The “selfie,” or self-portrait usually taken with a mobile phone, has become so ubiquitous today that rarely do we give a thought to the meaning of the word or the phenomena. But upon further scrutiny, it becomes evident that the “selfie” is an independent expression of the “self” – of who you are, how you define yourself and what persona you present to the world.
But in Iran, as we have seen with the viral and controversial #stealthyfreedom hijab-less photo campaign, self-expression is never simple, and is more about adhering to – or reacting to – an established code of dress and behavior than about showing the world who you really are.
Now, the incarnation of a new global campaign by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kerman, Iran, raises thoughts about just how independent and free self-expression is in Iran. As youths all over the world upload selfies in a UN campaign to urge world leaders to better prioritize young people, the “official” Iranian incarnation of it seems restrained, cautious, and most of all, controlled. In most cases, the young women featured in the project turn to the camera – the images appear more like portraits than true “selfies” – with shy, uncertain smiles, their head-coverings and mostly-black floor-length coats or uniforms obscuring any semblance of individuality.
The photos, taken in Kerman during a Red Crescent workshop, feature 32 young female volunteers – all hijab-clad – holding a hoop emblazoned with the words #showyourselfie, along with their personal take on their role in their country’s future development.
The message the campaign worldwide aims to send is clear: wake up, world leaders, because the younger generation has the potential to drive whole countries forward. While other young people are taking their own identities and their countries’ future into their own hands, In the Iranian version the message is different: the young “selves” are a reflection of a controlled society, led by greater forces, with no real “self” to show.