Mary Bond is barely legal and effortlessly intellectual. The 19-year-old is practicing selfies as art and writing essays contextualizing the online coven of young women working in intentionally feminist lo- fi self-portraiture. She’s posted naked selfies on the hacker-bro message board 4chan and archived the responses, which include dick pics and haterade like “You seem like an attention whore. Fuck off” and “You may actually have decent tits but your face is horrible.” She also collaborates with her boyfriend Ian Aleksander Adams on a web site called autodissociate.me, which features a randomized background of screengrabs of Mary from Skype conversations that she calls “selfies once removed” and related quotes that you can refresh and rearrange. In the pics, Mary’s often topless and rarely made-up, decidedly more naked than nude, and there’s a subtle sense of humor to her performance of full exposure.
By Whitney Mallett, printed in issue 10
You’ve used the term “girlcore” to refer to the work you and other young women are doing. What is “girlcore”?
I used to be one of those people who was like “girls are dumb.” And then, I realized I was dissing all these things for no apparent reason just because they were associated with girliness so I wanted to explore why something that was deemed stereotypically girly was considered bad by society. Girlcore I think is a group of artists who are exploring that in a very intensely girl- ish way that ends up infuriating a lot of people because girlish things are considered inferior.
I started taking selfies back in 2009 when I was like 14. At first I was taking them to make fun of people who took them and as I took more and more I very quickly realized it was actually beneficial for me to be making these images of myself. I’ve talked about it with a professor who teaches neuroscience and selfies have so much potential to help people therapeutically, just to be comfortable with how you look and aware of how your body moves.
What do you think about people calling selfies narcissistic?
I really don’t like how narcissism is a misused term to apply to people who take pictures of themselves because it doesn’t make sense. If you think of narcissism as a diagnosis it’s like self obsession to the point where you are unable to function properly. I think it’s been twisted. Most of the time when they apply it to young girls, it’s young girls who are extremely concerned with social situations and how they fit in with other people. They are obsessively cataloging themselves because they want to know how people view them.
It’s cool that you’re making your own context for your work. In a lot of your writing, you refer to art history. Is it a way of making people take this sort of work seriously?
I was talking to my art teachers about the work a lot of girls are doing and they weren’t getting it. They were like “there’s no intent here.” And I was like “no, there is obviously intent here.” But I think including a lot of references to the canon, that really legitimized it. I didn’t really want to include that many classical male artists in my writing about girlcore but because I did, my male teachers were like “oh obviously it makes sense, they are referencing this larger visual culture.” It’s interesting that I had to reference all those males for it to be legitimized by them.
What happened on the 4chan message board?
I always wanted to post nudes to 4chan. I thought it would be funny because they always react in this very stereotypical ridiculous way. It was interesting to see how cliché their responses have become and to see how society in general reacts to young girls. At this point, 4chan users are following a script when there’s a young girl on the Internet. They think “obviously she is going to be afraid if we try to show her nudes.” They tried to dox me, which is to find all the people to send sensitive stuff to – like my mom. But my mom had already seen my web site and didn’t really care. All their typical methods of scaring people didn’t end up working and I already knew what they were trying to do so it was just comical to me.
You said your mom didn’t really care. Did it take some time for her to be okay with your web presence?
My parents are both pretty religious and conservative. I’ve been slowly showing them my art: “this is a picture of an implied nude of someone else, this is an implied nude of me, this is a painting of someone that’s nude, this is a painting of me that’s nude.” So by the time it got to this, they weren’t really surprised. My mom was like “maybe you should block the people from our church,” and I was like “it’s art!” It does bother me that I have to put the title of art for my parents to respect it as legitimate rather than just because it’s my body. Why should my body bother anyone?
Historically some of the body art and sex positivity in girlcore work is ground well-tread for feminists and women artists and sometimes I feel like it’s maybe intellectually redundant but then when I see these vehement reactions to teen girls and their bodies on 4chan and other comment threads, I realize how relevant it still is.
I feel comfortable being very aggressive with my own image and I am very comfortable receiving hate, and other people aren’t, so I feel comfortable putting myself out there. I am not doing it for the intellectual oh-yay-I-was-here-first, I am doing it to share my experience. And people have told me they have been helped by it, so for me that is enough.
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