Growing up, my relationship with beauty vacillated between avoidance and complete devotion. I always felt like pursuing mainstream beauty required a slice of my self: time dedicated to grooming myself, money dedicated to products, and identity dedicated to embodying my beauty efforts. I could either spend two hours perfecting my eyeliner and flat-ironed hair or memorize new vocabulary words for school. (I went back and forth.)
The traps of sexism have created "camps" we're expected to pledge allegiance to: there are beautiful women, smart women, funny women, and kind women. While these groups overlap in the mess of reality, the catch of being female is that we're only allowed to claim so much at once. I've often felt like I can spend time being pretty, smart, kind, or funny—but certainly not all of the above. My process of breaking out of these restrictive boxes was closely associated with the freedom of the internet, and with one phenomenon in particular: selfies.
"Setting one flattering picture as your social media default replaces—virtually—getting ready every day for a month."
Online, you have unique control of your image: you can curate, edit, and rearrange your physical and emotional strengths (and flaws). You can present different versions of yourself: maximal transformation with minimal effort.
Setting one flattering picture as your social media default replaces—virtually—getting ready every day for a month: no need to apply makeup, style hair, or curate clothing. This is true freedom for someone who's busy applying for jobs, studying for finals, catching up with family or friends, or just not feeling in the mood. The internet provides a low-maintenance way to explore ideas of beauty without putting pressure on your big-picture life.
And so, I found the solution to my struggle to balance beauty-play with other interests: a curated internet presence. In the virtual world I can pose for a picture, take it, run it through a moody or flattering (maybe both) filter, and set it as my appearance. Once I realized I could look one way in real life and another online and have them exist as simultaneous truths, I felt a freedom to explore beauty without any feelings of guilt or oppression. I found myself excited to display new hair, makeup, or an outfit and to garner validation or conversation.
"The internet provides a low-maintenance way to play with and explore ideas of beauty without putting pressure on your big-picture life."
I've been in Facebook groups for women recovering from abuse, eating disorders, and other emotional trauma, where the ability to post positive selfies and pictures of ourselves proved to be a powerful tool for healing. Rather than having to do the work of dressing and grooming ourselves for a lunch with other women, we were able to utilize the freedom of the internet to present our beauty and femininity in our own, low-effort way.
Contrary to what the naysayers say, the internet can empower women who want to explore the possibilities of beauty but who may not have the time, energy, or confidence to seek it out in real life. Whether you're a talented makeup artist or someone who's unenthused about the narrative around beauty, the internet lets you play with self-image in a way that is both limitless and flexible—and that is truly beautiful.
I've listened to countless conversations lamenting the influx of selfies and the ways in which the internet allows people to present themselves as happier, more attractive, or deceptively "better" versions of themselves. While I don't support using the internet to deceive, my question to those so vigilantly anti-selfie is this: How can you discount the unusual mix of both freedom and control that life online can provide?