A couple of days ago a friend told me that he had heard an interview with George Clooney in which Clooney complained that he missed shaking hands with his fans. Smart- phone in hand, his fans were busy taking a “selfie” standing next to him. Personal interaction was not the fans’ intent; rather, the photo was all about them.
This story (probably mangled in my third-person telling) really resonated with me. It seems that we are increasingly focused on ourselves. Have we always been so self-absorbed or is this phenomenon something new?
Reading The Writer’s Almanac for May 31, I read a birthday piece on Walt Whitman who had a strong (inflated?) sense of self. At one point, Whitman went to a phrenologist who claimed that Whitman’s head revealed “amativeness, self-esteem, individuality and animal will.” Whitman was thrilled: to his mind, the phrenologist had hit-the-nail-on-the-head.
When Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, Whitman wrote many of the reviews himself. In an 1881 British edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman wanted an 1854 daguerreotype facing “Song of Myself.” He liked it because “it is natural, honest, easy.” He felt it had a spontaneous quality and captured the real Whitman.
Do we want REAL or have we been seduced by the advertising world. The term “authentic self” his gone out of fashion, but then again…
National Geographic is one of my favorite magazines, and its photography website is a valuable resource. If you read the magazine, you probably know about “Your Shot” photographic opportunities. The magazine sets the assignment and invites readers to submit a photo that best meets the assignment. Once such assignment was to take a self-portrait. See: <yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/stories/self-portrait>. Scroll through the photos and read the commentary.
The website has posted 23 self-portraits. The photos are enhanced by the photographers’ self-reflection on why they took the photo they took, and National Geographic photographers tell what aspects of the photo made each worthy of publication. Several photos have to do with a woman’s physical identity. In one, for example, a larger, naked, older woman sits holding a large, glamour portrait of herself that was taken 30 years earlier. In another photo, you see only a woman’s mid-section and a tape measure pulled Scarlett O’Hara tight – constricting her waist.
I am so taken with the idea of the private and public images of ourselves. I am reminded of an exhibit some years ago at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The exhibit was self-portraits. The portrait that stayed with me was of a man and his dog. The man’s body was complete except his head which was missing. The man wrote that when he was with his dog, strangers would stop to talk and pet the dog, but they never looked at him.
Personally, I wish my thin, Puritan lips were fuller. I wish my eyes were not so squinty. As for the wrinkles… there is no wishing them away – it is genetic on my mother’s side. Several summers ago, my grandchildren and I spent an idyllic afternoon face painting one another. When it was my turn, I told I told my granddaughter that I wanted fuller lips, bigger eyes and if she could do something about the wrinkles…
And here I am. My lips are fuller, my eyes are bigger and… the lavender dots certainly do distract one’s eye from the wrinkles. The moral is “love yourself and the body you are in.”