Selfie love! 10 SA creatives reflect on selfies as affirmation and self-expression

In our world of smart phones and social media, selfies are changing the face of self-portraiture. More and more people are debating the traditional view of selfie-production as self-indulgent and using the medium to send out their own messages, whether feminist statements, body and sex positivity and so much more. Selfies can be considered everyday works of art that have cultural and political power. With this is in mind we ask 10 creatives to speak on the popular form of self-expression.

Below, they describe how selfie-production can be used to create digital intimacy, to unapologetically announce your presence, to encourage identification, to seek out maximum visibility plus to promote positive self-image. Take a look.

Glow Makatsi
Artist, trans activist, YouTuber

I took this selfie…in my bathroom, where I take all of my good selfies. There is an art or rather a method to a perfect selfie, once you find one that works, stick with it. I’ve stuck to my bathroom! I am sending out a message about… the importance of creative self-expression as a gateway to self-empowerment, in whatever form it may manifest as. How can selfies change the way you are feeling? By allowing me to take back my power and see myself as the captain of this ship. Honestly, there is a power to looking into the selfie camera and rejecting those 100 other photos you took because you know ‘I can do way better than this’ and continuing until you find what is in your own opinion a great selfie. That is self-definition and self-affirmation. You’re chasing after yourself. I love the idea of chasing the best version of myself. That makes me feel good. – Glow

Yoliswa Mqoco
Digital entrepreneur, model

I am sending out the message that…I’m really into all things make-up and beauty, so my selfies are mainly to document a new beauty product that I’m obsessing over at the time or whatever. But also, a lot of the time I use my selfies to express myself sensually and sexually. With my selfies I explore my more sultry side. How can selfies change the way you’re feeling? Personally, taking selfies has improved my mood on many instances. It is such a confidence booster especially if I happen to be photographing well on that day. And it doesn’t hurt that taking a good selfie every now and then makes my Instagram feed look cuter. – Yoliswa

Elle Rose van der Burg
Trans activist, model, music producer

I took this selfie… in my bedroom. I wanted to reflect my state of mind by comparing it to how messy my vanity was at that time. All of my stuff is all over the place and out of order, kind of like how I was feeling (I also kind of think it looks pretty punk rock). I am sending out the message that… I take and post selfies online as a way to increase the visibility of my community. I’m trying to contribute to ‘normalising’ trans-people and our presence in the public eye. How can selfies change the way you’re feeling? Taking selfies can be a quick way to boost your confidence. When they get a positive reaction it really helps to feel validated in a culture that relies so heavily on that type of stuff. It’s a really great way to feel better about yourself as sad as that may sound. – Elle

Claire Meekel
Multi-media artist, film student

I took this selfie… of my hand and my face almost saying ‘hi’ with the elongated fingers in my bedroom. It is sort of a comment on distortion and Photoshop. Fashion editorial photographers edit their pictures to clean stuff up and make an image perfect where as I am trying to make the strange and imperfect things that are unique in a person’s features more visible instead of hiding them. How can selfies change the way you’re feeling? Selfies can change the way that you look at yourself. They can make you feel a bit more confident if you like the picture that you’ve taken but that doesn’t really matter. I guess it makes me remember the time that I took it. It’s a nice little memory. – Claire

Fela Gucci and Desire Marea
Of art collective and cultural movement duo, FAKA

We are sending out the message that… selfies are a way of reimagining and recreating ourselves. Considering the violent representations of queer people in mass media, we use them as a way of controlling our own narrative. How can selfies change the way you’re feeling? They inspire creative and dynamic ways of seeing ourselves. – FAKA

Natalie Paneng
Set designer

I took this selfie… at the Gautrain station last year, waiting for the train. I did my make up in a hurry so I just wanted to make sure that I looked okay. It’s very awkward taking selfies in public so I had to act like I was just looking at my phone, no poses and cute things could happen. I didn’t want to look vain, haha! I am sending out the message that… I don’t take myself too seriously and am constantly revealing different versions of myself to my online audience and myself. This one is cool because I’m watching them watch me. There is a power play but I’m not sure who has the power. How can selfies change the way you’re feeling? They don’t change the way I feel emotionally, but like all pictures they capture moments. Sometimes the selfies I take with people evoke nostalgia and other times I think I’m either really vain or achieving my own aesthetic goals. – Natalie

Githan Coopoo

I took this selfie…just after I’d made a new pair of earrings. I was playing around with the shapes to consider and what I’d produce next. It’s a very fluid process. So this selfie serves to document my thought process. I am sending out the message that… my selfies are a reflection of my personal tastes, with regard to what I’m wearing. I suppose they also convey a sense of unconscious confidence. How can selfies change the way you are feeling? I think the positive reception of a selife can make one feel instantly validated however we should be weary of depending upon this type of affirmation as a means to make us feel good about ourselves. – Githan

Andrea Kloppers
Art director, stylist and make-up artist

I took this selfie… in my auntie’s lounge. I was definitely feeling myself and took time to capture me in this moment of self recognition and admiration. I am sending out the message that… taking a selfie can be empowering through appreciating, admiration and celebration of oneself. It encourages pride and representation of ourselves, our bodies, culture and ancestory. We shouldn’t have to feel ashamed (I’m so tired) of any aspect of ourselves or neglect to celebrate plus claim or reclaim it. How can selfies change the way you are feeling? After and while taking a selfie I feel bomb. Self love manifests as healing, which blossoms into confidence. Stimulating positivity and light through the acknowledgement and recognition of yourself is absolutely beautiful and powerful. It’s time to bask in the glow of the divinity that is us. – Andrea

Stefanie Jason
Editor, writer

I took this selfie… when I was in a bed, bored but feeling myself. I am sending out the message that… that sometimes I think I’m cute; even with my imperfections (like the zit that’s growing on my forehead in the pic ?). And sometimes, actually most times, the world could use more images of brown women taken by brown women. How can selfies change the way you’re feeling? Can they, lol. But sure, selfies and their likes can be affirming. – Stefanie


Check out more on Photography Month on our microsite here.



*This article has been edited to reflect model Elle Rose van der Burg’s name change – she was previously known as Luke van der Burg*

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