Dolly Parton, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Vice President Kamala Harris, Mariah Carey and Michelle Obama. As soon as the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began, so too did the vaccine selfie — aka the ‘vaxxie’ — and celebrities, as well as the rest of the world, have been jumping on board. But is the vaxxie just another ‘look at me’ moment or does it represent something more serious?
The vaxxie is an image or footage of someone getting, about to get or just having received their Covid-19 vaccination, which is shared with the world via social media. In the age of Instagram, we’re so used to documenting everything about ourselves, from what we eat for breakfast to what we wear to the gym, that it’s only natural we would feel inclined to post about getting the vaccine.
Cultural critics have long bemoaned the selfie as a ‘narcissistic endeavour’ designed to rake in the likes as a form of self-validation, but in the case of the vaxxie, this criticism feels misplaced. “There’s the general gut reaction when you think about the selfie — ‘Hey, this is narcissistic, this is the end of culture,’” says Anirban K Baishya, a professor in media studies at Fordham University, New York. “We’ve heard that rhetoric, but there’s also a deeply social point to it that isn’t necessarily bad.” Baishya likens the selfie to a Polaroid for the digital age — a way of documenting life as it is in a precise moment, which is exactly what the vaxxie is at its core — a digital record marking a historical moment.
The vaxxie as a symbol of hope
“We’ve been living through a pandemic for the past year and are finally starting to see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel,” explains psychologist Elizabeth Beecroft. The development of the vaccines, she says, represents hope for a new future and reality that we will soon adjust to. As such, the vaxxie has become a cultural symbol of hope. It certainly has for writer De, who posted her vaxxie as a celebration of what seems to be a major turning point after such an anxiety-filled and uncertain year. “It feels like a relief or a mile-marker towards being able to see friends and hug family members again,” she says. Meanwhile, for some people who had, or still have, long Covid, including me, the vaccine selfie is a way of taking power back against an illness that can render one utterly powerless.
A hundred years ago, the Spanish flu ravaged the world, closing people off from one another and isolating them within their homes. While Covid-19 has acted in a similar way, we are lucky to have had technology at our disposal to keep us connected. Indeed, by taking pictures of ourselves as we do our bit in the fight against the virus, we are showing a sense of unity and solidarity. This is something Isabella Lalonde, founder of jewelry brand Beepy Bella is grateful for. “I shared [my vaxxie] for a few reasons,” she says. “I wanted to let my community know that I’m taking care of myself in their best interest… In a way it’s cathartic. It’s a sign of hope that the world will one day heal from this pandemic.”
A call to arms
But most significantly — and this is where celebrities come in — the vaxxie is a call to arms, a way of sending a strong message to the world about the importance of getting a vaccine. According to Beecroft, people are motivated to share their vaccine experiences to encourage others to do the same and lead by example.
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Filming herself as she gets the first dose of her Covid-19 vaccine, Mariah Carey can be heard telling her 10m followers on Instagram that she’s “hoping for the best, encouraging you guys to do it when you can” while making a joke that hitting a G6 note is one of the vaccine’s side effects. Like Carey, Dolly Parton is also using her influence to inspire people to get vaccinated. Filming herself getting the vaccine on Twitter, she urges her 5.2m followers to follow suit, arguing that “the sooner we’re feeling better, the sooner we’ll be getting back to normal”.
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) March 2, 2021
The right reasons
Of course, not everyone will share a vaxxie as a way of showing solidarity or encouraging others — some will undoubtedly do it as a way of fitting in, following the crowd or even showing off their vaxxie ’fit (it’s a thing) or a naked shoulder (also a thing). “We should take a step back, consider our intention before posting and make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons, whatever those reasons are,” says Beecroft.
But does it really matter what the reason is? By sharing a vaxxie, whether to simply follow the herd or flex your fashion credentials, you’re still getting the message out there about the importance of vaccines. So pick an outfit, book an appointment — when you are eligible — turn the camera on yourself and get ready to capture this historical moment because you could be helping to save lives.
Originally published on Vogue.in