The idea for this post came in the middle of a back-to-school meeting. As part of our professional development, we seek to understand students in order to teach effectively. We read relevant articles and then share as a group.
One such article identified today’s Generation Z as “intimate exhibitionists” – an interesting label that fostered discussion. One fellow colleague used this as an opportunity to voice her frustration with selfies. She interprets them as narcissistic. Why must they post every meal they eat?
While many agreed with her observation, I wasn’t so sure.
First of all, I’m not convinced this obsession with sharing selfies is limited to the younger generation. My newsfeed is filled with images of Baby Boomers sharing their latest adventure, or Millennials taking part in local political protests. While some of these pictures are frivolous and perhaps place too much emphasis on self, I enjoy this sneak-peak into the lives of others. And often, they inspire me.
For example, my high school friend posts pictures of her before-and-after weight loss of 80 pounds! She has maintained a healthy weight for three years and wants to encourage others they can do the same. Her self-discipline and honesty (she still occasionally gives in to her sweet-tooth) motivate me to take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy retirement.
Another example is my co-worker who recently learned her cancer returned after a three-year remission. Her gaunt face and scarfed head demonstrate a different kind of beauty. She faces this deadly disease with courage and bravery. I do not view her selfies as narcissistic. I applaud her vulnerability and willingness to show us true authenticity.
Unlike my teaching colleague, I enjoy mealtime selfies. From a practical standpoint, I find new restaurants to visit or recipes to try. These posts help me get out of my rut and experiment. But more than that, these everyday photos show me how to celebrate ordinary moments.
I spend too much of my life on autopilot. I can’t tell you what I had for dinner last night. I just know I didn’t go to bed hungry. I can’t tell you what I did all day, but I know I was exhausted when I got home.
Taking the selfie forces me to slow down. Setting up the food shot before taking the picture increases the anticipation of that first bite. I am more likely to savor the flavor and appreciate the texture. I learn to eat with my eyes as well as my mouth. I taste rather than gobble. I sip rather than guzzle. A simple meal becomes a memorable experience.
Selfies are also important because they draw us out of the shadows and into the light. As someone who suffers from low self-esteem and Impostor Syndrome, my comfort zone is behind the camera. But as I sort through boxes of family photos, I realize how few images I have of my mother and grandmother. And what I would give to have more tangible memories of them.
This “intimate exhibitionist” generation is teaching me to ignore what others think. Instead, I need to embrace who I am and share what I have to offer with the world around me. If I’m not willing to do that, I become invisible and ineffective.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses the difference between fitting in and belonging. She defines fitting in as assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, does not require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.
Selfies help us learn to accept ourselves. They force us to slow down and live in the moment. And they reconnect us with our past and inspire us toward a brighter future.
About the Author: Molly Totoro
Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.