I deactivated my Facebook account a while back, so I’m trying to be more active on other social media platforms. This is partly to keep in touch with people and partly to curate a more professional presence online. I rarely ever take pictures, but I’ve always enjoyed photography, so I’m mainly focusing on Instagram.
When selfies first became a thing, I was obsessed. My parents bought me my first cellphone when I was 11 years old, largely for emergencies, but I quickly learned that a mirror picture made a great Facebook profile picture. It was a way for me to express myself during a hard time, and it helped me feel a little bit more like my peers. But somewhere around ninth grade, I stopped taking selfies — or, at least I stopped sharing them with people.
I’ve always been self-conscious of how I look. I don’t pretend that is in any way unique to me; self-esteem and body image are common these days, especially when it comes to adolescent girls. But it was, I think, at least somewhat different because I wasn’t just comparing myself to other people — I was constantly being reminded that I was different, that my body didn’t look like everyone else’s, that something was wrong with me. My classmates started shopping at Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and American Eagle Outfitters, but I was too small, too thin, to fit into camisoles and skinny jeans. I had to make do with Aeropostale, which I was quickly growing out of, and the girls’ section at Kohl’s.
The older I got, the easier it became for me to point out the “ugly” parts of myself. The crooked teeth, yes, and the imperfect skin, but also things that were unique to me. I remember watching “The Princess Diaries” and noticing for the first time that Anne Hathaway’s hands — pale and slender, with long, graceful fingers — looked nothing like my own. My hands were small and pudgy, fingers contorted from years of disuse, wrists bent at odd angles. I looked like I had a double chin because of the way I sat in my wheelchair. My classmates grew into themselves as time went on, losing their jutting corners and sharp edges, but my oddities only grew more pronounced.
Every few years, I would change my profile picture to something “acceptable.” Sometimes I even relied on baby pictures, hoping that I could use the cuteness of my younger self to disguise the cuteness bankruptcy of my older self. I still took selfies, but they never saw the light of day. I had to take it at just the right angle or my double chin would appear, or my crooked teeth would become obvious. They were never good enough. I was never good enough.
Because I’m on Instagram more now, I’m taking selfies again. Mostly, I just send them to friends, goof around with filters when I feel like it, but I’ve been consciously trying to post some as well. Instagram’s Story feature helps a lot because I know that once I post something, it’ll be gone within 24 hours; I won’t have to see it every time I go to my profile. It’s hard, because at 22 years old, I still harbor a lot of the same anxieties about my appearance. I feel weird taking pictures of myself. After abstaining from “selfie culture” for so long, I feel vain. The disabled body is rarely uplifted, and to celebrate it myself, for myself …
It’s hard, but I’m trying to have fun with it. My body is disabled, but it is still my body. It is still the body I live in, take care of, fight with. And, strangely enough, selfies remind me that I, my body, my body and I, are all here. Sometimes, especially during the winter, I fall prey to dissociation — I so rarely leave the house, am so rarely seen by other people, that I feel … unwitnessed. Transient. But selfies allow me a moment of realness.
When I do post them on Instagram, I feel seen.
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