Self-indulgent. Insecure. Thirsty. If you had asked the pre-mom me what I thought of selfies, those would have been my top answers. Also, “I just don’t get it.”
If you look at my phone today, it’s a different story. I have embraced the “mom selfie,” both privately and, increasingly, online. Those images I once avoided represent something powerful that took me decades to achieve: appreciation and acceptance of a body that brought three children into being, and that works nonstop every day to give those kids the best life possible – or at least not screw them up completely.
Even when I post my selfies publicly, they are mainly a message to myself, one I can revisit when motherhood feels impossible, terrifying, and exhausting: You are strong, you can do this, you are doing this.
My selfie evolution happened slowly. I didn’t grow up in a world where everyone and their grandmother was on social media, and the whole point of photos when I was in my teens and 20s was to show who you were hanging out with, not what you looked like up-close posing by yourself.
My first experiments with selfies weren’t even officially selfies, since my newborn son was visible in them, asleep on my chest or shoulder. I took them as a way of confirming it was all real – that was actually me holding this tiny miracle, and he was mine – and the look in my eyes was one of simultaneous joy and disbelief.
As parents, we’re expected to take a million photos of our kids. Not only are they perfect specimens of humanity (obviously), but the ages and stages go by so quickly, and capturing some of those moments in photos and videos is a way to hold onto them a little longer. When moms turn the lens on ourselves, however, we’re often met with eye rolls, judgment, or bewilderment. “Does she know she’s neither a teenager nor a Kardashian? Stick to kid photos, lady.”
I could avoid these negative reactions by simply keeping my selfies hidden away on my phone; by sharing them, I’m opening myself up to people’s interpretations of why I’m sharing them. So why am I? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel good to receive a compliment on a photo of myself – just as it makes me feel good to receive one in person, or to have people tell me one of my kids is cute. But more than that, I feel that when I stick a selfie in among the steady stream of kid pics, I’m reclaiming my existence. So often, moms are the ones behind the camera documenting everything, and we become invisible within our own family’s story. The selfie literally turns that around.
Photos can be an anchor when we feel like life is happening too quickly to process. Maybe that’s why so many parents find themselves on the couch in the evening scrolling through the day’s photos after our kids are in bed. The images give some focus to the blur of a day spent raising small humans. When I come across solo photos of myself in that mix, it reminds me that yes, I was there – and I am still here – trying, failing, and trying again.
When I look at my selfies, I usually feel proud, but not in the way critics of the practice might think. To be sure, I have plenty of flaws – those you can see and those you can’t. But becoming a mom has made me the best version of myself and has given me three living, breathing reasons to continue to strive to be better. Why wouldn’t I want to capture and celebrate that?