymore.

I have met some of these followers in person, mostly at comic conventions. As soon as they say "I followed your selfie account" I instantly know they are among the people that are now the closest to me in this world, even though they are what most people would consider complete strangers. If this project was a "post a photo a day taken by someone else with a personally revealing caption" project I honestly don't believe it would have had the same effect.


What I Didn't Share

"Oversharing" is often seen as a negative online. "TMI!" people might say to your expressions of love, or photo of the gross thing you found on the bottom of your shoe this morning. When online, the difference between good sharing and oversharing isn't so much the content itself -- but who your audience is. Although they were willing participants, I often felt like I was oversharing to the followers I'd gathered on this account.

It's good to share, right? But in reality I was undersharing something important.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression on this day.

#raevstheselfie on a train full of school kids. All I can hear are a million conversations happening at once. Send help.

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:00pm PDT

Literally every other moment of my life was documented and shared with the @raevstheselfie community, except for my diagnosis. There were clues -- the black and white filters, the insomnia, the "not getting out of bed today" images -- but I never outright said anything about my depression. Looking back, I know I could have. And probably should have. But I wasn't ready.

"Ugh, I've got the flu. Send soup"

"Oops" (Caption under a picture of a bandaged wrist)

*checks into hospital*

We are used to seeing this kind of medical-related sharing online these days. Once we might have considered this as oversharing, too -- but now it's pretty standard. And that's a good thing.

There have been a bunch of studies showing that people are more likely to share their own health experiences online if it means it will support others with the same condition. The result of this is overwhelmingly positive -- people are gaining knowledge and support networks while the publicly available information can be used to assist healthcare programs.

Mental illness unfortunately still has a stigma surrounding it. Making the decision to share your experiences with it, with the fear that it will impact on people's perception of your ability to function in daily life is a big leap to take. And it's a leap I'm ready to take now. I might not be re-opening @raevstheselfie, but I'm not going shy away from sharing the lows as well as the highs on social media anymore.

Sometimes knowing you're not alone makes all the difference, and the fact that a simple selfie can help with that is a beautiful thing.


I <3 Selfies

Day 365

A photo posted by Rae Johnston (@raevstheselfie) on Dec 31, 2014 at 1:38am PST

In a year I went from hating selfies and judging those who took them to recognising the selfie as an important tool for self expression, confidence, representation and building a community of people online that understand both you are a real person and treat you like one. It's a way of sharing genuine human experience with other humans in a digital world where the nuances of humanity is often lost.

Long live the selfie.

You can follow my entire journey from selfie hater to selfie advocate at raevstheselfie


Comments

    . Thankyou for sharing that. Very cool. Very freaking cool. You have a warrior spirit.

    I think the selfie originated from a photo taken by someone on a holiday against a famous backdrop and sent to a person back home.

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