Selfies shape who we are as they allow us to externalize our constantly changing internal self definition. This is reflected in the five selfies I have chosen to represent a major transitional phase in my life. The most interesting aspect of my identity reflected in this curated group of selfies is shifts in gender presentation that occurred prior to, during, and after the process of my coming out as a lesbian.
Judith Butler, in this interview, explains her belief that gender is inherently performative, saying, “We act as if being a man or being a woman is an internal reality, or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us. But it’s actually a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time. So to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.” I believe that the performative nature of gender is truly reflected in the group of selfies I have selected.
In my first selfie taken in Fall 2015, I was a junior in high school. Most of my selfies from this era are similar to this one. At the time, these selfies were serious productions, with a lot of time and effort put into them. I wanted to seem creative, mysterious, flirtatious, and most importantly, feminine. In the second selfie taken in Fall of 2016, this feminine aesthetic is still reflected in a more casual selfie with my brother. In the third selfie taken a month later, I had come out to my family, cut my hair extremely short, and would experiment with dressing more masculinely. The dramatic shift in my presentation between these two selfies reflects that gender is not something inherent to us, but is performed, like Butler said.
I didn’t maintain that a masculine aesthetic for very long. In the fourth selfie, taken at my family’s 2018 New Years Eve party, you can see that I was purposely trying to reflect my queerness, but in a feminine way. Three months prior to this selfie, I had come out to extended family and friends through social media. This is reflected in this NYE selfie as I am reflecting a campy performance of femininity, wearing rainbow makeup and posing in front of my Pride flag. In the final selfie in the selection, taken in Spring of 2019 is reflective of selfies I have been posting on Instagram for some time now. It is definitely less about a particular gender performance, and more about capturing joyful moments with my loved ones.
Selfies were a way to externalize the internal shifts in my identity during this time. In high school, my desire to take feminine selfies impacted the ways that I did my hair and makeup. My comfortability with dressing more masculine was improved by positive responses on Instagram to selfies like the second one. Performing campy queerness for the New Years Eve selfie was a fun experience and inspired me to experiment more with makeup for awhile. Selfies shape who we are because they allow us to distinctly create our self image for an audience on social media, and because how we want to express our identities tends to impact our behaviors.