Unprompted: What's Going On Behind the Selfie? 

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I’m curious that so many teenage girls read my tweets. They don’t listen to their parents, so why do they listen to me? I don’t personally know these young ladies, but I can tell from their musings who they are. If your mother makes you clean your room, or you’re already excited about the prom … you are a teenage girl. Ah-ha, revealed. I’m flattered, I think. But alas, most of these girls aren’t satisfied with chatting. They want everybody to see how beautiful they are.

Some of them post selfies in lieu of substance. Substance will come later. They stand in front of bathroom mirrors to compose photos they apparently believe are creative or artistic. They assume we want to see how cute they’ve become. It is one more opportunity to see themselves and share their vision with the world. Hey … this one looks pretty good. I will show you myself posing in front of a mirror.

It’s about that selfie that I feel the need to speak. In ancient times, from which I am actually not that far removed, one would seek his reflection in a creek or pool of water. There was no glass with which to make a mirror. For most, that was a blessing because looking at oneself can be disappointing. One wonders if we were intended not to see ourselves. Perhaps there’s a message there, but I wouldn’t know.

Anyway, if you think about it, none of us has ever seen our own face. We see photos, reflections, created images, selfies, but we can’t actually see our own faces. That’s a privilege reserved for others. The only real way to see ourselves for who we really are is to study how others react to us. They are the real selfie.

I think about that when I see postings of young girls on Twitter trying to convince themselves and others that they’re desirable babes. Few of them are. Most fall a little short. I think it is they who suffer the most agony. Being almost beautiful is a terrible thing. They’re not quite cute enough and Mr. Mirror says as much. A mirror never lies. Come on girls, look the other way. Most of us aren’t that attractive anyway — we should find some other thing to love. Education is a good alternative, or public service. Study science or medicine or engineering, something useful. Even heat-pump repair would be a good option. If a woman can fix my heat pump on a cold winter day I don’t care about her looks. I want her.

Plumbers are happy. They get up every day and go where they’re really wanted. I’ve never seen a really cute plumber. But they’re very desirable, especially when your toilet is running over and you don’t know how to stop it. When your toilet is clogged you don’t want a preacher or Miley Cyrus, you want a plumber.

A mirror reveals the brutal truth. I’m not talking about the one in your bathroom. I’m talking about the people we encounter every day. Their reaction to us is what determines how attractive we are. Some of the most beautiful people in the world aren’t physically attractive. Their minds are beautiful, and that’s what makes us want more of them.

Some of our greatest icons have been downright homely. But that was before television. Except perhaps for Eisenhower. But that didn’t dissuade Mamie, or Kay Summersby. I don’t recall what Jonas Salk looked like, but I’m glad it wasn’t important to him, or us. We should all be more like, say Steven Hawking, if only we could. Abraham Lincoln didn’t change history because of his good looks. But then video swamped us several years back and history was changed for sure, and not necessarily for the better.

Our media culture has really done a job on us. We spend much more on trying to be physically attractive than working on what’s behind that face. As a result, we’ve lost sight of what we really look like. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.



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