Monthly Archives: November 2013

In defence of selfies

Since the Oxford Dictionary declared ‘selfie’ (a self-portrait taken with a smart phone) as their ‘word of the year’, it’s become the topic of the month on the internet.

Are selfies a narcissistic by-product of the social pressure placed on women to be physically attractive?

Are people who post selfies vain attention seekers?

Do women disempower themselves by buying into the idea that their physical appearance is something to be posted, promoted – even flaunted – on the internet?

According to Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel, selfies are:

“… a high tech reflection of the fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.”

“Feeling pretty is nice, but goddamn — ‘beauty’ [is] far from the most important thing about being a fully-actualized adult human person,” says Ryan – and few of us would disagree with that statement.

Yet, I’m pleased to see that many women, identifying as feminists, have vehemently rejected the idea that posting selfies somehow empowers the patriarchy and reinforces negative stereotypes of women.

I’m a recent convert to selfies. Here’s the first one I ever took.

photo (70)

I remember thinking, “Wow! I look pretty good.”

And you know what? That felt good, and that’s not a bad thing.

I am the child of two super-genetically blessed parents.

Norm Aquaplaning 1

My dad, particularly as a young man, was drop-dead gorgeous.

Daphne Dent Closeup

My mother, a former beauty queen, has always been admired for her beauty.

Together, even in their middle years, they made a pretty formidable – and daunting – combination!

Daph & Norm Panda

Growing up with these two ‘hotties’, I often felt like a bedraggled ugly duckling. While Mum strutted her perfect size 12 hour glass figure in the latest 70s fashions, I struggled with pudginess, a mop of thick, oily lank hair of a non-descript shade and a handsome crop of pimples.

Through no fault of my parents, who were loving, attentive and did everything they could to bolster my self-confidence, I felt like a cuckoo in this nest of advanced physical beauty.

At high school, I was considered one of the unpopular ‘nerdy’ kids. Tall and awkward I once sent a note around the class asking my class mates to comment on what I could change to make them like me (a social researcher even then!). The only comment I remember now is, “Wash your face” – probably a comment on my blackheads and pimples.

Getting on the bus in my school uniform, or walking down the street next to my immaculately groomed, glamorous mother was a special kind of torture.

As it turns out, I wasn’t such a bad looking kid, but I never had any confidence in my looks and that affected how I led my life and the choices I made – often in a bad way.

When I got old enough to attract male attention I grabbed onto it without discernment, thinking that any attention from any man was the best I could expect. Thus began my life as a bikie’s moll!

Chrys Teen

I fell in love when I was 24 years old. Hard. Soon after, the object of my affection was posted to a job 600 miles away. When he rang and asked me to send him a photo of myself (“… in a bikini, please”) I should have been thrilled. Instead, I was mortified! I was a size 14 for Christ’s sake! How could I let anyone see me in a bikini????

But, eager to please, I starved myself for a week and jogged after work every afternoon. I bought a bikini (I didn’t own one) and cajoled my mother into taking a polaroid photo of me on the beach at Caloundra while I assiduously sucked in what I thought was my huge fat gut. The photo was duly sent on with sinking heart.

I don’t remember his reaction to the photo. Back then (and now) I had a habit of blocking out compliments and only hearing and remembering negative comments about my looks.

I don’t know to what extent my poor self-image contributed to the failure of our relationship. In retrospect I can see that I internalised every comment that could be construed to suggest I was less than perfect and blocked out any action or inference that I was actually pretty damned sexy.  I always blamed him for our relationship self-destructing in spectacular fashion, but, looking back,  I can see how my needy insecurity probably didn’t help the situation.

After that, I didn’t exactly let myself go, but I piled on a heap of weight and did nothing to arrest the rapid expansion of my figure. I had lost the love of my life and fortuitously, being sexually unattractive saved me the angst of having to deal with unwanted male attention.

It’s not that I really thought I was ugly – I just didn’t (and didn’t really want to) think of myself as sexually attractive. I put all my efforts into being smart and, generally, I was pretty happy with the trade off. When questioned about my ‘weight problem’ I’d reply that I didn’t have a ‘weight problem‘, I had a ‘weight solution‘ – and that was absolutely true.

