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“Selfie Queen” 10×10, oil on canvas $75.00 Buy Now

I used to teach American Literature to high school sophomores so I was thrilled when Kristi Parks, a high school English teacher in St. Cloud, Florida was the first to respond to my Facebook request for models to use in attempt to create a palette knife portrait. She said her students taught her how to take a selfie, and she had used her new-found talent on a morning when she was a having a particularly good hair day.

Indeed, it was a good hair day. The hair was the best part to paint. Since I’ve never met Kristi, I asked her to tell me a little about her selfie.

Meet Cool-Teacher Kristi

I spend my days filling the brains of my students with the greatness of American Literature, but there are times when they also teach me. I consider myself one of those “cool” teachers.  I stay current on fashion, music, teenage slang, and social media. But what I could not seem to understand a couple of years ago was the obsession my students had with taking selfies. I would watch them as they prepared for their selfies; they were like painters preparing to create masterpieces. They would fluff their hair, practice their expressions, check the lighting, angle their phones, and then finally take a photo. I had tried taking selfies in the past, but mine would turn out horribly. My head would look too large or my skin tone would look unnatural. However, the selfies my students took always looked amazing. I couldn’t understand it. I mentioned this in class one day and a student responded, “Mrs. Parks, you just don’t know how to take them correctly.”  I replied, “Isn’t it just hold the phone and push the button.”  They laughed at my naiveté and decided it was time to give me a lesson.  These are the rules I learned that day:

  • Lighting- Lighting is the most important part of a selfie. Lighting can either make or break your photo. It is best to use natural lighting. If at all possible, take your selfie outside. But the second best thing is to open the blinds of the window, face the window, and then take the photo. I have found that this really works. Almost every selfie I take now is done this way. Natural lighting makes your skin look great. 
  • Angle- Hold your phone slightly higher than your head, and angle it down. My students promise that this is the most flattering angle.
  • Accentuate a feature- Focus on a feature that you like. Are your eyes beautiful?  Is your eyeliner on point today?  Did you get the perfect pouty lip when you applied your lipstick?  Do your cheekbones look amazing with your new blush?  Selfies are a great way to capture how beautiful you feel.
  • Background- Watch your background.  The best selfie can be ruined by a horrible background. My students recommend making sure it is free of clutter, or anything else that will distract from the photo.  Also, they stress that if you take a selfie in your car (while it is in park, of course) make sure your seatbelt is tucked behind you and is not in the picture.
  • Feel Beautiful- I alluded to this is Step #3, but selfies are about feeling beautiful. There are those that disagree with this. Psychologists argue that selfies are creating a narcissistic generation. But this is far from the truth. I have the honor of spending five days a week with these students. There is not one of them that I would point to and tell you they are a narcissist.  Instead, I have a lot of students who believe they are beautiful and that their friends are beautiful. They have a strong self-identity and don’t feel like they need society to tell them they are beautiful. Selfies make them feel empowered, and with so many teenage girls suffering from a poor self-image, selfie-taking should actually be something we encourage.

I have been taking selfies following these rules for about two years now. My students were right; selfies make me feel beautiful. Additionally, I have begun taking a selfie with my daughter every weekend.  We plan to create a collage of all of our photos after a year. It is a great way for us to bond and also a way for me to help her build a strong self-identity. I am thankful to my students for the lessons that they have taught me- selfie and otherwise- and I hope maybe you can use these tips to find the beauty within yourself too.

I’ve done my fair share of selfie-shaming in the past, but I think Kristi is onto something, and I think (hope) I captured her confidence in the painting. Confidence is what struck me about the photo and why I picked it among the dozen I received. Years ago I had my own students read an article about the death of the self-portrait in art due to the overabundance of profile pics on every on-line platform. This was even before selfies were ubiquitous. I follow an artist on instagram who is doing a series of large scale portraits, selfie-inspired. He chooses less-than-flattering images of his face that suggest a kind of satire and playful self mockery.

Whether they help us to take ourselves more seriously or less, selfies might just be more appealing than I once believed. Thank you, Kristi, for teaching me.

Got a great selfie? Keep sending them my way via facebook or email ([email protected]). Include a brief written description of some aspect of you– who you are, what you believe, something interesting/profound/simple that has happened to you and you just might be featured on this blog. Can’t wait!

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