Selfies at Westminster Abbey, or Sleeping Beauty’s Evil Twin


Women taking selfies at Westminster Abbey

When we’re young women we’re svelte and adorable. Our hair is real blonde and we don’t need makeup.  Then 100 years or so later,  we wake up and are Sleeping Beauty’s evil twin:   our faces are lined–why didn’t we wear sun hats?–and our prince is dating a bimbo.

Carrie Fisher, who took a lot of heat for looking her age (58 ) in Star Wars:  The Force Awakens last year,  wittily told The Guardian:  “I don’t like looking at myself.  I’m just getting bigger and older…. I went from Princess Leia at 23 in a bikini to this broad.”

We know the feeling.

We deal with it.

We are the same person we always were.

But we do not take selfies.  There’s no self-gratification in photos after a certain age.  Anyway, I don’t own a phone on principle.  (Not yet.)

On a recent trip to London, I inadvertently took pictures of people taking selfies. I am a point-and-click photographer, and only later noticed the tourists in the frame. Selfies define the new tourist culture.

There are two ways of looking at a selfie.  The positive slant?  It’s rather sweet, because it implies a positive self-image.  In the photo of Westminister Abbey above, four women are taking selfies.   Do women today like the way they look?   In the ’70s when I grew up,  women were very self-critical.   It took feminist publications like Our Bodies, Ourselves and the underground paper Ain’t I a Woman? to help us accept our  bodies. Even those with perfect bodies were often riddled with self-hatred.  Remember in Valley of the Dolls when Jennifer North, valued only for her body, commits suicide rather than have a mastectomy?

The negative slant?  The selfie culture is narcissistic.   A couple of generations have now documented their entire lives on computers  (phones ARE computers). Do they have an exaggerated sense of self-importance?  Do the selfies deflect from actual experience?  The pictures go straight to Facebook, Instagram, and all the other platforms.  Well, the internet is narcissistic.  We’re all blogging, commenting, tweeting, and the rest.  Marketers know who we are and how to sell to us.  Or at least they TRY to sell to us, with those annoying ads that pop up on Wunderground and other sites.

The concern about selfies is that people are more involved with phones than with the here and now.  Instead of looking at the stunning art and buildings, they are busy with self-photo shoots instead of the sights.  A picture of oneself outside Westminster Abbey is as or more important than Westminster Abbey.

I have a rule:  I don’t take pictures inside of museums, cathedrals, etc.  It diminishes the quality of the experience.  It gets in the way of our appreciation. It would have been ridiculous for me to take a selfie in front of Velazquez’s Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos just because I noticed he looks like James Franco.  I would have had to label the selfie, Saint John the Evangelist’s Mother on the Island of England.

Here’s one good thing: People don’t take selfies in the rain. At Trafalgar Square in the light rain, people were interacting with each other.   As you can see,  nobody is taking selfies.  Between the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, both located at Trafalgar Square ,  one must frequently rest tired eyes  by taking a break on the steps.