That first selfie was a bit of a revelation to me. I had thought of myself as unphotogenic – an impression reinforced by the toe-curlingly embarrassing insistence of people posting and tagging photos of me on Facebook without ever considering how fucking awful I looked.

Equal Love

But that first selfie suggested that maybe the truth about my appearance lay somewhere in between the ugliness of an inopportune ‘click’ at an unguarded moment and the fluke of a good angle and reflection from a pink scarf at a gathering of friends.  Could it be – possibly – that I wasn’t so bad looking after all?

After that, I started posting some selfies of myself online and enjoyed the compliments.

Chrys - School Marm

It gave me the confidence to have some professional publicity shots taken. I still didn’t feel gorgeous but I was beginning to feel that my self-image was gradually catching up with my growing confidence about my writing, my intellect and my aspiration to take on more public speaking roles.

Being confident about my appearance wasn’t only about valuing myself for how I looked, it was about getting that aspect of my self-confidence in line with other, more cerebral aspects.

Selfies helped me to understand that one bad photo doesn’t mean you look like shit. It just means you had one bad photo taken.

Taking a series of selfies – some good, some bad – reminded me that people don’t see you in ‘stills’ – they see you in motion; their concept of your physical appearance derives from far more than a single impression.

Selfies helped me to see that while I could look like Godzilla from some angles, from other angles I could actually look quite …. dare I use the word … pretty!

When some feminists dismiss the importance of feeling good about how you look, they miss the point, I think. To a large extent, how you feel about yourself in general is reflected in your physical appearance – how you hold yourself, dress yourself, look after yourself. It’s not just about winning the genetic lottery.

Now, some feminists might argue that I shouldn’t give two hoots if I look like shit – it’s my intellect, my talent and my accomplishments that matter. And, to some extent I agree.  But the reality is, you can’t just lop off the bit of you that the rest of the world sees first and pretend it doesn’t matter.  Confidence and pride in my physical appearance is not just skin-deep. It’s not just about vanity; about garnering compliments or male attention. It’s about feeling good about every aspect of myself for my own sake.

Becoming more concerned about and more confident about my appearance isn’t about abandoning my pride and belief in my talent and accomplishments – it’s just adding a little icing to the rich, spicy fruit cake that makes up the whole ‘me’.

With growing confidence, I started to invest in new clothes and jewellery. I began to walk a little taller. I had some more publicity shots taken and I thought, “Not bad – not beauty queen material but I’m not embarrassed to post them.”


The process of self-acceptance was slow but steady.

And then, the impossible happened. The man who I’d sent that bikini photo to 30 years ago came back into my life.

Refusing to meet with him, I trepidatiously sent him some photos of myself, explaining that I had put on a LOT of weight since we parted more than twenty years ago.

I fully expected him to say, “Well, it’s been nice chatting,” and discretely disappear back into the ether. Instead, he dismissed my concerns saying that if I thought my size mattered one whit I had completely missed why he’d been so attracted to me way back then. Unlike me, he’d been looking at the ‘whole package’ – not just the wrapping.

I wasn’t convinced. I was sure if I could only make him understand that how I looked now was completely different to the young girl he remembered, he would slink away. I figured it would hurt less to be rejected via email than in person. I took a selfie of myself in my underwear.

Look!” I said. This is how I look now!

He sent back a one word reply. “Hot!”

I replied (somewhat in shock), “This isn’t the first photo of me I’ve sent you. Do you remember I sent you a photo of myself in a bikini 30 years ago?”

I confessed how embarrassed I’d been at the request and how mortified I felt having to send what I thought, then, was a most unflattering photo of a fat chick in bikini. Of course, I didn’t expect him to remember.

“I don’t just remember it,” he replied, “I still have it.  I’ve often looked at it over the years. I’ll bring it along when I meet you.”

And he did. And you know what? I was hot – smokin’ hot – and I never, ever knew it or got the chance to appreciate it or bask in it or make the kinds of decisions a girl might make when what she feels about how she looks matches up to her confidence in what she is.

How many absolutely stunning women do I know who absolutely hate how they look? And how does that lack of confidence cripple them in other areas of their lives?

