On the “Ugly Selfie”

The gender politics of selfies have been the subject of an inordinate amount of coverage. However, these articles are often decisive, opinionated screeds, delivered with an enviable certainty. They are all about young women taking pictures of themselves. These women are either very, very vain or very, very subversive depending on who you ask.
This article in the New York Times attempts to suss out a new trend in our culture of selfie taking- this newfangled thing called the ugly selfie. Perhaps the rarest of all beasts in the selfie taxonomy, the person posing in the ugly selfie is not covered in makeup, blurred by the shroud of an instagram filter or making a cute face. Rather, these teenage girls, if you can believe it, are trying to look ugly. On purpose!!!

BREAKING: when girls feel comfortable and are just hanging out together, they’re comfortable looking ugly.

The attempt to make a point about how women are now more comfortable looking ugly  comes off as woefully out of date and furthermore, kind of pathetically out of touch.

Perhaps its because I myself have only recently exited from the world of teendom (RIP Emily’s adolescent phase [2006-2013]) but I found myself staring blankly at this article. Literally, I just looked at it and thought, “yes, and….?” It’s a lot of work to take a cute picture of yourself. Its fun to have a cute one. Its fun to take an ugly one. Next topic, please.

I think any girl would react the same way too- its exhausting to try to be perfect, and we live in a world that demands perfection from young women, especially in public. It’s fun to feel comfortable with your friends and do stupid, weird things with them. Smash the patriarchy, etc.

In our class discussions about the New York Times’ beleaguered crawl towards modernity (see Jennifer Lee’s article in “Page 1”), one has to wonder if an article based off of nothing but good natured incredulity about the kids these days that ultimately attempts to segue into a grand cultural assessment can really stand up on its own. If you have ever spent more than five minutes non-creepily observing two or more teenage girls, you’ll know that ugliness is its own currency among them.  You can find them pushing their noses back to make little piggy noses while they snort at each other or grimacing in group photos or wearing dumb outfits and posing like they look good. A cursory glance at my Facebook feed shows all of this and more. If you’re comfortable being ugly with someone, you’re their friend. I still remember the moment I, a woefully insecure teenager too anxious to even wear my glasses to school, discovered that I could wear sweatpants to a friends house and not be crucified for it. This is by no means a new thing.

This isn’t to devalue the article entirely. I think people should know- perfection is boring and probably unattainable. I think most people know it. I think most teenage girls become aware of it pretty quickly. I think what I found so repellent about it is that its being treated like a new phenomenon. They push perfection at young girls and are shocked when they get tired of it and make it a statement.


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