I was sitting on a plane beside a very handsome Néhiyaw man with a thick braid… and I promise this isn’t the start of an Indigenous romance novel, although it should be.
Anyways, at some point of this conversation of why I think hickies are decolonized love and the sharing some favourite fantasies (I’m an amazing person to sit beside on a plane, trust), I got to thinking of something my friends had said earlier in the conversation. Basically, I got called out for not wanting to be in photos, and I had replied that I hate being in front of the camera. They laughed, and commented that I post selfies all the time.
So I got to thinking about the immediacy of a selfie, and the knowledge that mine will disappear within 24 hours as I share them on my Insta-story. I remembered how my professional Instagram page only has images of me every few months or so, hidden amongst the poetry and pro-shots of other people.
I pondered some more on how I’m creating vanishing images of myself and why would I do that, and how women are shamed for taking pride in ourselves. I got to thinking about how Indigenous women are praised as Elders, as matriarchs, as traditional beings – but that it’s hard to make space for the make-up queens, the expert city-dwellers, and the ones who have never skinned a moose but can make a latte to perfection.
Shit got complicated.
As an academic, I research. I have feelings about this situation, and my automatic go-to is to see what else is out there. Selfie’s are not new, and the arguments for and against the act of taking a picture of oneself are long and varied. The New Yorker has an interesting 7- minute-long video if you in the mood, but one of the highlights being that in the late 80’s/90’s the idea of self-esteem being a foundation in which to raise children – so they believe they are special and amazing – creates narcissistic beings who now try to live up to Instagram ideals and ultimately feel low and broken, even when we’re not. Yeah, the New Yorker is not a fan of selfie-culture, but it puts this phenomenon in a mainstream context.
But on the other hand, there are youth advocates who will defend their right to selfie and their right to love themselves. In The Odyssey Online, youth writer Krystal Underwood shares that “selfie culture promotes self-awareness. It encourages identity exploration and acceptance. Better yet, it exposes us to a diverse set of faces and bodies, instead of the standard image of beauty that gets shoved down our throats by pop culture and the media.” And I agree – creeping other people’s Instagrams and selfies for makeup, for style inspiration, for jewelry – has gained me a deeper understanding of areas of the world I have yet to travel to, has introduced me to new friends I have never met in person, and has opened my own mind to my perceptions of what Indigenous identity is.
But to be Indigenous and selfie is a whole other political act. Trust when I say you – you beautiful, powerful Indigenous person– you are special and unique and talented. Because you are still here.
You have come from a history of people who have survived genocide and ongoing attempts at colonization, and for you to be here – breathing, living, existing – you are special. It don’t matter if you stay home all day, creeping social media (hey, it me….). It don’t matter if you hold high offices and change the world. All Indigenous people, we are powerful. We are resistance. We are art. We are beauty.
As a photographer, I know the influence that a strong image can hold. I work almost exclusively with Indigenous women and that is a deliberate choice. I see our beauty in every angle; I see our stories in every tilt of the head. I see us, effortlessly. This is probably why I am all for selfies – I think we have spent enough time being told to bow our heads, to be silent, to not take up space. Love songs are written about how women don’t know they’re beautiful, as if realizing our beauty is the single greatest flaw we could have. As if we are only beautiful if affirmation comes from someone else.
I am here for every move where we make our presence known. I’m so tired of being invisible in media, in movies, in stories. Every movie I watch, I look up whose land it is. Because we have to know the land we walk upon. Every road trip I take, we track whose territory we move through. We are here – in music, in research, on the streets, in classrooms, in boardrooms. And we have fought so hard to be present – to be visible, to make these marks.
And sometimes, we need to see ourselves. See the ones beside us. See that we aren’t alone. See the beauty in winged eyeliner. The smiling faces on new adventures. We need to see the stoic glance. We need to see the new ink telling old stories. We need to see the new moms and the laughing grandmothers. We need to see the transgender artists and the two-spirit beauty queens. We need to see the sadness we carry, we need to see the joy we hold.
We need to see the beautiful ombré of skin tones we carry, all Indigenous.
We need to see who you are, where you are.
Because coast to coast to coast, we still here.
Selfie away. I wanna see you.
-tenille k campbell
A special Thank You to all my wonderful friends who allowed me the use of their selfies for this blog post. Merci chok.