I know one woman who looks like a young Jane Fonda who is so down on her appearance she is often suicidal. She blames her appearance for her inability to find a partner. In fact, it’s not how she looks, but how she feels about how she looks which is probably the biggest turn-off for men.

Another woman I know looks amazing to me from any angle but is horrified at the prospect of photos of her being posted on the internet. She simply can’t bare to look at herself.

If women can take control of their own images by taking selfies, posting the ‘good’ ones and getting some positive reinforcement from their social media contacts, I say, “Go for it!”

It’s unrealistic to think that women (or men!) can, or will ever, be able to entirely divorce their sense of self-worth from their physical appearance.  And why should we? Do I dismiss my intelligence because it’s something I was born with? No! I may have been born smart, but I’m proud of how I’ve capitalised on that particular gift. Increasingly, I’m beginning to view physical appearance in the same light; not as a shallow, narcissistic, skin-deep, irrelevant part of myself, but as a reflection of how I feel about myself holistically. 

Being proud of how you look is not about meekly conceding to some patriarchal image of feminine perfection. It’s about growing comfortable with yourself. It’s about embracing the physical features that don’t quite match the idealised notion of feminine beauty. It’s about recognising that while you may never grace the cover of Vogue, it’s your wonky bits that make you unique; that make you ‘you’.

It took me a long time to understand that showing your vulnerability and admitting your weaknesses makes you more, not less, interesting. In the same way, one has to learn that the physical features we instinctively hate might be exactly what makes us appealing to others. Strange, but true.

But, let’s not lie about this. Selfies are flattering. Taken from the right angle you can look far better than you’ll probably ever look in real life. When I sent the first sexy flattering selfie to my long-lost lover I felt honour bound to explain that unless he cared to hang upside down out of the manhole in our bathroom and gaze upon me bathed in the warm golden light of the bathroom heat lamp, he may never see me looking as good as I do in this photograph.

photo (71)

But, you know what? Knowing that (at least from the right angle and with the right lighting) I could look like that inspired me.

(Under no pressure from him!) I’ve since lost 15kg (and aiming for another 20kg), I’ve started wearing skirts and high heels again, and I have rediscovered a part of myself I’d shelved for years.  I’ve even bought another bikini!

chrys bikini

One day – soon – I’m going to really look like those flattering selfies and, feminist or not, I’m going to bask in the self-confidence of that knowledge. I’m happy to be both smart and sexy and I’m pretty sure that one is going to inform the other. I’m beginning to realise that denying a whole part of myself for twenty years was pretty bloody tragic. I’m taking sexy back!

If middle-aged women like me are taking selfies and thinking, “Wow! I look pretty good!” and it makes them walk a little taller, how is that a bad thing?

And, if young women are taking selfies and realising while they are still young that they are beautiful, desirable, and hot – whether or not they meet the magazine-standard of generic feminine beauty – I am all for it.

Youthful beauty doesn’t last and it seems a shame not to appreciate it, relish it and yes, even exploit it while you still have it.

I wish I’d known when I was 26 years old that I was as hot as that girl in the fading polaroid. My life might have been quite different.

Chrys Stevenson

Related Post

Why I love selfies – Mindy at Hoyden about Town

Selfies – Surly Amy at Skepchick

On looking hideous in other peoples’ photos – Alis Franklin at The Wyrd

GetUp! Climate Change Rallies

abbott-fiddling-global-warmI’ve been on holidays, staying with a friend whose business provides services to Queensland and NSW firefighters.

I watched him throughout the weekend, his mobile phone glued permanently to his ear, as he worked feverishly to co-ordinate assistance to a growing number of fires and ensure they had adequate resources to fight them. There was barely a moment, day or night, when that damn phone wasn’t ringing with another demand, crisis, question or request for more help.

My friend has been in this industry for years – he is intimately involved with the Australian bushfire season – and, in his opinion, there is not a shadow of doubt that climate change is having a significant impact on the number and severity of fires in this country.  The Climate Council agrees:

climate council

I’m sure if you spoke to experts in other fields, they would tell you the same about the impact on other aspects of the environment.

