In times of COVID-19, many things have changed in all our routines. And even our relationship with ourselves has changed radically. After the challenge of doing almost every social thing online, including working, I suddenly realized that the corona experience means that I’ve spent an extravagant amount of time looking at myself and hence, judging myself.
In the process of preparing, designing and performing during terms 3, 4, and 1, I got acquainted with parts of my face that I was not used to seeing. I discovered how in a few months I have many more gray hairs and wrinkles. I also know how to better conceal a night of bad sleep and the utmost importance of meticulously brushing my brand-new orthodontic equipment.
But all this looking at me (here’s looking at you, kid) brought me back to our research and how it can impact what we do with all this looking. There is a certain fascination (you can also call it joy kill) of being at the same time a media technology scholar and a media technology user. Every time that you enter the experience of new media yourself, you would like to do it as a regular user. The fact is, however, that most of the time you “cloud” it by immediately analyzing or intellectualizing it.
In the last ten years, I’ve been fascinated on how new technologies bring new possibilities of expression and reinvention. As a tech-optimist, I tend to believe that technology is without a doubt a tool to open new doors for self-expression. But then I come back to the conflicting idea of the gaze and how we perform external gazes to ourselves. During decades, the idea of how people see and express others has become central in modern philosophy and art criticism. And while new technologies might give people the opportunities to express ideas and send feedback in a more effective and interactive way, they could at the same time allow them to see themselves in a different, more independent way. Or couldn’t they?
In these days that so many of our interactions are mediated, there is a certain cruelty in subjecting ourselves to the apparent constant perfection/perkiness of others (or even ourselves) in our IG/tiktok feed or in our communal Zoom meetings. In a way that lack of independence of the images of perfection leave us even more powerless by repeating gazes that were defined outside ourselves, not considering our reality. Reading all about love, from feminist writer bell hooks, I started reflecting on how maybe what we are lacking is the re-start of our own gaze from the idea of self-compassion and self-love. hooks had already written in 1992 that any community has the power of change regarding its own gaze in front of the dominant discourse and by this means increase agency.
Maybe this is something that we still look for in these next weeks of semi-lockdown: to devise our own gaze and to make it more compassionate than competitive, also for the sake of somehow improving if not THE world, at least OUR world. As for me, I have decided that I actually kind of like my gray hairs: they show that I’ve lived.
If you want to read more about the gaze, selfies, and other demons, I recommend the following:
- This blog entry of Jennifer Reinhardt at The Chicago School of Media Theory.
- The tyrannical self-gaze, written by Elizabeth Duffy (Trigger warning: personal story with mention of depression and suicide)
- An article about artists that build their own self-gaze in unique ways
- “The Selfie as a feminist act”, an short interview to Peggy Phelan taking about performance art and photography (Stanford)-
- From bell hooks: her 1999 book “all about love” and the 1992 article “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators”.
Author: Dr. Ana Uribe Sandoval
Editor: Gwendolyne Cheung
Visuals credit: iNueng/iStock/Getty Images & Fine Art America