The experiment: Can one mother take as many photos of herself in a summer as a teenager can?
The starting point: The Dough Roller in Ocean City, Md. way back in June.
An ideal spot for the beginning of a sociological experiment? I’m not sure, but we were in town for a soccer tournament and grabbing breakfast between games. Over pancakes and sausage, orange juice and eggs, I put the idea out there and the other moms agreed.
What exactly could one mom with a smart phone camera accomplish? How many pictures could I take? We giggled and hypothesized. I took the challenge.
The summer of selfies began.
The plan originally was to take a selfie in every bathroom mirror that I could. In restaurants, in stores, at ballgames. To photograph my reflection, ideally with that shining tell-tale sequin of a camera flash reflecting back at me as well.
A selfie looks best if it has a little homemade feel to it.
When Sofia Coppola was researching for her movie, The Bling Ring, she shadowed L.A. teens and told an interviewer that it was “almost scif-fi” how preoccupied kids were with documenting their lives – and the notion that something didn’t count if it wasn’t photographed and shared.
When I read that interview, I nodded. I see that. I get that. I am an adult surrounded by adolescents. I work with girls from 13 to 18 — and have my own personal 6th grader and 9th grader right in my own home. All these kids living and breathing around me.
And taking pictures of themselves. Every. Second. They. Can.
Ever gone on a field trip with a group of 8th grade girls? It’s like going to a paparazzi convention.
When I was a child, my parents’ camera was a point and shoot that didn’t zoom – at least not reliably – and made each photo’s subject look a lot farther away than they actually were. Almost like they were in the next room.
We didn’t crop pictures. There was no red eye fix. Of course, we didn’t have digital photography. So taking a picture involved a pose, a click, a winding of the film’s sprocket, and a promise of a picture to see, oh, sometime in the near future. Like maybe in a week?
And then we rocketed into the late 20th Century with one-hour photo, which was total awesomeness. One-hour photo meant we could take our film to Rite Aid, and 60 minutes later – after we bought a lip gloss, or maybe a Coke, see ourselves in our un-cropped, closed-eye glory.
Of course, the great thing about digital photography is you know immediately what works – and what doesn’t. OK, Tyler is blocking Hunter. Let’s move him to the left. Or Eliza’s eyes are closed. Retake. Immediate feedback makes for better pictures and better photographers, and let’s face it, the technology is just so addicting.
But selfies are not only about the cameras, the smart phones. There’s something there about the unaffectedness of our kids that conversely makes them all about the affectation of posing and clicking.
Here’s where I would like to talk about The Duck Face/Peace Fingers.
All parents who have a teen or a tween girl should know there is a picture of their adorable children making pursing their lips and flipping the peace sign. Somewhere. Sometime. The ducks are quacking — and hoping for world peace.
(There is actually a Facebook page called “Please stop the girl ‘duck face’ and peace sign poses in photos.” It has 1,163 likes as of this week.)
These lame ducks will fill the time capsules for this generation. These selfies will be their friendship pins, their braided barrettes, their cassette tapes, their U2 concert T-shirts. The evidence left behind to show people — to remind them — how they lived.
This generation lives through its pictures.
It’s a worry to us parents, this living out loud, this constant documentation. If the unexamined life is not worth living, as the philosopher said, the posted live is not necessarily examined.
But often it is enjoyed. These kids are smiling for their pictures. And laughing, too. Are we raising them to be little narcissists because we have given them phones with cameras? Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe their selfie obsession is their way to leave their mark on the world while they are still too young to have jobs, raise great kids, and stop global warming.
They may not be old enough to run for office, but they can dream of peace. And flash those fingers.
Despite the photos throughout this post, I have to admit I wasn’t successful at my experiment. My summer of selfies didn’t produce a whole lot. Most of the time, I forgot to take a picture of myself. I know, I know, only a mother would do that. Other times, I just felt … I don’t know … childish?
Maybe it’s lingering doubts from those bad Christmas 1982 photos, the year I had a Princess Diana haircut and braces. Can I ever really look good in a photo?
Maybe it’s the writer in me. I feel best when my world is at a fingertip’s length – about as far away as my laptop – and parsed into words.
Maybe I don’t need to take 600 pictures to prove that I was here. And one day, our kids won’t need to do that either.