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December 2, 2013

Lisa Madras: You really posted that ‘duck-face’ shot? OK, suit your selfie

NEW CASTLE — What makes a person beautiful?

I look forward to the annual release of the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year with far more voracity than even a nerd like me should really be willing to admit publicly.

But I do, and even though too many of the recent year's words are what I'd call tech terms, it's still fun to watch our language grow.  

I was intrigued when I learned that this year's word was "selfie." It's one that's unofficially been in circulation for a while now, and like any other good word, it already comes with its own connotation — in this case, a negative one.

It's hard to think about selfies without also thinking about duck-face. But thanks to Oxford Dictionary, we now know that a selfie is "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

I've been taking selfies (sans duck-face, thank you very much) for as long as I've had a camera. I never post them anywhere, but at the end of my life, I'd like to have at least a few good shots to play in the slideshow at my funeral, and I'd like to have some photographic evidence that I did, in fact, exist at one time. (Forget pictures that other people take. Somehow they always manage to catch you scooping food into your mouth, or laughing so hard that it looks like you have horse teeth, or heaven forbid, the horror of all horrors — the dreaded double chin!) So every once in while, when I'm having a good hair day or I'm all dressed up to go to someone else's funeral, it's selfie time.

This dorky and irritating little six-letter word has stirred up a whole heap of controversy, and so like any good blogger, me, my selfie, and I just had to jump on the bandwagon. I read all of the steaming articles that declared that selfies are a cry for help, and their counterpart pieces that defended selfies as feminist and empowering.

Then I curled my hair, put on some Cover Girl, and got a pretty decent selfie to toss up on my Facebook page. (Note: NOT the picture accompanying this blog. That's me and my editor keepin' it real, yo.) I posted it, and waited patiently for the results, not even really sure what I expected or how I would feel about it.

I got a lot of really nice comments and way more "likes" than I expected to get. One person said I looked younger, and I'm not gonna lie,  I was pretty tickled. My mother posted, "Mirror mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all." I've since banned her from my page, but that's a blog for another day. (Just kidding, Mom!)

I really didn't expect anyone to say things like, "Ack!  Take it down!" or "Wow, you look terrible. Have you been ill?" so I have to say that if I was looking for some sort of validation of my perceived beauty, the results wouldn't have passed muster in an honest experiment. People just aren't that mean. Well, they can be, but we don't tend to keep them around, even as Facebook friends.

All in all, though, I'd have to say at the conclusion of my little test, I have to agree with the nay-sayers on the subject of selfies. I was frightened enough putting that picture up and waiting for the responses that I realized I was going to be disappointed if I didn't receive a fair amount of positive feedback. And I don't like that about myself.

While I just took a pretty plain picture of myself sitting at my work desk, thousands and thousands of girls and women take pictures of themselves with too much makeup and too little clothing and OMG-do-I-have-to-say-it-again-DUCK-FACES and put them out into the world to prove that they are sexual and desirable creatures. And men are doing no better with the thrown-up gang signs, sideways hats, and Zoolander impersonations. (Macho, thy name is Blue Steel, said no woman ever.)

So here is my honest and un-retouched opinion for all the selfie-takers of the world. First off, let's go ahead and get this out of the way: that duck-face is ridiculous, and if you don't realize that you're being laughed at, I am very, truly sorry for you. Second, see-through jammies and other revealing clothes make you a sex OBJECT. To be clear, that is not a good thing. And finally, tasteful and honest selfies can make great profile pictures, but how beautiful you are is in no way related to that picture or the comments and "likes" that follow it.

Oxford Dictionary did a great job defining selfie — now we have to be careful how our selfie defines us. Is yours a cry for help, as one blogger put it, or is it feminist and empowering as some others say?

Does your selfie really show the world what makes you beautiful?


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