Selfies are arguably the largest photographic trend of our generation. “Selfie,” defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself,” was Oxford Dictionaries’ 2013 Word of the Year.1 Since then, selfies have exploded in popularity, with everyone from the Pope to Kim Kardashian taking them. Searches for the term have increased more than 2000%, and more than 55 million Instagram posts are labeled with “#selfie.”1
Why are we so in love with taking and sharing selfies? Technological improvements, such as front-facing cameras, and the rise of social media make taking selfies extremely easy. There are also social causes for our obsession with selfies. Although we learn to recognize and respond correctly to others’ facial expressions, we lack an accurate perception of our own faces. With selfies, we can now create images of our own appearances without the aid of another person.2
Selfie critics claim that these self-portraits mar our generation, suggesting that selfies represent deeper psychosocial issues. Both the advent of social media and upsurge of selfies contribute to the importance our society places on appearances.3 Research has linked selfies and social networking to self-objectification and narcissism, with people seeking likes and comments to offset their insecurities.4 Furthermore, although social media was developed to enhance rapport with others, another study in the UK found that increased selfie posting through social media actually decreases intimacy in relationships.5 Although the shared picture is only of one person, it may negatively affect that person’s connections with many others.
On the other hand, selfie supporters are excited about the upsurge in popularity. Keith Campbell, Professor of Psychology at the University of Georgia, asserts that selfies serve as a creative outlet.3 This self-expression allows us to exert greater control over how others perceive us. Additionally, according to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston, selfies let us experiment with different identities.6 The ability to re-invent different parts of ourselves gives us new opportunities to temporarily change how we act and feel. Contrary to popular belief, this “selective self-presentation” enhances self-esteem rather than diminishing it.7 Selfies are also a form of communication. “Your face is the caption and you’re trying to explain a moment or tell a story,” says Frédéric della Faille, the founder and designer of Frontback, a photo-sharing app that lets users take photographs using both front- and rear-facing cameras.8 To people like Faille, selfies represent a dynamic and exciting moment, not just a static self-portrait. They portray diversity and encourage social dialogue; we don’t post selfies for others to observe, but instead to engage.
What does the selfie phenomenon suggest about our society? Some claim selfies represent superficiality and narcissism, diminishing the quality of relationships and augmenting personal insecurity. Others view selfies as a harmless form of self-expression, an attempt to understand who they are and how others perceive them. Selfies may be a consequence of today’s social media and digital culture, but they also serve as a visual diary - a way to record our existence and make our mark.
Jenny Ren is a sophomore from Jones College at Rice University.
1. Rogers, M. It’s not you, it’s me: the science behind the selfie. http://greatist.com/happiness/the-psychology-behind-selfies (accessed 10/05/2015), part of Greatist.
2. The science behind why we take selfies. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-25763704 (accessed 10/05/2015), part of BBC News.
3. What does your selfie say about you? The science behind our obsession. http://www.shutterstock.com/blog/what-does-your-selfie-say-about-you-the-science-behind-our-obsession (accessed 10/05/2015), part of Shutterstock.
4. Fox, J.; Rooney, M.C. The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites. Personality and Individual Differences 2015, 76, 161-165.
5. Romano, A. When you post a Facebook selfie, everyone loses. http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/facebook-study-selfies-friends/ (accessed 10/10/15), part of The Daily Dot.
6. Self-portraits and social media: the rise of the ‘selfie.’ http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22511650 (accessed 10/09/15), part of BBC News.
7. Gonzales, A.L.; Hancock, J.T. Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall: effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2010, 00.
8. Wortham, J. My selfie, myself. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/sunday-review/my-selfie-myself.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed 10/10/2015), part of The New York Times.