Kids, many years before selfie became the word of the year and got added to the Oxford dictionary1, before smart phones, before cell phones with cameras, almost before cell phones themselves, if we “old folks” wanted to take a photo of ourselves (a self-portrait, if you will) we had to turn the camera toward us and hope that our aim didn’t cut off part of our head or look blurry or angle too sharply because there was no way to “delete” the photo. Once you took it, you had to develop it, and you had to wait at least a couple of days to find out the result — unless you were fortunate enough to have Polaroid.
The idea of the selfie never occurred to me until I saw this movie:
It was May 1985, and for my 13th birthday, my mother let me invite four friends over for a sleepover.
To get five giggling 13-year-olds away from my father for a couple of hours, she took us to see Desperately Seeking Susan. Madonna mania was in full swing. I had her first, self-titled cassette as well as her second, Like a Virgin. I knew all of her songs by heart. While not pictured in the above photo, I owned the lace gloves, rubber bracelets, even a scarf/belt-looking thing that I tied vertically around my head to create a big, floppy bow on top of my hair.
Desperately Seeking Susan opens2 with Madonna lying on the floor and taking selfies with a Polaroid camera. The instant I saw that, I thought, Why haven’t I thought of this before? I got a Polaroid camera for my 12th birthday and never considered using it like this.
However, I actually didn’t try this trick until a year later — probably because the film for said cameras wasn’t cheap by 1980s standards. A pack of ten exposures was about $10, and you also needed a flash bar that sat on top of the camera. Polaroid photography wasn’t exactly a profitable hobby.
Of course, now we will buy smartphone apps that let us turn our snapshots into the same crappy, over/underexposed photos and call them artistic. I say “we,” by the way, because I have Instagram and Hipstamatic on my iPhone.
I’m not sure what sparked the idea to finally recreate the Desperately Seeking Susan selfie a year later. Bored teenager takes selfies instead of drinking or doing drugs — what a rebel I was. Going by Madonna’s example, I laid down on the bedroom floor and made my first attempt.
I believe these were the last Polaroids I ever took because the next year I got a Kodak disc camera — cheaper film with more exposures and double prints at Eckerd!
I’m just ever so thankful that now we don’t have to point-and-shoot at random or in a mirror to the the self-portrait we want.
But most importantly, there’s photoshop.
1. Speaking of the dictionary addition, really, Oxford? You expect people to take you seriously and use “your” comma when you accept the word selfie?
2. It might have come later in the movie. Honestly, the only other things I remember about that movie are Rosanna Arquette, Aidan Quinn, personal ads in the newspaper, a dance club where Madonna dances to her own song, and a public restroom hand dryer that Madonna turns upside down to dry her armpits.