Most selfies are really cry-for-helpies.
— Mark Peters (@wordlust) November 23, 2013
Selfies are interesting because they show you how other people see themselves. We only have so much control over the photographs of us that other people take and make public in the world, but with selfies, we have complete control; we "curate the experience." We choose the angle, the expression, the filter, etc., and we only share it if we feel it's a positive reflection (ha ha, since the front-facing camera takes a reverse mirror image) of the self. A selfie says, "This is how I think I look." Because contrary to the feel-good idea that people think they are uglier than they are, most people identify with the flattering image of themselves, not the one with the bad angle or the sour expression. We think, That's how I look, not like that. The fact that we mostly experience our own appearance in a mirror means that we only identify with that version of the image, the angle we choose to look at ourselves with. This creates the illusion that cameras somehow capture sides of you that don't exist, when, in fact, other people can see your bad angles and sour expressions all the time. When it comes to other people's appearances, we have a fuller sense of object permanence, or perhaps color constancy is a better metaphor: Change the lighting and we still see the apple or the car as red. And other people always look like themselves. But we don't have this same sense of constancy when it comes to our own appearance. Maybe newscasters and actors who see themselves on film a lot really know what they look like, or come close to knowing. But I don't feel that I know what I look like. When someone tells me that a photo looks nothing like me, I can't make sense of it, because I don't know what they think I look like, and I don't know which photos do look like me. I mostly experience photos of me as looking like other photos of me.
At the gym earlier this week, I caught the last 15 minutes or so of Ghost, which I hadn't seen since high school. There's a scene where a man realizes he's dead when he sees his own body lying bloodied in the street, having been smashed between two cars. I wonder, would I even recognize myself at a distance? A while back on Twitter, Michael Robbins said about a guy in a commercial, "He looks exactly like me and it's so annoying." I found that fascinating, because I've never seen anyone that I thought looked like me. I don't know if it's because my face has an unusual arrangement (that I genuinely don't look like very many people) or because my mental image of my own face is too vague (the way you remember a face from a dream, or someone you've only met once or twice) to trigger pattern recognition.
P.S. My brief essay on Karen Green's Bough Down, a beautiful hybrid book containing collages and something like prose poetry, is up at Lemon Hound:
“It’s hard to remember tender things tenderly,” Green writes. It’s both apology and apologia for the memoir – it’s hard to remember things accurately; it’s hard to remember, full stop. Bough Down is as much about memory as it is about grief. Memory of the lost thing is a kind of tyranny – those hours she refuses to have, taking pills to sleep or forget – but also a gift, a form of access to the past she reluctantly accepts as an only option.It's one of my favorite reads from the past year. Put it on your Xmas list!