Design ⇅ Research ⇄ Sociology
Gender ⇆ Visual Culture ⇅ Fashion
Floriane Misslin
When taking selfies, I am negotiating the image of my body within established cultural discourses on gender and beauty. This research uses selfies as a methodological device and converts the photographic genre often bespoken as core to gender reinforcement into a tool to investigate processes of resisting and negotiating gender as it emerges at the surface of self-made images. The autoethnography consisted in performing the practice of taking selfies to activate the complex entanglements between gender and sexuality, identification and ambivalence, body image and social media, through the researcher’s experience — while sharing it publicly on Instagram ⟶ @self_ethnographic_selfies ⤿2019
❛ In order to investigate the sensory and emotional depth inherent to the process of producing and publishing selfies, I decided that I would be the subject of my own research. I set up a profile on Instagram, where personal stories are made public, to publish my selfies, extracts of my autoethnographic diary, and my literature reviews. ❜
❛ Autoethnography values the personal and emotional as containing different levels of knowledge (Adams et al., 2015, pp. 8–9). Indeed, personal and emotional intensities have been driving my research process. The lens and screen of my cell phone triggered feelings of frustration, anxiety, satisfaction, creativity, freeing or obstruction from which emerged new sub-questions to explore. ❜
❛ I use the terms screen and interface to allude to the image via which I come into being to the eyes of others—whether it be at the surface of my breathing body or at the surface of my selfies. ❜
❛ Bodies on screens and bodies of skins are intertwined. The way we observe and assess the image of our body is oriented by the images of bodies we experience in the media surrounding us. ❜
❛ The interface of a screen express the inside via the outside (Jones, 2017). It is not only me displaying, but me displaying according to others and the cultural and social organisations I am surrounded with. ❜
❛ Iqani (2015) stresses the way one takes agency of the semiotic powers of images through appropriation and hybridization of hegemonic visual discourses on beauty. Selfies are interfaces through which to manifest our belonging to a particular regime of cultural consumption and thus reproduce the visual discourse of the consumed imagery (Iqani, 2015). ❜
❛ Warfield (2017) draws on Barad’s (2007) term intra-action. The practice of taking selfies is not only an inter-action between a pre-existing body, a lens and a screen; it is an intra-action from which the action of the body is entangled with the operation of the lens and the image on the screen. Selfies are complex relations between materiality and discourse, flesh and technology, past and present (Warfield, 2017, p. 89). ❜
❛ Selfies are interfaces. They are surfaces to consider in relationality to an inside and an outside, the here and the there. They organize a mode of interaction between who is showing and who is looking. Thinking of selfies as interfaces invites a focus on the affect springing from the production of the surface and the interaction it facilitates. ❜
❛ In my case, it is not an ideal of femininity that I am hoping to display but an ideal of ambivalence. In that sense, the interface of my selfies is productive; productive of knowledge about myself, productive of my own ideals and productive of my agency in negotiating my identity in regard to gender. ❜
❛ The lens and screen of cell phones can be pivotal contributors to the creative and affirmative process of displaying gender ambivalence in selfies. It helped me navigating between the image of my body and established visual discourse as they emerge at the interface of my screen. ❜
❛ Warfield argues that selfie takers seek ‘a transient assemblage of authorship’ (2017, p. 89). Selfies can be considered as devices contributing to transformation. The practice of taking selfies have been assisting me in taking agency towards the display of gender at the interface of my screen. I consumed my own selfies as knowledge about myself. I produce them to update me on what I look like and what I can look like. ❜
❛ This autoethnography has opened an exploratory space for me to experiment with the potential and limitations in my quest for ambivalence. I may enjoy the challenge of staying on a very slippery ground. The struggle then is to negotiate my position in this state of ambivalence, resistance and contradictions. ❜
❛ The display of a certain ambivalence demands a constant state of negotiations with the ‘ontological pressures on social actors to stabilize their identity’ (Linstead and Pullen, 2006). In this autoethnography, selfies are an assisting device in this exercise of resisting the stability expected from identity. ❜
❛ While seeking for ambivalence in my selfies, I realised that my own relation to gender fluidity interlaces the verticality of heteronormativity and a queer obliqueness (Ahmed, 2006). My reading of Ahmed’s argument is yet limited by the fact that my drive in exploring the fluidity of gender did not emerge from a shift in my sexual orientation. I display a rupture with verticality, yet I only deviated to a certain angle. Taking a side path definitely challenges me in being inventive in the negotiation of my position across different norms, expectations and desires. ❜
❛ Conscious of myself being beneficial to the privilege of a white middle class female with heterosexual preferences, doing my research with such perspective has developed quite some anxiety in my process of publishing the project online. This anxiety became integral part of my diary. Adams, Holman-Jones and Ellis (2015) argue that the thick descriptions in auto-ethnographical texts must offer insightful accounts of how and why particular experiences are challenging in regard to taken-for-granted norms. Embracing vulnerability must be part of the reflexive analysis of autoethnography. ❜
More content here ⟶ @self_ethnographic_selfies
Adams, T.E., Holman Jones, S., Ellis, C., 2015. Autoethnography: Understanding Qualitative Research, Understanding Research. Oxford University Press.
Ahmed, S., 2006. Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 12, 543–574.
Barad, K.M., 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham : Duke University Press, Durham.
Coleman, R., 2013. Transforming Images Screens, Affect, Futures. Routledge.
Holman Jones, S., 2008. Autoethnography, Making the Personal Political. Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials 3, 205–245.
Iqani, M., 2015. Celebrity Skin: Race, Gender and the Politics of Feminine Beauty in Celebrity Selfies, in: Consumption, Media and the Global South: Aspiration Contested. Macmillan, pp. 160–195.
Jones, M., 2017. Expressive Surfaces: The Case of the Designer Vagina. Theory, Culture & Society 34, 29–50.
Linstead, S., Pullen, A., 2006. Gender as Multiplicity: Desire, Displacement, Difference and Dispersion. Human Relations 59, 1287–1310.
Warfield, K., 2015. Making Selfies/Making Self: Digital Subjectivites in the Selfie. Conference Talk” International Journal on the Image.
Warfield, K., 2017. MirrorCameraRoom: The Gendered Multi-(in)stabilities of the Selfie. Feminist Media Studies 17, 77–92.