I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old in the photo. I’m at the beach, grinning proudly like I’m enjoying the best day ever.
The image isn’t the best quality — it’s a bit blurry and taken at a weird angle (to my credit, I was only 10, remember) — but joy practically radiates from it. There’s no mistaking: This was a selfie. One of my first, but certainly not the last.
In fact, that photo was the beginning of my love affair with selfies, ushering in nearly three decades of self-discovery and life lessons that I never would’ve expected could come from the seemingly simple act of pointing a camera toward myself.
Today, my camera roll is filled with a dizzying array of selfies. There’s the selfie I took in front of my favorite tree in my front yard — in both winter and summer! There’s the frustrated-look selfie I took while at the DMV two years ago; the smiling selfie from the first time attending the local fair, the food stands and their alluring smells behind me. And there’s the many selfies I took roaming the streets of Manhattan and having a very Carrie Bradshaw moment — first in Central Park, surrounded by lush greenery, and then on the busy city streets, tall buildings shaping the background.
Still, as popular as selfies are now, they also tend to get a bad reputation — they’re vain and overindulgent, a form of pure narcissism, people say. Aren’t people who love selfies just really in love with … themselves?? I admit that I used to wonder this too.
And then, almost like fate, two years ago I had a tweet go viral that reminded me exactly why selfies are revolutionary and empowering for disabled people like me. After some internet trolls said that I was too ugly to be posting photos of myself, I responded with a tweet in which I posted THREE selfies. It was a cheeky response to mean bullies, but as my tweet took off, I quickly realized that those selfies were about so much more.
Because I’m a woman writer with a rare genetic bone and muscular disease — and an active and enthusiastic internet participant — I was used to getting less-than-nice comments. Still, these bullies really made me think about my long-held selfie habit. And I realized that the more selfies I snapped (and posted), the more free I felt. Being disabled can sometimes make you feel like you want to hide because we live in a world that still has yet to fully accept disabled people at best and doesn’t treat them like human beings at worst.
But these selfies? They gave me the opportunity to be myself in a world that didn’t want me to be. They’re also an opportunity for the world, to see and hear from a disabled person. For the first time, I felt as though I was helping to break down long-standing misconceptions about disabilities. July is Disability Pride Month, and as I’ve written in posts accompanying photos of myself, I’m disabled and proud, not disabled but proud.
I’ve also used selfies to talk about disabilities and dating, which is something people don’t talk enough about. I’m turning 40 next month and for me, my disability has made dating virtually nonexistent. Posting selfies alongside jokes and observations about dating gives me a way to voice these struggles, and to see and hear that many other disabled people experience them too. It’s my hope that being so open will help more people see disabled people as possible romantic partners. What used to be my secret shame is turning into my secret weapon.
Yes, what may have started out as me just posting photos of myself became such a life-changing experience. Selfies can be a powerful tool that allows disabled people to tell their own stories, for their own reasons. To me, selfies mean self-confidence, loving my disabled body fully and completely and unapologetically taking up space. Almost thirty years later, that’s a beautiful view.