In the Greek mythology of Narcissus, we hear a tale of a man who was prophesized to ‘live to a ripe old age, as long as he never knows himself’. Unfortunately for Narcissus, he one day finds a river and in it he sees his own reflection, not knowing it is himself, he falls in love with it and wishes to kiss it. Not wanting for it to disappear, he dies from thirst – and that is the story of Narcissus and where we get narcissism from I guess. The obsession with one´s own reflection/self to one´s detriment.
When the whole selfie culture emerged – even though we know that a selfie is just the fastest and most accessible form of what is respectfully known as a ‘self-portrait’. This is something nobles used to mostly have the privilege to in forms of paintings, then photography came along and people would pay for that too as a luxury – but the selfie, which allows you at any moment to capture your own reflection, is still something we are only getting used to.
Many, especially from the older generation, have deemed this millennial practice to be self-obsessed and narcissistic in nature: The obsession/exploration with one’s own reflection. To be honest, I think I too often thought of it like that, why so many selfies bro? But then I also wonder – what is so wrong about someone enjoying their own reflection? Why does it make us uncomfortable to know that someone is aware of their reflection and sometimes, in the forms of social media – willing to share it with others? Does it really make us less rounded people and more selfish and self-involved?
When I was a young girl, I seldom used the mirror for much except for company while I brushed my teeth or washed my face. When I became a teenager, however – I started staring longer at my reflection. This, of course, is normal because you start wanting to figure out who you are and where you belong in society and how you measure up, especially as girls/women. Needless to say, I started getting a very negative relationship with my own reflection. My reflection was no longer a companion, let alone a lover like Narcissus but rather, someone who I was in constant conflict with. Constant judgment and dis-ease with. Also, as an African girl – raised in a white country- it didn´t help that I didn´t have much representation to cling my reflection to – and the constant consumption of pro-white-media (which might not be a problem if you are white yourself) started picking away at my own non-white reflection.
I remember the first time I wanted to take pictures of myself – it was with a digital camera my mom had bought me for school travels when I was around 14-15 – When I looked at the pictures – I felt so ugly – so unlike what I was supposed to look like. When I came back from my school trip, most of my pictures were of the buildings, people and other classmates – my reflection wasn´t one I had much desire to add to the memories.
Fast forward 15 years later – and I am a different girl from the one I used to be. I slowly started making peace with my own reflections – I documented many of my phases as a foreign African girl and the stages of figuring it all out – through my emo days, with flat-ironed bangs and attempted eye-liner – To the traveller, the peace-maker, the homemaker, the love maker – to me as whole, the kinks and all. Looking unapologetically at my own reflection – looking with understanding, knowledge, and embrace, but most of all, with self-love. From the hater on the other side of the reflection, I had clicked my way to the lover on the other side.
Before, most of my self-portraits were from my phone or someone else or stacked from books and pillows to find angles for the ideal representation. If you look through my Instagram journey – you will be able to see how I have grown as a woman and how comfortable I have become in my own skin by the pictures I take of myself and even the filters I use.
Yet, it has been only recently, when I turned 29 that I started seriously using a tripod and setting and all. I see the beauty of self-awareness and self-love that taking self-portraits can really contribute to. I also love the idea for my own collection of memories- memories that I can pass down for generations to come. Reflections that would show my future offsprings someday that I was here, aware and capable of holding love and care for my being. By honoring the moment and the phases of my existence and sharing honestly – I hope that that does not only keep enriching me but hopefully, the generations to come.
So, back to Narcissus – the tale was believed to be a cautionary tale about being too self-involved- but like so many of the tales in that time – it was a tale that urged the individual to only find validation from outside rather than inside – even the story of Eve and humanity could be semi-related to this, being punished for seeking self-awareness and knowledge. Yet, through my own evolution as a person, I believe that humanity does that too. We evolve. That perspective, perhaps made sense for where people were then, but it doesn´t mean it makes sense for us today.
It is beautiful to celebrate your existence in any format you find comfortable – to explore your own self-awareness and self-expression. We are here, we are aware and there is nothing wrong with that. Take a selfie sis and rejoice with what the universe has made and poured life in!