When it comes to admitting our selfie habits, it seems only questions about our sexual history come with more awkwardness. Did you tell a tiny fib to yourself as you totted up the numbers there? If you do, how many shots does it take before you settle on the perfect one?
I take them and forget all about them; I don’t tend to make them public. Sometimes I’m drunk, sometimes I’m worried about my hair and sometimes I wonder how I’m looking in this light, but I take them, am momentarily reassured – or, more usually, horrified – and then they’re out of my head. There’s one set of selfies I remember very well, that’s with me every day. This wasn’t the first time I’d taken a run of pictures of myself, and as my Photos app can testify, it certainly wasn’t the last.
I’m only ever reminded of them when I scroll through my camera roll, looking for a sassy meme or that GIF of Sable in Dynasty looking back over her shoulder and laughing. Today it’s exactly five years since I took the picture of my eye that you can see in the header of this blog, and that has followed me round ever since, attaching itself to my byline like an embarrassing little brother or an ex who can’t accept that I’m just not that into him any more. There is a big difference between being alone, actual solitude, and loneliness, and at the time I imagine I would’ve very emphatically denied I was lonely, but thinking about it now, with my crystal clear hindsight, taking in all these photos, looking into my eye, I know I was. When I took the photos, selfies weren’t yet really a thing – I don’t even know if they were called that by then.
How strange, I sometimes think, that I took a picture of myself then. It is part of a set, of absolutely loads of photos I took of myself on 19 September 2011. There are 50 pictures in the set, and I know it was an impromptu “shoot” because a) they always were, I’m not vain enough to plan them (yet) and b) my hair is a mess. The first picture was taken mid-afternoon, and no product on my hair by that time of day can mean only one thing: I was hungover. Some of the photos show my face, and in a few you can see my whole face but the eyes are closed. This means the selfie backlash hadn’t really taken off either; nobody had yet bothered to condemn someone for taking a picture of themselves.
What is it that makes a face recognisable, I wonder? Would you now be able to spot me if you walked past me in the street? I used to take a lot of pictures of myself when I was alone in the flat, and that was often.
I look back at them now and worry that I’d fallen into Julie Burchill’s trap – she once said that she found herself “utterly fascinating”, but don’t we all, to a degree?
We are the main character in our very own storyline.As long as we don’t employ it at the expense of others, a little bit of self-interest can be a positive thing.Taking them, I can now say from the future, was an opportunity to study myself like I never had before.Finding myself single at 34 began a weird and enlightening journey of self-disocvery. So much time to think, and I had no TV to watch and block it all out.I’d been part of a couple for so long, and before that part of a crew of friends and flatmates and flings, and before that living at home, getting on with growing up. Shopping at the supermarket was harrowing – only ready meals seem to cater for the sad singleton – and that flat, while tiny, felt like acres and acres of space. So I did what any normal bachelor would do with all that free space – I made a mess of it and never cleaned.I had never spent so much time with myself, so much time myself. My flat was painted bright white, optimum backdrop for selfies, and had loads of windows, making it very light inside.