Hip Tongues of Instagram

As 2015 saw the selfie tighten its hegemonic grip on popular culture, one body part emerged as a way for cool girls to make auto-portraiture palatable.

by Lauren Oyler
Dec 29 2015, 10:00pm

Image by Lauren Oyler

Around this time last December, the amorphous trend apparatus known as Twitter declared 2014 the "year of the selfie." Citing the raging retweets of Ellen DeGeneres's star-studded group Oscars pic as well as the suspicion-raising hashtag #nomakeupselfie, articles reporting the news made nary a mention of the criticism selfie-takers say they put up with, focusing instead on the facts: Use of the word selfie on Twitter had increased by over 500 percent between 2013 and 2014, and there was a huge surge in Google searches as well.

But despite the days of unaware duckface being long gone, as the year turned the discussion on 21st-century self-portraiture shifted with it. People started getting defensive. "Selfies are actually political!" they cried, manipulating the act of taking a picture of yourself into a feminist or LGBT issue. Essays calling Kim Kardashian an "auteur" sprung up as pre-emptive fortifications against predicted attacks on the kween, who published an art book of her selfies, Selfish in May. Now, many seem to be engaged in a fight for the right to take mostly-not-representative pictures of themselves for public consumption (and, of course, approval). Or, rather, in a fight to do this and not be criticized for it.

Despite the selfie's aggressive politicization, however, one sub-categorical trend belies the fact that we are not as comfortable with the narcissism of the selfie as our 10,000-word treatises on the subject may have us believe:


Here at the end of 2015, I wonder if any truer words have been written than the tepid ones of Laurie Patsalides at "Like it or not, sticking out your tongue is culturally acceptable at times." As the pouty model cheekbone face and closed-mouth smile became stale vehicles for Instagram admiration, the young post-hipster with a creative job and bemused disdain for hoverboards realized that there was a more three-dimensional look she could pull off. Sticking out one's tongue offers the perfect combination of sexuality and irony for the Instagram user who doesn't want to be sexualized but also really does, who doesn't want to be taking a selfie but also really does. While historical tongues-out have suggested everything from folkloric tradition (in Tibet it's been common to greet people by sticking out your tongue since the ninth century) to rock 'n' roll rebellion in an age of sexual revolution (the Rolling Stones, Gene Simmons), today the tongue carries neither ancestral weight nor legitimate radicalism. A display of apathy that thinly veils a legitimate need to be seen, it can only indicate sentiments such as "Fuck you (ironic)," "I don't give a fuck (ironic)," and "I have fucked before (ironic)."

Sticking out your tongue offers a solution to the problem of the selfie.

In other words, for many, sticking out your tongue offers a solution to the problem of the selfie. In real life, one might stick out one's tongue for a number of reasons, many of which could inspire us to ask: Which came first, the emoji or the expression? In photos, however, the overall significance of the tongue is largely singular; three distinct looks emerged as the tongue trend rose in 2015, and while each has its unique flavor, they all say basically the same thing. The tongue's explicit grossness, immortalized and heightened in photograph, obscures the genuine reaching-out-for-connection/attention inherent in the selfie; it implies the photographer does not take the situation or herself particularly seriously and is simply living a fun and flirty lifestyle. But at the same time, it cannot be denied: Sticking out your tongue is usually decently flattering, and if it isn't, well, that's not what you were trying to do anyway.

Party Tongue

A classic of "bad girls" everywhere, Party Tongue made many headlines in August when Miley Cyrus exhibited several extreme iterations during her stint hosting the VMAs. (Cyrus has a history of baring her tongue, but the juxtaposition of it with her obnoxious outfits and problematic cultural appropriation gave the incident the "ridiculous" quality it needed.) A classic pose, visible everywhere from Girls Gone Wild to Friday nights in Midtown, the Party Tongue remains a favorite despite the fact that its original purpose—showing off one's piercing—has, fortunately or unfortunately, fallen out of fashion.

90s Tongue

The decade du jour saw the rise of a tongue style popularized by playground teasing: This tongue is a taunt as well as a wink. And it makes sense that as 90s fashion rose in popularity, 90s 'tude would expand along with it. Depending on your capabilities, the 90s Tongue can manifest as a pointier, snake-like visage or a cutesy, rounded one. Most immediately recognizable practitioners of the style are the quirkier Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell and Mel B (also pierced), though there are also images of Posh doing it, too.

Lazy Tongue

Both surprising and not at all, the Lazy Tongue has appeared as the only truly unique tongue trend to originate in 2015. Clearly a style beholden to the fallout of early-00s hipsterdom and internet ennui, Lazy Tongue is at first a selfie manifestation of #snackwave and pizzacore—it's the tongue you'll find tweeting from bed at four in the afternoon, making self-deprecating jokes about its angst and the fact that everyone sucks.

Digging deeper, however, what I found in taking these selfies—not something I do often, though of course I want to—was that Lazy Tongue is really about sex. The pose makes it impossible not to look like you are giving a blowjob, particularly because, as everyone knows, the most flattering selfie angle is taken from slightly above, with a little tilt. Now all Lazy Tongue photos—popular among those who use Tumblr or work in fashion but not, like, "in fashion"—display to me their true meaning, and indeed what all tongues, ironic or not, boil down to: intercourse.

Unless, of course, you're a dog.