Learning to Love Selfies

selfieBy Laura Braden

Brace yourselves for a minor rant: I. Hate. Selfies.

There I said it.

My friends don’t understand why this is one of my biggest pet peeves, and frankly, I’m not sure where it comes from either. All I know is that when I see them, my eyes roll and I start judging you. Hard.

And so I did what I always do and Googled “I hate selfies,” and I found enough material to fill a book. There’s even several Facebook pages (and here) dedicated to the worst among us.

The History of the Selfie

Selfies officially started popping up on MySpace around 2004 and entered the Urban Dictionary in 2005, which explains that they’re “usually accompanied by a kissy face or the individual looking in a direction that is not towards the camera … and “usually conducted because the subject cannot locate a suitable photographer to take the photo, like a friend.”

However, Psychology Today believes the history of the selfie goes all the way back to ancient times… and this latest version is just democracy and technology in action: “Western civilization has a rich history of self-portraiture that continues to expand with technological innovations. Where once they were the province of the elite either in status or skill, cell phones and Instagram have democratized self-portraiture, making them less precious and more fun.”

And believe it or not, at last count, Instagram had 25 million+ photos tagged, “#me.”

Harsh Criticism of the Selfies

Many psychologists believe that selfies are just one more indicator of how narcissistic Americans are becoming. (Fellow Millennials, they’re looking directly at us.) Some of the latest studies/theories:

  • Psychologists Jean M. Twnege and W. Keith Campbell claim that among a group of 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as quickly as obesity from the 1980s to the present. Fortunately for narcissists, the continued explosion of social networking has provided them with productivity tools to continually expand their reach — the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, and occasionally Google Plus.
  • An Australian study “Who Uses Facebook?” found a significant correlation between Facebook use and narcissism: “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism, and leadership than Facebook nonusers,” the study’s authors wrote. “In fact, it could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.”

Bonus Creep Factor? Professor of Sociology Bob Parr believes there’s more going on than just “harmless fun” or “casual narcissism.” He claims that “the habit of sharing intimate images online could make young people vulnerable to sexual predators … Looking for attention, naïve young girls share pictures of themselves in scanty attire or suggestive poses—often pseudo-model shots aped from the pages of celebrity magazines—but fail to realize how such visual messages could be received.”

Look, there’s nothing wrong with  the occasional selfie – new bangs, a black eye from yoga paddle board, celebrities sitting at the table behind you – but when 90 percent of your Instagram photos and Facebook profile pictures are selfies of your boring face, it may be time to ask for help … or a friend. Put another way, when there’s an actual app to help you take the perfect selfie (“for when Instagram filters aren’t enough”), you know that humanity is headed for some serious trouble.

Learning to Love Selfies

So my Google search had me feeling pretty self-righteous … until I read this killer post, from blogger Eve Hazelton, which captures my inner turmoil perfectly:

“I am not ashamed to admit that when I see pictures of people like this, for a split second I hate cameras for being invented … However, the irritation quickly disappears  and I’m left thinking that there must be some reason for the person is taking this image. A story behind the idea – as with any image ever captured … The next time I come across a gaudy  looking ‘selfie’ and find my blood starting to boil,  I’m going to stop myself and think, “There’s a story behind her pout”, “There’s a reason he’s showing us his abs”, “She’s wearing hardly any clothes for a good reason”.  You don’t always know the history behind the person you are looking at.  Maybe they had an awful time being bullied about their  weight as a kid, and are now proud enough to show it off.  Maybe they’ve always wanted to be a model, and who am I to criticize their dreams?  If I had a killer body that I had worked bloody hard to maintain, I would be showing the world too!”

After reading her post, it hit me … Since when have I – the ultimate disciple of  ladies like Tina Fey and Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert and Maria Shriver – ever been against self empowerment and loving yourself???

Plus, how am I any different when I post a picture with Flavor Flav or Mayor KJ? (which I now call #FaceDropping.) Or a picture with my friends out on the town looking fierce? (We’re still using that term, right?) Isn’t it EVERYTHING we post online some form of personal branding? A way to tell people how we want to be viewed (and valued)?

I’d say 85 percent of my pictures have some sort of filter that either “happens” to make me look tanner or my eyes bluer. And who lets friends post pictures where you have a double chin or muffin top?  And who hasn’t taken a group picture … promptly followed by everyone running to the phone to see how they look before the owner can post it on Facebook?

Sure on the spectrum, the selfie is the least subtle… But maybe that makes it the most honest version of online communication.

So I’ve changed my mind.

While I still think it’s more ideal to have a human being take two steps back and capture your new bangs/hat/spray tan to each their own … And if you promise to not judge me for posting pictures of my dog for the umpteenth time, I promise to not roll my eyes at your selfie. Deal?

Breakdown: My Top 5 Favorite Selfies

I'm crushing on this kid. (Source: Embarrassing Selfies)
Car Selfie (I’m crushing on this kid.) (Source: Embarrassing Selfies)
Home Office/Desk Selfie
Mirror Selfie (Source: Embarrassing Selfies)
Source: Embarrassing Selfies
Sexy/Pouty Face AKA “Duck Lips” (Source: Embarrassing Selfies)

Busted! (Source: Fail Selfies)

The Fake Out Selfie (Source: Fail Selfies)

Selfie Rules to Live By

One of the best articles I found is from The Week, which acknowledges selfies are an “indulgent and narcissistic” act, but “humans have long been narcissists … so let’s set up some ground rules.” Here’s an excerpt:

1. Selfies are off-limits for anyone over 21
Are you allowed to legally consume alcohol in the United States of America? If so, you are too old to go fishing for compliments with a self-portrait. Leave the selfies for Snapchatting teens who can use the word “ratchet” in a sentence without Googling “ratchet” and “urban dictionary” at the same time.

2. The following words and phrases are banned from selfie captions

• “Bored”
• “Studying”
• “Ready for bed”
• “Good morning!”
• “Hitting the gym”
• “#GQ” (LOL)
• “Work hard, play hard”

Essentially, ask yourself, “What would Kim Kardashian do?” Then do the opposite.

3. Use your selfie allotment sparingly
Selfies are like paychecks: If you’re like most people, you only get two per month. You know that grid on your Instagram screen that only fits nine square thumbnails at a time? Your selfie-to-pictures-of-other-stuff ratio should be 1:8. Failure to comply gives your friends permission to mercilessly make fun of you. 

4. Don’t look stupid
No duck lips. No ironic peace signs. No fake sleeping. No lying down. No crying toddlers in the background. These kinds of things are non-negotiable. Smile, if you’re up for it. Failure to comply, again, gives your friends permission to mercilessly make fun of you.  

5. Own up to it
You’re allowed to show some skin. You do, however, have to own up to what you’re trying to accomplish by doing so. For example: “Check out my sick abs, guys” is more acceptable than “Lol my bathroom mirror is dirty” <shirtless pic>. Be honest. Honesty is good.

(To read the full post, visit here.) I think those are all rules we can get behind, regardless of whether you love/hate selfies.

A selfie that I can get behind.
A selfie that I can get behind.
Analysis of a Selfie: Hipster accessories ... self-deprecating expression ... filter that makes me look tan ... How did I do?
Embracing the Selfie: Hipster accessories … self-deprecating expression … filter that makes me look tan (and my arms hella skinny) … How did I do?



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