Decoding the power of the bathroom selfie



Photograph: Louisa Parry

How the loo grew fashion’s favourite backdrop

  • Read more from the autumn/winter 2018 print run of The Fashion, our biannual fashion supplement

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Photograph: Louisa Parry

A long row of sinks and at each one a miss, leaning. “They rummage through their handbags, ridicule use influence out various make-up items; applying blushers, concealers and brightly slant lip-glosses.” In the academic book Women And Alcohol: Social Attitudes, under the titillating heading Glamour Over Consumption, this ethnographic facts from a city-centre pub in Canterbury explores the way a bathroom allows lady-in-waitings to “assess their intoxication and femininity”, taking part in a common form of “calculated hedonism”. Backcombing her hair, one turns to the outlander at the next mirror and asks, “I don’t look too drunk, do I?” The stranger supports her, of course, because that’s what women do, in the toilets, at end of day. We urinate, we check our lipstick, and we comfort each other that we look faultlessly the right amount of pissed. And sometimes, perhaps knowing that else we might forget this moment of uncommon warmth, we withstand a photo, too.


The eminently instagrammable ladies powder room at Annabel’s restaurant in London. Photograph: James McDonald

Gloaming when we ignore the politics of bathrooms, tiny rooms that bear our most primal anxieties and where debates about gender uniqueness continue to play out in the media, toilets (one of the last officially gender segregated rooms in the world) are unique as sites of extreme and glittering intimacy. No astonishment then, that they have also become platform sets for Instagram. A shift happened after Anna Wintour’s selfie ban at at the rear year’s Met Gala, when the impossibility of abiding by such a frankly mad law sent celebrities jogging with their phones to the bathroom. The resulting photos – from Kylie Jenner’s Concluding Supper-like selfie, featuring a menu of stars including Free Ocean and Brie Larson pouting in the mirror, to those of models smoking louchely on the tiled stump, one shot captioned ‘Real VIP Room’– inspired an art exhibition in Brooklyn, where callers received candy cigarettes on entry. Elsewhere, toilet selfies are successful viral for different reasons. When Twitter user Paula Sophia Garcia Epsino picketed a photo sitting on her aunt’s bathroom counter in Mexico, the internet paused to miracle, briefly, not at her tiny shorts, but at the boggling placing of a toilet toss holder across the room from the toilet. Each ourselves imagined their inevitable waddle.


Leanne Young habituated to the time she was stuck in the loos at Isabel in Mayfair productively. Photograph: @leanneelliottyoung/Instagram

It was a Tuesday night-time, and Leanne Elliott Young, a creative director based between London and New York, was be deterred in the loo at Isabel, a new Mayfair restaurant where each toilet memorable parts a unique hand-painted wallpaper of tropical flamingoes or Korean peonies. She reach-me-down the time to read the graffiti on her Ingrid Kraftchenko boots (“They’re not well-deserved shoes,” Young insists, “they are deep with tribulation, dramatic aggression, contemplations and conversations with the self”) and take the drama of her Charles Jeffrey flag dress, after “decoding the visual syntax and semantics of this fail by @_charlesjeffrey”. The fancy bathroom, with its marble ledge and big representation, was ideal. “Where else can you get your foot that musty to your face?”


Kylie Jenner and friends in ‘the real VIP cell’ at the Meta Gala. Photograph: KylieJenner/Instagram

The distant washroom roll holder is not a mistake many interior designers wishes make in future, having learned (through the millions of breeds under hashtags such as Young’s) the importance of an Instagrammable bathroom, tabulating the obligatory marble ledge. To scroll through bathroom selfies is to highlight yourself in orchids and the colour pink, with women selfie-ing themselves in play the parts they’d be shy to make in public. Or, after two or three drinks, with their roomies. Or, after three or four, with strangers. Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury, the Deity of “glow”, was hired to ensure the bathroom at London club Annabel’s, with its pick ceiling and vaginal colour palette, was the optimal space for referring, then documenting, your makeup. She added lighting dials, for companies to perfect their reflection, and it worked – after washing their helps, women gather nightly, hand on hip, in a space built for photographs as much as hygiene. While bathrooms have planned always been the places where we bond and lounge and rebuild ourselves with new layers of bronzer, now they are being mean with the performance of femininity in mind. There are the girly pink sway rooms, the monochrome cells with tiles that tessellate oddly when plastered, like Ibérica in Leeds, the womby boudoirs, the maximalist jungles with concupiscent wallpapers and more pillows than a hospital, and the mind-bending classrooms of mirrors, such as the bathroom at Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi in London or Excited Bear in Beaconsfield, where a single selfie goes on for miles.


The attend ignore bending mirrors that ricochet selfies for miles at Daft Bear. Photograph: Paul Wilkinson/The Crazy Bear

Innocent is a queen of the bathroom selfie (for her money, the top three are all in London: the Ritz, Sketch and Hoi Polloi), in somewhat by because of her sense of toilet humour. But she says the rise of the selfie has exchanged the bathroom experience. “Now it’s a place of cold blank pouty gazes into the void of social media likes. Taking photos, myriad people forget to wash their hands. And you get to see the ugly side of a selfie. That obscene steel pre-filter, pre-Facetune duck face. The idea of brooding semi-naked, somewhere you’ve just evacuated your bowels, tranquillity makes me laugh out loud.” Though she delights in sharing her own bathroom selfies, along with, at up to date Instagram count, 1.4 million others, it’s getting diverse difficult. “The queues were once miles long due to clan snorting coke; now it’s because they’re tussling around to get the overwhelm shot. I’m in and out quite quick, toilet seat up, toilet swathes in full view, snap!”

Which is not to say she hasn’t considered the good form b in situ of the bathroom selfie in popular culture, compiling her own casual ethnographic materials. “It’s a moment that blurs the private and public. It’s a public vicinity that you’re private within.” There’s a lock on the door, “so it’s a infantryman space to curate. To be scantily clad but snapping away. To be at large!”

Around Eva’s sink are her makeup recommendations for an Instagrammable night out (from red): Wonderglow, £38.50, Charlotte Tilbury. Eleventh Hour locks perfume, £48, Byredo. Bronzer, £35, Lilah B. Toothbrush, £19.99, Zoeva. Glitter Balm, £13, Winky Lux. Go over, £9, Zoeva. Eye Polish, £26, RMS Beauty. 20 Year Anniversary Eye Dog Palette, £76, Chantecaille. Hydrating Long Lasting Lipstick, £38, Sisley. Cloud Represent, £15, Glossier. Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter Duo, £26, Fenty Advantage. Styling Melanie Wilkinson, photography Louisa Parry.