Selfies are all the rage in today’s modern technological society. It has become so easy, so effortless to take pictures of oneself in all sorts of situations with different people in different surroundings, reacting to different experiences. One never has to worry about running out of film in the way people did in the old days. One doesn’t have to pay for developing and printing film. All one has to do is take the picture, store it online, maybe send it to other people via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat. And there are not only many different ways to send these photos out to other people, but there are many different ways to store them and preserve them online forever.
I have often talked in this column about the dangers of living too much among phenomena that lack material substance. Living too much in a vacuumized screen reality and away from an external world reality. But that is not the main focus of this article. The subject under consideration here is the use of selfies for one particular kind of subject matter, namely the growing use of the selfie method by young women to take pictures of their naked bodies. Some of these photos get sent to young men through Snapchat, an avenue for transmitting photos where the photos disappear a short time after the transmission. But many of these photos get sent through other avenues and wind up in places where they can be preserved seemingly forever. Sometimes it is because these young women send their nude selfies to men as texts, thinking the photos will remain private. It is called sexting. And then the men, for joking or vengeful reasons, transmit the images all over Facebook or Twitter or some similar Internet site without the women’s permission. Sometimes hackers go into women’s e-mail accounts and steal the selfies. In both of these cases, it obviously causes the women great consternation. But sometimes, the woman voluntarily sends her nude selfies to sites where they can be displayed permanently. It is this latter situation with which this article will be concerned.
Voluntarily displaying one’s body to the world represents a profound shift in sexual attitudes. In the original sexual revolution, a woman or man would expose their bodies to different lovers, but when they finished making love and being with their lover of the moment, they would cover up and display a sense of modesty to the outside world. This was even true of people who participated in group sex. Unless a person was an artist’s model, a magazine model (as with Playboy) or a porn star, nakedness of a sexual nature was primarily displayed in those situations where the sexual act was actually occurring.
But with nude selfies, a woman’s nakedness never ceases to display itself. I should say at this point that men send nude selfies to women, but these are frequently focused on photos of the male organ. Obviously a direct attempt (although a misguided one) to get a woman interested in making love with him. But this kind of photo does not represent the creation of an image that is easily identifiable by most of the people around him. A nude selfie of all or most of a whole naked body with face included will be identifiable by family and friends alike. Why would a woman want to have nude selfies of herself placed permanently on the Internet? The Internet sites for nude selfies don’t provide contact information to contact a woman, so it is not like the presentation of the nude image on the website is going to create an opportunity for future lovers.
As has been discussed before, free love was not simply a response to improved contraception and to changing social attitudes. It was the result of the gradual loss of organic stimulation from more traditional natural living environments and the increased sensory distortion created by modern technological living environments. People needed a variety of organic stimulation to feel fully alive as animals, and the only readily available source of organic stimulation was other human bodies. A variety of human lovers replaced the variety of sensory stimulation available from a forest or jungle or a more traditional village. A variety of human lovers created a cumulative organic grounding in the mind that helped to defend people from the sensory distortion in a modern living environment that alternately understimulated and overstimulated. This is why I called it a vacuum and tension-pocket environment. Having many lovers meant that lovers made and received many different organic imprints from each other. But there were fewer deep-bonded relationships, fewer of the intimate relationships that would have worked against the sensory variety from free love, at least during adolescence and young adulthood when free love would be more prevalent. As people got older, some of them did finally decide to settle down in monogamous relationships for purposes of intimacy and having children. But the lack of organic stimulation in modern technological living environments has meant that a great deal of pressure is put on marriages and living together relationships to provide the variety of organic stimulation that traditional natural living environments did provide in the past and that a variety of sexual partners has provided in the present.
As modern technological environments encroach on more and more space in our living environments, people are becoming more and more desperate to find sources of organic stimulation. Many young people are engaging in more and more hookups with different sexual partners to obtain a variety of organic stimulation, even as the sensory distortion that surrounds them makes them less and less predisposed to deep-bonded relationships. Young people are trying to fight numbness from their experiential vacuum. But the numbness is becoming stronger and stronger. An interesting sign of this is the number of young men that are taking drugs for erectile dysfunction like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. These were drugs created for older men who developed a natural diminution of their sexual capacities as they got older. But now younger men are taking them to increase the sensation they experience in the sexual act.
The point is that people are not only becoming more sexually numb, but emotionally numb as well. And men are becoming so concerned about dealing with encroaching sexual numbness that they are incapable of effectively focusing on dealing with their encroaching emotional numbness. But in spite of their involvement in free love, most women also want to have intimacy as well. They not only want to make and receive temporary organic imprints through sex, they want to have the preserved organic imprints from a sustained emotional relationship and they want one of their partners to experience them as a preserved organic imprint as well. In other words, these women want intimacy, love , commitment. It is a desire that conflicts with free love, but free love and committed love do represent contradictory needs today: the need for a variety of organic stimuli from different bodies to replace the relative lack of organic stimuli in modern technological living environments and the need for deep organic grounding in a deep-bonded committed relationship.
But when young women find it impossible to find young men who are unwilling to preserve in their minds some of the organic imprints they receive in their relationships with women, unwilling to commit, the young women try to find love from the only source they feel they can rely on: themselves. Nude selfies become a source of narcissistic admiration, as other people can gaze approvingly (hopefully) on their bodies, and these women then can see themselves mirrored by an image of themselves that can last on the website seemingly forever.
Now the imprint of the nude selfie that the woman is leaving of herself on the Internet is an imprint being left on screen reality not in external world reality. There is a contrast between the sensory immediacy of a woman’s body, the strong primary experience component, and the vacuumized nature of the medium being used to store and display the imprint. As a result, the imprint itself becomes more distant, attenuated, vacuumized. As a result, it really doesn’t have the capacity to pull the woman or the anonymous viewers who see it on the Internet out of their numbness for a long period of time or to a great extent. It provides a weak imprint and a weak source of stimulation to pull a woman out of numbness and into self-love. It is a deficient source of satisfaction for narcissistic needs. Nevertheless, it does provide a vehicle by which a young woman can leave some kind of organic imprint on herself by stimulating her self-love through the image of her body.
The woman’s self-love and the admiration of her anonymous viewers is truly no substitute for a deep-bonded committed relation with a man who is willing to preserve in his mind the organic imprints that she leaves on him. A nude selfie displayed on the Internet is a rather desperate move for a young woman to pull herself out of the numbness she experiences both because of the technological environment in which she is living and the lack of intimacy in her life. By the same token, the photos by young men of their male organs are a desperate attempt to pull themselves out of the numbness they are experiencing and to prove their potency. These selfies don’t end up giving young males a grounding in their potency just as the female nude selfies don’t end up being a substitute for a committed relationship. Nude selfies represent not only an illusion of immortality but also an illusion of romantic love, as the only real love that comes from the mirroring by the selfie is narcissistic love. These selfies are an unfortunate substitute for satisfying the real emotional needs that these people have.
(c) 2016 Laurence Mesirow