Throughout this week, I decided to explore my own representation and understanding of what my identity and authenticity as a researcher could mean to myself. As I am currently preparing for Coursework 3, which I am intending to be on the topic of researcher reflexivity, I felt that a documentation of my own understanding of authenticity was quite well timed.
Below are 5 selfies that I took over the course of the week. Each one shows me in a different ‘state’ of authenticity and representation of my self.
Top left: Ready for work in the morning.
Centre: Post shower in the evening
Top right: Ready for bed
Bottom left: Ready for university
Bottom right: After working out at the gym
This series of selfies are all quite accurate representations of myself, quite different from the normal representation I tend to give of myself on social media, and indeed in real life. I found documenting myself in states I would usually prefer to keep private (such as the smeared make up after my shower) to not feel overly uncomfortable. If anything I enjoyed the chance to explore the truth of myself in a way that is personal. Given that selfies have connotations of narcissism, the fact that my selfies here vary and are not at all perfect steers strongly away from this notion.
When I look at this series of images and consider my own identity and authenticity, I found myself challenged to think about bigger concepts: femininity, hegemony, heterosexuality, the female body, identity. As my research follows closely to many of these themes, I am glad that I have been able to identify them.
If I break down these themes, probably the biggest one for me that is so overwhelmingly present is femininity. I have already spoken at length that I enjoy embodying and practising femininity in my everyday life, but from looking at these images it becomes more than that. The care of the self, modifying the body, and keeping myself within the border of the white, slim, youthful female is incredibly apparent. I document myself going to the gym – I go to the gym to keep fit, to keep my body in shape and in accordance with values that I like (feeling fit and healthy) but also with dominant hegemonic discourses around women’s bodies (keeping thin and toned). I apply make up, but carefully, not excessively, making sure that my femininity cannot be coded as working class or ‘bad’. I show myself after a shower – I am being sure to keep my hair and body clean and free of unsightly hairs and blemishes. Even going to bed I am putting on creams and lotions to keep my skin soft and supple, my lips moisturised, my nails healthy (admittedly, this is partially due to chronic eczema which can be very painful if I don’t keep to this routine).
I admit it: I’m the very picture of normative, white, western, heterosexual femininity in a woman my age. I keep to discourses about my body, my face, my dress and appearance almost strictly. I can even recall saying to myself not long after taking the bottom left picture ‘I look like a boy today’. But how, and why did I reach this conclusion? On that instance, I was wearing quite gender neutral clothing (unisex jumper and shirt, skinny jeans, and combat boots) and had my hair pulled up. I know, and I knew, at the time, that I did not look like a boy. However, knowing that I was wearing this gender neutral clothing and hairstyle somehow pushed me to say that. I’m not sure why though – I really liked how I looked, but again, I saw it as a boyish representation of my usual femininity. Perhaps it was this boyishness, the ‘other’ that drew me to remark this.
What I perhaps find most unusual is that I know I am a researcher through these images. I can recognise performativity of identity, like femininity, and I hold firm feminist beliefs. So why do I continue to conform almost perfectly to dominant hegemonies about women’s bodies and appearances? Why do I train my unruly body, cut my hair, pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs, manicure my nails, cover up imperfections and enhance my features with make up?
On some level, I know I’m doing it to fit in. But I also recognise that I enjoy it. I love running and working out. Applying make up is relaxing and fun, not a chore. Doing my nails is one of my most favourite activities, taking time to paint and shape each nail is soothing for me. I enjoy having smooth legs, shaped eyebrows, and nicely trimmed hair. I also recognise that this is a deeply Postfeminist way of approaching feminine identity and understanding it through the lens of ‘doing it for yourself’. But why can’t I do it for myself?
I think it’s safe to say that this experiment has revealed a lot to myself about myself. I have a better understanding and grasp of reasoning on my action and performances, even if I have not changed my perspective, recognising the reasons behind my actions is equally as important to my own reflexivity as a researcher, and as a woman living in a Postfeminist world.