A Midlife Guide to Selfies that Don’t Suck

As far as advice goes, I’m not ever going to be one to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do upon reaching a certain age. As far as I’m concerned, you should wear whatever makes you happy and comfortable. Whether it’s leggings, hoop earrings or hot pants, I don’t care. You should eat what you feel like, workout as often as it suits your fancy, and use the oxford comma or not according to your taste.

… Oh, wait. I will probably judge you on the comma use, but carry on with the other stuff.

But there is something I think anyone over a certain age needs to come to grips with: Selfies.

You guys. There is possibly no more distinct line of demarcation between the old and the young than the ability (or lack thereof) to take a decent self-portrait with one’s personal electronic device.

… Except for maybe the TV remote thing. But in the interest of being concise, we’re going to focus on the art of the selfie here.

This lack of skill isn’t necessarily our fault. We grew up in a time when our cameras didn’t tell us right away if we’d stuck our thumb in front of the lens, and when buying film was nearly as expensive as developing it. Members of the selfie generation, on the other hand, have had practice, unencumbered by any limits except data storage space.

Some of us are also bogged down by propriety, embarrassed to be caught getting all up into ourselves in front of a camera. You see someone of a certain age holding a cellphone at arms length while casting furtive glances over her shoulder, looking like a newbie to the witness protection program, she’s probably making sure not one’s watching her snap a self-portrait. And then it’s just the one, quick shot before moving on. We don’t practice. We don’t take a few from different angles, with the sun behind us or in front, to see what’s better, changing expressions to see what accentuates our cheekbones or camouflages the bags under our eyes.

It’s point. Click. Done. And dammit, I was blinking again. Why can’t I ever get this right?

That doesn’t mean we should stop. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push back against our instincts and take our crappy selfies and post them as liberally as possible.

We have just as much right as anyone to selfie. I mean, come on, ours was the generation that had to figure out how to get the clock to stop blinking on the VCR. We were the first to know how far out in the yard our cordless phones would work. We may not be digital natives, but we’re at least expats. We should be able to figure out the selfie thing.

We can do this, people.

Midlife Sentence - A Midlife Guide to Selfies That Don't Suck
Everything looks better when halfway obscured by a wine glass

Anyone who knows me is going to be thinking: “What the hell, Beth? You’re about the last person to dole out the selfie advice.” It’s true. I am distinctly awful at selfies. I’m hyper critical of every square inch of my face, which is why sometimes my selfies feature my partially obscured mug.

But I’ve been looking this stuff up and it turns out there are a lot of online pointers for people like us. I’ve pulled a few tips that might be helpful for the aspiring selfie taker:

First of all, look at the camera. It’s that little hole above the screen. Don’t look at the screen. Total rookie move. We can see your eyes pointed over the bifocals resting on the tip of your nose. You look like Grandpa in The Princess Bride. Stop it.

Next, take a lot of photos, and pick the best one. There’s no rule that says you have to use the first picture you take. You’re not paying per copy. Experiment. Go wild. Lord knows we all need the practice.

Midlife Sentence - A Midlife Guide to Selfies That Don't SuckPay attention to your surroundings. Know what else or who else is in the photo. I mean if you care. Sometimes photobombers are awesome, but if they aren’t what you were going for, use the crop function on your camera app.

Use natural lighting, indirect if possible. Direct sunlight in your face is not your friend. No one needs to be able to count your pores or know how badly you need to trim your nose-hair.

Hold the camera almost level, slightly higher than your face. There’s science that says looking up at a camera makes you look vulnerable. A lot of folks my age seem to think looking up at the camera is flattering, or maybe they’re just trying to get rid of a chin or two, or enhance their cheekbones. If that’s your aim, try extending your neck toward the camera instead. Really, ladies nobody wants to feel like they’re flying over you with a camera drone. Oh, and duck lips cause wrinkles. And they’re stupid. Stop it.

Midlife Sentence - A Midlife Guide to Selfies That Don't Suck
I dare you to come up with a better “I can’t figure out this phone” photo than this.

Relax your face, and smile normally. If you can’t manage a level of multitasking that lets you keep a natural expression while you take a picture, keep practicing.

Consider the selfie stick. Whether you’re going for a group shot, or you want to capture yourself with a spectacular background, selfie sticks are awesome, plus you don’t have to worry about the length of your arm (or that of your nose hairs, for that matter).

Go for the slightly off-center. Photographers call this the “rule of thirds” principal. If your point of interest (i.e. your face) is to one side and slightly lower than center, it may provide more interest by changing the balance of the content in your photo.

And, finally, know thy selfie. Take it, upload it, put it out there on social media all you want. But know that your selfie isn’t necessarily proper for every occasion. Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, your professional profile or family portrait might warrant the assistance of someone who knows what they’re doing. In a studio. With real photography equipment.

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