Yet, our new government seems set on ignoring the science and dismantling what little legislation we have in place to take action on climate change. It’s short-term thinking which short-changes everyone – particularly future generations.  Are we really so selfish that we cannot accept some small impost, some minimal increase in the cost of living to ensure we don’t get past the point of no return on climate change?

I think most Australians do want action on climate change and that the Abbott government is fooling itself to think it has some kind of ‘mandate’ to deny the science.  They remind me of the creationist who, when confronted with absolutely irrefutable evidence of evolution by Richard Dawkins, simply refused to even ‘hear’ him. It was as if she erected some kind of ‘cone of silence’ around herself to protect her from the force of his arguments. It was bizarre.

It is even more bizarre (and dangerous!) when you see a national government doing the same thing on climate change.

This weekend, GetUp! and its supporters are organising a number of climate change rallies across the country.  I’ll be going to my local rally (at Nambour, Queensland).  I hope that some of my readers might support the cause by turning up at a rally close to them.

The rallies are on tomorrow, Sunday, 17 November at either 10am or 11am (or later) – depending on location.

Sydney – Prince Alfred Park, 11am

Melbourne – Treasury Place, 11am

Brisbane – Queens Park, 10am

Canberra – Garema Place, 11am

Adelaide – Elder Park, 11am

Perth – Russell Square, 11am

Hobart – Parliament Gardens, 12pm

There are also hundreds of regional events so CLICK HERE and enter your postcode to find one near you.

I’ll be at the Nambour Rally at Quota Park, Mathew Street, Nambour.  Send an email to if you are going to that event and want to say ‘Hi’.

Chrys Stevenson

And, for those who haven’t seen it, Dawkins interviews creationist, Wendy Wright – a woman who is as obtuse as our Prime Minister is on climate change.


I get mail …

In response to my latest post on Bernard Gaynor’s Penis, I received the following email from a gentleman called Richard Foley.

This is not the sort of thing I’d usually publish given that it is full of misinformation and the usual old codswallop calling homosexuals ‘sodomites’ and equating homosexuality with pedophilia. But, as this is the kind of fuzzy thinking which is all too common among a certain type of reader, I thought it was worthwhile addressing. Here is the email which the correspondent Mr Foley (aka ozithortitan) has kindly given me permission to make public:

“Hi I see that you are a hipster feminist type & have just read your blog about that blokes dick you were carrying on about. Whilst I understand that generally childish response in your article, being of the philosophical & political persuasion you are, I feel that the issue of this whole gay marriage affair & the persistent bludgeoning of the general public with the issue should be better determined via a referendum as opposed to a well lobbied political class. 

The issue is seemingly cloaked with the persistent ramblings of it all being about “love” which in fact nobody is stopping considering the reality legal & otherwise of civil unions. You well know that the noisy minority activists within the gay movement have much further reaching agendas at play with their “marriage equality” clap trap such as eradicating the statutory age of consent. As a father of young children I am appalled by such notions on a moral & societal level & I should not be criticized for stating such opposition with the usual jamming techniques of “bigot”, “homophobe” & “redneck” etc etc.

If people like you persist in lobbying for the gay thing then at least be honest about what the actual act of gay sex is considering now that in the education system the gay sex issue is now being potentially promoted & included for our young kids in sex education.The fact is the vaginal structure has six layers of stratified squarish cells and is bathed in lymph, designed for friction; the rectum has only a couple of layers and is not designed for friction. Where virulent germs are concentrated, any disruption of the single layer of protective skin cells would immediately open the way to infection, with the chance of horrible diseases, among which would be amebiasis, giardiasis, shigellosis, hepatitis A and B, hepatitis non-A and non-B, and other parasitic infections these health effects were once known in past times medically as the “sodomite bowel syndrome.” Not to mention issue AIDS as well.

Now I’m not religious at all nor a fan of this Gaynor character but I feel that feminist/socialist lefty types like you need to be honest with the general public when discussing the promotion of the gay lifestyle & it’s potential health issues which I might add the taxpayer is funding via taxes in the medical area when these health related problems occur.

I await your reasoned & dignified response feel free to publish this email if you wish as long as you can offer a fair & reasonable critique of the facts particulary the medical ones I have outlined above.

