Recently I had to talk to a female student about posting suggestive photos of herself online, and before doing so I did some online reading on the subject. I read a lot about teaching girls that they are more than their appearance, to get value from other aspects of themselves such as academics or sports, and to seek validation from within rather than externally. Not new sentiments, certainly, but the internet does provide even more immediate reinforcement of these old beliefs young girls have about what sort of attention they should seek from males.
This may sound odd, but I found myself feeling just a bit guilty as I read some of this stuff, wondering if I am setting the right example in the way I participate in online communities, thinking of my photography of course. While I definitely do not seek male attention through the photographs I take and share, I do seek to be attractive in all of them. I am guilty of editing out the occasional lump and bump and blemish, and I always want to look pretty in my shots. I also thought about my participation on sites like ModCloth, where my profile exists solely to showcase the nice outfits I put together, as does anyone with a profile on their website. Should I care so much about a great outfit that I want to immortalize it on a website whose sole purpose, let’s face it, is to use those photos to sell women more clothes they most likely don’t need? Is participating in it reinforcing to girls that what they wear and how they look matters so much, even grown women go take photos of themselves so strangers can see how they looked that day in what they wore?
I’m far more comfortable with the artistic shots I share on Flickr than the wardrobe photos I have up on ModCloth, but I do also enjoy taking those pictures. I think at heart I am a fashion photographer more than anything – just one who doesn’t work with any models other than herself. Clothing is always part of what interests me in my shots, and clearly hair and makeup is too. I suppose that makes me more superficial from the get-go. I remember someone telling me early on that I shouldn’t categorize my photos as “self portraits” because they really don’t do what self-portraits should do, which is represent through the construction of a setting and the use of props important things about the self. And that is true, I don’t do any of that. Most of my shots are actually devoid of setting – interestingly enough, even my superficial stuff on ModCloth is shot in front of a backdrop, which is unusual for that site as most women are snapping photos of themselves with their cell phones while out for coffee or standing on the front porch.
It makes me wonder if my photos in general communicate what they should, or could; and if I should be doing more to send positive messages to girls and women than just, look how fab I did my makeup today and how awesome this skirt flows in the wind. But at the same time, I do love a good makeup application and the movement of an awesome caftan. One of the main reasons I’ve never tried to make my art, whatever it was at the time, a career was so that I would not have to be obligated to do anything other than whatever the hell I wanted, but sometimes I wonder if I want the right things. I don’t want to be hypocritical by telling young girls they should not seek validation about their self-worth through photographs of themselves online if what I’m doing appears to be the same thing – even if I know it isn’t. At least I think it isn’t.
Thoughts? And I know it’s safe to ask, because my readership has dropped considerably since I took down all my reviews; so I know I’ll be getting honest answers from real followers. At least I think I will.