Life | 'It's All About Loving Yourself'

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'It's All About Loving Yourself'
Text by Madhu Jain and Illustration by Farzana Cooper
Published: Volume 22, Issue 2, February, 2014

Anointed by Oxford University Press as the ‘word of the year’ (2013), ‘selfie’ is beginning to reflect the zeitgeist of our times, says Madhu Jain who goes on to ponder on the increasing power of self-love

It’s all about loving….ah, yourself. Well, at the risk of making Karan Johar drop his signature mug of coffee by turning his engraved-in-celluloid motto on its head, and dare one say gently edging out his alma mater and alma pater from centrestage, the object of true love these days is the self, getting ubiquitous by the day. Family, take a step back please. Johar’s tagline of his films, ‘It’s all about loving your parents’ is fast becoming a fade-out, making room and creating emotional space for friends – after the me, myself and I are taken care of, that is. But more about that later.

Come February and all thoughts (well, make that many) turn to romance; you know the birds and bees and all that stuff. The avalanche of ‘sweet nothings’ triggered by Valentine’s Day is propelled by initiatives marketed by Hallmark Cards. They, it now seems, are the arbitrators of social relationships. In other words: if you don’t send these ready-mades – lachrymose sentiments packaged in feel-good prose – you don’t get any brownie points. In other words: you don’t love unless you have expressed it with a card, ‘said’ it on social networks or sent flowers from halfway across the world. In other words: you express your love with platinum; therefore you exist – as a sentient millennium being and lover.

By the time you get to this column the media – print and electronic, not to speak of social networking sites – will be spilling over with stories of romantic love and a million ways of expressing it. Perhaps this is the opportune moment to step back and look at all kinds of relationships. Between husbands and wives, children and parents, siblings, teachers and students, friends, cousins, neighbours, the young and the old, grandparents and grandchildren – I could go on, but not to worry I will limit myself to a few.

IT’S A SELFIE
But before I do, let’s get back to ‘It’s all about loving yourself’. From self to selfie is just one little step. This newbie word is being bandied about everywhere to describe the contagious craze of people photographing themselves with their cell phones and sharing them with their friends and family. Anointed by Oxford University Press as the ‘word of the year’ (2013), it is beginning to reflect the zeitgeist of our times. Why, even the American President, the usually measured and self-contained Barack Obama, the shrewd and posh British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt ‘starred’ (all beaming like groupies at a Miley Cyrus concert) in a selfie taken by the blonde, long-tressed Schmidt at the memorial service of Nelson Mandela in South Africa last December.

Of course, you could say that there’s nothing new about self love or narcissism. The wicked queen in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs keeps looking into the mirror and asking ‘Who is the fairest of them all?’ She gets into a murderous rage when the mirror throws up the image of Snow White, who according to some versions of the story may have been her step daughter or even daughter.

While hunting in the woods the golden-haired, impossibly handsome Narcissus came across a hidden pool of water. According to Greek mythology, he was so smitten by the image he saw in the water that he fell in love with it and kept staring at it like a forlorn lover, unaware of the fact that it was his reflection. When Narcissus realised that the object of his love was none other than himself, he wasted away from grief. The only thing that remained beside the little pond was a flower with white petals and a yellow centre. The flower is called Narcissus, and the adjective narcissistic comes from it.

BRAGGIES AND BEYOND
It’s another little step from selfie to ‘braggie’, another freshly minted addition to our lexicon now morphing as it were on speed. People increasingly use holiday photographs as braggies to boast about their travels: it’s not so much about the formerly ubiquitous ‘Wish you were here’. It’s more like: I am here having fun and you are not…so there -- more like cocking a snook at the ones not privileged enough to be there. It is much the same with people using their smartphones to shoot and share foodscapes – the delicious things they are eating or cooking up. I think that the images people post go beyond being braggies: they are more like food porn – titillating photographs about gastronomical delights on Facebook and other social media which friends and friends of friends can only consume vicariously

The tantalising relationship with food is perhaps becoming more important for the selfies than breaking bread with the family. Nowhere do changing equations in relationships and family dynamics come into sharp focus than in weddings. The strain of planning a wedding throws up the widening gap between generations. While the parents and relatives want to include the larger family in addition to their circle of friends and business acquaintances, the bridal couple-to-be want only a handful of relatives and their own friends. When I asked a cousin whose son was getting married whether I could do anything to help, pat came the answer: ‘Just kill some relatives’. Her son lives in Europe and was adamant about excluding kin whose names he did not even know.

The solution was a destination wedding: it allowed them to offload the poorer members of the extended family, who might not have gelled with their cosmopolitan friends. It wouldn’t quite do to have to post photographs of the wedding on Facebook, with the unwanted family members or friends of the parents looking on. In this scenario it was all about loving your friends. After the self, that is.


Madhu Jain is an author and a journalist. She writes for several publications and is currently working on her next book. She also curates art shows.

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