Richard Foley

My reply to Mr Foley is as follows:

Wow! So much confusion in one short email!

I’m not sure that a middle-aged, middle-class woman can be identified as a ‘hipster’, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

You have no idea of my ‘political persuasion’. I am a swinging voter and have never belonged to any political party. On this blog, and elsewhere, I criticise members of all parties – Liberals, Labor and Greens, and give credit where credit is due.

Referendums are held to change the Constitution. Same-sex marriage is not a constitutional matter. A plebiscite could be held but it would be enormously expensive and is unnecessary given that polling data already shows majority support for same-sex marriage in Australia.

You’ve sent this email in response to a blog post about a person who is transgender.  Transgender does not equate to ‘gay’.  For example, some trans women are attracted to men, others to women, some are bisexual and some are not attracted to any sex. Some trans people remain in partnership with their wife/husband even after their transition. In other words, defending Ms McGregor has nothing whatsoever to do with promoting homosexuality. Frankly, Ms McGregor’s sexual preferences are no business of mine – or yours. For the record, I’m straight and not interested in ‘promoting’ any particular sexual orientation – each to their own.

I certainly do not ‘promote’ the ‘gay lifestyle’. Firstly, being gay is not a lifestyle – it is a sexual orientation. It is not something that is ‘chosen’ nor is it something that is changeable. Tell me, Richard, when did you decide to adopt a straight lifestyle?

I do support equal rights and protections for LGBTI people under Australian law, because I believe in justice and equality. As an advocate of ‘men’s rights’, Richard (I see you are on the personal mailing list of arch-misogynist, bully and conspiracy theorist Peter Nolan of Crimes Against Fathers) you argue exactly the same thing for your cause. You believe that women are given preference over men in the legal system (particularly in family law). Why then would you support a system which preferences straight people over gay people? You cannot ethically argue for equality for yourself if you don’t stand up for equality for others.

Now, with regard to anal sex. You are confusing homosexuality with a sex act. Anal sex is a sex act that some couples engage in – both homosexual and heterosexual.

Anal sex is practised by people of all sexual orientations – it’s a matter of personal preference, not sexual orientation. Many gay couples never, or rarely, practice anal sex. As a gay man on one forum said, “My partner and I have been together 17 years and we can count on one hand all the times we’ve tried it.”

Research suggests that while most gay men have tried anal sex, they are far more likely to participate in oral sex and mutual masturbation.

Many straight couples enjoy anal sex. This may shock you, but some men who don’t consider themselves gay, enjoy having anal sex with other men.  And some straight men enjoy having their female partners penetrate them with a dildo, vibrator or similar.

In short – anal sex is not equivalent to ‘gay’ sex.

According to one online source:

“It’s widely claimed that one third of gay couples do not include anal intercourse in their lovemaking. According to one estimate, about a third of heterosexual couples have tried it from time to time.

It’s thought that about 10 per cent of heterosexual couples have anal intercourse as a more regular feature of their lovemaking.

In absolute numbers, more heterosexual couples have anal sex than homosexual couples, because many more people are heterosexual.”

So, if hospitals are coping with a flood of people suffering from anal-sex related problems, odds are that the vast majority are heterosexuals, not homosexuals.

The transmission of HIV/AIDS via anal sex is obviously a concern. But, again, this is not confined to the homosexual community who (no thanks to the current Queensland Government) are increasingly well educated about the need to use protection. Young people would be at far less risk if sex education in schools talked about anal sex and how it can be practised responsibly – but I gather you are against that for fear it ‘promotes a gay lifestyle’. Again, talking about anal sex can’t make someone gay – but it can make them practice safe sex.

Figures on the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Queensland are somewhat outdated but this may be instructive. In 2005, the ‘men who have sex with men’ category comprised 73.5 per cent of the total new HIV notifications in Queensland (see Table 19, page 41). Today (latest figures from 2010), they comprise 63.1 per cent; a drop of more than 14 per cent. Meanwhile, the percentage of heterosexuals and ‘people originating from a high prevalence country’ have both increased. In other words, HIV/AIDS transmission via homosexuals is falling significantly while transmission via heterosexuals is on the rise.

