In fashion theory, we talk about use value and sign value. Simply put, garments are both functional (use value) and communicative (sign value). They can be used for their utilitarian purpose (to keep you covered, warm, cool, protected) as well as for their ability to signal something to the viewer about the wearer’s social class, profession, orientation, gender-identity, background, age, and any number of other attributes.
When thinking about the selfie through this lens of semiotics and more specifically in terms of the selfie’s sign value, we see the vast potential this medium offers for self-representation and inclusion. The gaze is no longer coming from a biased outsider who fashions the subject according to his or her understanding and worldview. The selfie makes possible for subjects to participate in the creation of a visual “self” with far greater control over the sign-value of their image. The subject becomes the photographer, confusing past notions of gaze and object, and inviting the viewer to see the subject just as the subject desires to be seen. Not to say that it offers us any more ‘authentic’ of an image or representation. Rather, it offers the subjects in the selfie the chance to determine their performance of self, which – however (in)authentic – is pretty awesome.
In other words: the selfie allows people of all colors, identities, ages, and presentations to quite literally insert themselves into the picture. Here I am, the selfie shouts, often accompanied by some type of hashtag. Here I am, and I matter! reads the mantra of the #365feministselfie – a selfie genre with the accompanying hashtag coined by feminist writer Veronica Arreola, who describes herself as “trying to navigate and understand the intersection between feminism, motherhood and her Latinadad” on her blog, Viva La Feminista. Arreola created the hashtag to encourage herself and other women of color to celebrate themselves, to practice self-love, and to challenge the writings of feminist writers who dismissed the selfie as merely superficial and narcissistic.
Here are some of our own #365feministselfies for this issue of our newsletter. Want to share your selfie with us? Find us on Twitter @WLC_ISU and tag us in your photo! We’d love to see you – and all of your beautiful, creative, empowered, complex, and unique presentations of self.