Since the camera was invented, all men have acted the same way about having their photos taken: annoyed. We’re in the middle of hiking and our girlfriends make us stop to smile. Or we’re at a stuffy restaurant that already makes us feel uncomfortable, and we have to pass the camera to the waiter so everyone can stare at us. The only time we ever want a picture of ourselves is during sex, and that’s because we can make whatever face we want since it won’t be in the frame.
Yet men—willingly, alone, without any pressure from women—are taking selfies. These were originally the bailiwick of club girls on Myspace: shot in the bathroom mirror, cleavage showing, head tilted, hand on hair, duck lips out. But now dudes are taking photos of themselves trying to look cool: sunglasses on, baseball cap askew, beer in hand. Or worse, at the gym. Or worser, in the bathroom mirror, shirtless.
Men are even taking selfies in front of other people, utterly unaware of the shame they should feel. A woman taking a selfie in public is inherently hot. She’s telling the whole bar to look at her, signaling her confidence. It’s why the ads for the latest Grand Theft Auto show a blonde in a red bikini taking a selfie in front of the Santa Monica Pier. After centuries of posing for male artists, that women can at last objectify themselves—presenting the image of themselves that they choose—is empowering. All of this is so layered and complex, I have no idea if I truly believe it or just want to encourage pretty girls to keep posting their Frisky Friday pictures on Twitter.
For a man, though, I am absolutely certain taking a selfie is a demonstration of insecurity. Because we have the luxury of not being constantly evaluated on our looks, it’s pathetic to care too much. It’s why the just-out-of-bed-hair look works so well for us. And facial scars. It’s the reason no man has ever said, “Let me change into something more comfortable.” Compared with women, we’re already wearing something comfortable. If you walk into a woman’s bathroom and she has hundreds of beauty products and a few photos of celebrities whose style she’s copying, you accept it. If a woman walks into a guy’s bathroom and it’s teeming with products and photos of George Clooney’s hair, she has a legal obligation to warn George Clooney.
In texts and on Snapchat men make the idiotic mistake of responding to a selfie with a selfie. The proper response to a woman sending you a sexy selfie is not a sexy selfie. The proper response is “You are an attractive woman. I would like to buy you dinner and shiny things.”
A selfie is the modern equivalent of sitting for an oil portrait, which is done only by royalty, billionaire CEOs and conquerors. If Mark Zuckerberg’s Instagram page is nothing but photos of him half-naked in the mirror, he’s earned it. This, I have no doubt, is exactly what Vladimir Putin’s page looks like. But the rest of us should put down the camera phone. The lowest point of Obama’s presidency has been when he shot a selfie with the inexplicably hot prime minister of Denmark at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, while seated next to his wife. He did so many things wrong in that moment, Fox News almost exploded.
The reality for men is that the only people who want to see you staring into the lens are the same ones who wanted your class pictures: your parents, your grandparents and people who like to make fun of you.
According to a poll in the British newspaper The Telegraph, selfies are the most popular type of photograph. The third most popular tag on Instagram is #me. And men report taking more selfies than women. If men were meant to be looked at, we would have breasts.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. You can take a selfie to capture yourself doing exceptionally manly activities. Catching a huge fish, killing a bear, liberating prisoners of war. The best selfies are of NFL players about to go into surgery. Yes, artists create self-portraits. But Vincent van Gogh didn’t paint himself shirtless and flexing. He showed himself vulnerable and messed up. Though, honestly, his self-portraits would be a lot more interesting if he were holding up a giant marlin.
It’s also fine to take selfies if you’re gay, since you’re doing it for other men. Gay men are indeed being constantly evaluated on their looks, so they’re right to try to control their image. Yes, gay trends trickle down, like shaving your junk, wearing boxer briefs and being nice. But selfies should not be one of these trends.
Perhaps the most manly thing about me, other than my looks, is that I didn’t own a camera until I was 32, when I got a phone that came with one. All my photos from high school until that point had been gifts from women. The urge to visually chronicle my own life seemed unheroic. A man looks forward, not backward. His memory is enough. When celebrities I interviewed asked if I wanted to pose with them, I turned them down because it felt too self-glorifying. Instead of celebrating myself, I let others celebrate me. None of them did, but at least I wasn’t doing it myself.
So when websites ask me to include a photo of myself, they get the one from my driver’s license. It shows how I really appear and requires no effort, and because it’s nearly 10 years old I look great. See, we’re all a little vain. The smart ones just try not to show it.