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Nia King & Teagan Widmer: The Great Selfie Debate

By Teagan Widmer and Nia King

By Teagan (Twid) Widmer and guest contributor Nia King; music courtesy of SAFE.

Nia King is a mixed-race queer art activist from Boston, Massachusetts. She currently resides in Oakland, California where she runs the podcast We Want the Airwaves: QPOC Artists on the Rise.

Transcribed Selection Below:

Nia King: There’s been a lot of conversations recently about how our generation is allegedly super-narcissistic and how social media is making us narcissistic and I think selfies, or self-portraits, have been pointed to as the evidence of that.

My first question is, do you think that it’s accurate that our generation is perhaps more vain, and that selfies are a product of that? And secondly, do you think that’s a bad thing?

Teagan (Twid) Widmer: I don’t think we’re necessarily more vain. I think selfies are a good thing. I’m pro-selfie. I just want to start with that.

As someone who’s part of a marginalized group, I spent a lot of time not being able to tell my own story. Not being able to present myself the way that I wanted to present myself. Finding myself in situations where I had to let other people present me, or be represented in a way that the dominant culture saw me. I think self-portraiture allows for a way to challenge that. To say “No, I’m going to take control of how I look. I’m going to put my best foot forward, what I consider to be my best foot, not what you consider to be my best foot, cause I think often those are two different things.”

Nia: Yeah, it’s very different when you take a selfie versus when somebody takes a picture of you in public and uploads it to the internet.

Twid: Yeah. I feel like selfies looks like me, and when other people take pictures of me, they don’t look like me.

Nia: I can see what you’re saying about selfies give you control over how you represent yourself to the world, but how many selfies do you really need to do that? Because people don’t just take one selfie, a lot of times they’re taking and posting selfies like all the time. And even if you’re transitioning, you’re face doesn’t change that much from day to the next. So… what’s that about? [laughing]

Twid: I work a job where I wear a uniform, and this uniform is very de-gendering for me. It’s like a big ski-jacket type of thing, and like an orange polo, and then grey pants. None of it is really cut for women. When I first got there, they only had men’s stuff. I’ve been able to get women’s pieces but they’re not…

Nia: They’re not flattering?

Twid: They’re not flattering. So I have to go do that 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. So when I finish a shift, in which I’ve probably been misgendered multiple times - also because I’m usually wearing a hat where my hair is up, I’m less likely to be gendered correctly – so sometimes that can be really mentally taxing on me. At the end of the day, when I get on BART, when I’m back in my normal clothes, it can be really helpful for me to take a selfie, and look at myself, and say, “Oh, I don’t really look like a boy. Ok. I’m ok,” you know? I feel like sometimes that’s just really calming. And that’s not an every day thing, but some days are worse than others, and some days I need that.

Twid: Why are you anti-selfie?

Nia: I’m someone who mostly uses social media to promote my work as an artist. I think the reason I get frustrated is that I feel like I’m competing with selfies and cat photos, and you just can’t win.

When I interviewed Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler, he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “I had to take a break from social media because it was starting to hurt my feelings. It’s easy to forget that people don’t necessarily go to social media to find ground-breaking new work. They go to social media to look at cat photos.”

“I think when you’re an artists who’s doing something like putting 8-10 hours into editing a podcast, and then you put it on tumblr and it gets like 8 notes…”… and then you see a cat photo or a selfie with like a gajillion, it feels like you’re just banging you’re head against the wall.

But I feel like there’s also like a… tumblr in particular is like a visual economy, right? It’s all about pretty photos.

Twid: Totally.

Nia: So what if you’re not cute? You know?

First of all, what if your face isn’t what you want to share, or what you feel like is the thing of most value that you bring to the world? And also, what if you’re not that crazy about the way you look?

For me as a woman [and an artist], it feels really important to be valued for what I create and not what I look like.

I feel like selfies are great if you have “cute privilege,” but what if you don’t? Where do you belong in the selfie economy? (20:00)

Like this post? Support Nia’s podcast We Want the Airwaves.

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Teagan Widmer and Nia King

writer, artist, educator, and eternal student.

Catch up with me @twidx.


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June 19, 2013

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