Below is a writing prompt that I have used in an introductory writing course entitled Selvies and Selfies, which I taught at the University of Southern California. The larger theme of the course was race and identity. Another version of this assignment can be found here.
Know thy Selfie
Prompt: How do your selfies produce or obscure a sense of your identity?
How do we create our selves? These days, one selfie at a time. And each selfie bears information that can be used to read our identity characteristics: our race-ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status.
Take or choose 5 selfies of yourself. You may be alone or with another person, but try to make sure you are a central and large part of the photo. All of the selfies should be different.
Examine your selfies for your performance of
Consider these identity characteristics independently and as they intersect.
Write a thesis-driven essay in answering the prompt:
Choose 5 selfies of yourself and analyze them for your construction of three intersecting and overlapping identity characteristics.
Look at all elements of the way you present yourself
—Clothing, pose, facial expression
But also the elements of the framing of the picture:
—Background, lighting, proximity, angle of the camera.
And last any other elements in the picture:
—People, animals, objects…
Some questions for reflection as you prepare your response.
What in your selfies is accurate?
What is obscured or ambiguous?
Does the image portray one identity trait more than others?
Where do the images place you in the spectrum of possibilities for each characteristic trait — for example, more or less feminine or masculine.
How might different audiences perceive the images differently?
How is the viewer addressed in the image?
How do your selfies play off other well-known images? How do they play off each other?
What is the apparent context of this image? How does that affect how it might be read?
Although you will be choosing 3 identity characteristics, please do not write a five paragraph essay, giving one paragraph to each characteristic. Instead, create a thesis and develop your argument as you go, building and deepening your argument, adding nuance as you go.
Jill Walker Rettberg: Seeing Ourselves Through Technology
W.E.B. Dubois. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” The Souls of Black Folk.
Herbert J. Gans. Symbolic ethnicity: The future of ethnic groups and cultures in America
Stuart Hall: Representation and the Media
Judith Butler: Your Behavior Creates Your Gender
Notes: A few suggestions helped students. For one, they did better when they used a wider variety of selfies. However, choosing some commonality (like always posing with 1 other person or always in a group) helped to give their analysis coherence. Although they took 5 new selfies, I allowed them to use older selfies and even ones they'd shared through a Snapchat or even never shared.