The Rise of the ‘Shitshow’ Selfie
So after a year of all “this,” everything about my life is a mess. But I’ll narrow it down to my hair. In the spring, after being locked down for three months, I went to the salon and spent an absurd amount of money having it balayaged to golden honey perfection. Now it’s a hodgepodge of box dyed roots, gray temples, and brassy scraggly snarls. I looked at myself in the mirror the other day (something I actually try not to do nowadays) and I thought: I look like a mom.
God, what a totally fucked up thing to say. When you’re in your teens, even your 20s, I think “mom” signifies something dumpy, old, invisible. Mom jeans, mom bob, mom shoes (I have them all, BTW, but it’s different wearing them now that I’m an actual mom).
Anyway, two nights ago I woke up at 3 a.m. and looked at my phone (why???) and saw that a friend had commented on a Twitter prompt from writer Emily Adrian. Emily posted a photo of herself and infant son and wrote: “Does every mother have a photo of herself as a new mom, eyes screaming ’What the actual fuck?’ Here's mine”
Does every mother have a photo of herself as a new mom, eyes screaming "What the actual fuck?" Here's mine. pic.twitter.com/ZpxR9Hl5jl— Emily Adrian (@adremily) February 2, 2021
Oh, do I! I thought and scrolled triumphantly right to where the good stuff would be on my phone: May 2019, the first month of my daughter’s life. There I found a visual repository of the absolute shitshow that is a postpartum mom’s body and brain.
Thousands of other women apparently felt the same way and began posting pictures of themselves in response. Terrible pictures! Unflattering pictures! The kind of picture you’d never look at on a friend’s phone and say, “Oh my god, send that to me!!!!”
I DM’d Emily on Twitter to ask her why she thought her post had resonated with so many women. She tells me she tweeted the photo while her now 4-year-old son Wes was supposed to be napping, but was instead singing loudly in his room. It was the fourth day in a row of being home with him all day (we had a blizzard here in the Northeast). Emily started thinking back to her earliest months alone with Wes.
“I think the postpartum period is a time when a lot of women are desperate to be seen,” she says. “Not in a ’Don't I look amazing?’ way, but in a ’Do I still exist?’ way. It makes sense that we take selfies—I definitely did.”
I also DM’d with Rachel Sklar, one of my favorite moms (and, oh yeah, people), about the thread.
“No matter how much help you have, it's still all on you,” she says. “Like, your baby is literally on you. Consuming you. Literally! It can be so alienating, and for me that's what these photos bring back.”
When you totally know how to hold your child https://t.co/hYu658k0cm— (((Rachel Sklar))) ❄️ (@rachelsklar) February 4, 2021
Looking at all the photos I felt this rush of love for moms, for all caretakers, for being vulnerable, and doing something that, honestly, is impossible, but you don’t realize that until you’ve done it.
The next day, Lindsay Hunter , writer and co-host of the podcast I’m A Writer But!, tweeted “More selfies of women over 40 please.” Same response: pictures of women who’d captured themselves in good light and bad, defiant, frazzled, serene.
With all the books I hadn’t written when I was 25. 😘 pic.twitter.com/WcaH0mHemE— Emma Straub (@emmastraub) February 4, 2021
“So often, youth is treated like a prize in and of itself,” Lindsay tells me over DM (while lugging groceries, of course). “There’s a sheen of unattainability and longing tied to it. But at almost 41 I’ve never felt more like myself. And it’s that quality that made me ask for the pictures. The myselfness of them, these faces, all that life bursting forth. Every line a triumph.”
My own mom died when she was 30. How I wish she had the opportunity—especially because she was an extremely talented photographer—to post one of her own selfies at 40 years old. She’d be different. She’d be better at some things, worse at others. Who knows, maybe she’d, I don’t know, be living in Taos and we’d fight all the time about whether homeopathy is real. Like me, she’d probably be hard on herself about her appearance.
But what a simple and profound act of defiance these photos are: A celebration of fortitude in a laugh line.