Sure, there are health risks associated with anal sex, but, with education, they can be avoided. Mainstream medical advice seems to be that anal sex is safe, provided you take sensible precautions. Yet, you seem to be suggesting that we should be silent about anal sex and not educate children about the dangers and precautions they should take; that it should be a taboo subject.  Anal sex has been practiced since people started having sex and will continue as one of a suite of sexual options for both straight and gay couples.

Young fundamentalist Christians in the US are having pre-marital anal sex so as to remain ‘technically’ virgins on their wedding day and to avoid becoming pregnant. Because of their ignorance and a lack of education, they are placing themselves at risk. The Washington Post reports that Christian teens who ‘pledge’ sexual abstinence suffer from the same rates of sexually transmitted disease as those who don’t take the pledge.

“Although young people who sign a virginity pledge delay the initiation of sexual activity, marry at younger ages and have fewer sexual partners, they are also less likely to use condoms and more likely to experiment with oral and anal sex, said the researchers from Yale and Columbia universities.”

It is true that, without education about safe sex practices, anal sex is riskier than vaginal sex. But, we shouldn’t forget there are health risks (pregnancy being one of them!) associated with vaginal sex! There are few women who haven’t picked up a bladder infection or thrush from a sexual partner and, of course, having unprotected vaginal sex also puts one at risk of more serious sexually transmitted diseases.

Proper lubrication, hygiene, using protection and a bit of common sense circumvent most problems associated with anal sex, just as they do with vaginal sex.

You suggest that the campaign for same-sex marriage is associated with other agendas, such as lowering the age of consent. I am in contact with many LGBTI people and have the privilege of being admitted on to a number of LGBTI news groups. I can say, honestly, that even in private there is no suggestion, whatsoever, that the campaign for same-sex marriage is about anything more than the right to marry the person you love and, incidentally, about making LGBTI people equal in the eyes of Australian law. It is about removing discrimination – nothing more.

The age of consent issue is all together separate. The issue with the age of consent is that, in Queensland, it is different for straights and gays. This is contrary to equal rights for all and needs to be adjusted – especially as the penalty is a maximum 14 years in prison. The threat of a long prison term should a young gay person admit to being sexually active may discourage them from seeking education about sex or medical attention. Again, it is the wowsers and prudes who are exacerbating the ‘health problems’ associated with anal sex, not we ‘hipsters’.

Making the age of consent non-discriminatory is certainly not about homosexuals wanting to prey on young people. Homosexuality does not equate with pedophilia.

As the psychology division of the University of Southern California Davis explains:

“…  an expert panel of researchers convened by the National Academy of Sciences noted in a 1993 report: “The distinction between homosexual and heterosexual child molesters relies on the premise that male molesters of male victims are homosexual in orientation. Most molesters of boys do not report sexual interest in adult men, however” (National Research Council, 1993, p. 143)

USC Davis also cites another study in which Dr. Carole Jenny and her colleagues reviewed 352 medical charts, representing all of the sexually abused children seen in the emergency room or child abuse clinic of a Denver children’s hospital during a one-year period (from July 1, 1991 to June 30, 1992). The molester was a gay or lesbian adult in fewer than 1% of cases in which an adult molester could be identified – only 2 of the 269 cases (Jenny et al., 1994).

Civil unions is an apartheid option that does not provide full equality under the law to same-sex couples. When a gay man or woman falls in love, they should not have to say to their partner, “Will you civil union me?” That is not equality. Marriage is not a Christian institution. It is practised by people of all religions and of none. It is a legislative matter, not a matter of religion. The vast majority of Australians do not marry in a church, but in secular ceremonies presided over by a celebrant, not a member of the clergy. In a secular country there is no reason why marriage should not be available to both gay and straight citizens.

Now, your concern on moral grounds. Really? Are you the same ozithortitan (an unusual screen pseudonym) who said in response to a married woman on a fishing video, “I’d like to fuck the chick”? Are you the same Richard Foley who, on 29 April asked Catherine Deveny, “Can I do a turd in your mouth, Catherine?”


If so, may I say I’d feel far safer putting children into the care of any homosexual person I know than leaving them with you.

I do hope you appreciate this ‘reasoned and dignified’ response to your email, Richard.

Chrys Stevenson