The word ‘selfie’, recognized by Merriam–Webster and added to its dictionary in 2014, has seen its way into the lexicon of today’s youths. For the uninitiated, a selfie is a self-portrait, usually captured with a digital camera but since the last half a decade, more commonly with a camera-equipped smartphone held in the hand. Selfies are popularly featured on social media sites, such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, as daily updates to share with other users and their friends. Selfies witnessed popular use with the improvements made in the front-facing camera of mobile phones. The upgrade in megapixels and camera technology in smartphones over their less technologically advanced predecessors helped facilitate the rise in selfie in popular culture. This breakthrough in camera technologies began with the release of front-facing cameras in mainstream handsets, and it has steadily seen enhancements in subsequent iterations of Apple’s flagship iPhone and Android rivals. Social media sites, like the aforementioned Instagram and Snapchat, capitalized on the camera-phone technology to tap on the current selfie phenomenon. The popularity of selfies and its correlation with the success of these companies have been indubitably boosted by the advancement of mobile cameras and the inane number of photo-editing tools we have at our disposal.
The sheer popularity of selfie in our culture has further underlined the importance of self-image to the human mind. According to the American psychologist Charles Horton Cooley, our self-perception is found in the knowledge of the personal qualities and impressions others perceived of us. For quite a number of us, this is the way in which we form a sense of self. Our self-image is not only important but a fundamental part of being human as it forms the very fabric of our social identity. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are largely motivated by our social identity and others’ acceptance of us. It is not strange then that certain segments of society try to portray themselves better in pictures posted on photo-sharing platforms in order to get self-validation.
Additionally, a selfie has become a means of self-expression, where people have the power to express their individuality in photos. It is plausible to consider the rise of selfies as a result of users’ ability to present their visual aesthetics in the most desirable way. Photo-editing applications, found aplenty on application stores, enable users the ability to modify and alter their physical outlook, masking their self-perceived flaws and supposed shortcomings. This feature of selfie captivates the minds of many adolescents as it is a phase in which many of them experience a growing sense of self-consciousness. Studies have shown that since selfie made its entry into popular culture, it has been credited for boosting the confidence and self-esteem in teenage girls. While boys have certainly benefited from the confidence rush, girls have been proven to crave the acceptance from their friends during their moments of self-doubt in the emotional teenage phase of puberty. Selfies thus provide an opportunity for them to erase their flaws and enhance their better features before posting these on the web. The number of “likes” and affirming responses by friends on their selfie posts only serve to validate their existence.
The apparent benefits and popularity of selfies, however, shroud its negative implications. Some people have labeled selfies as a faucet for narcissism, as it encourages youths to embrace self-love to the extreme. This is reflected in the erroneous mindset of adolescents who feels validated only when they accumulate a certain number of “likes” on their social media posts. The “likes” culture of our society only worsens the issue at hand as it gives adolescents a false sense of security over their “throngs” of online supporters. Some even base their self-worth on the number of likes they get on their selfie posts as an indication of their attractiveness. This brings me to the next point – a selfie eclipses the darker insecurity of youths in our society. Every so often, we would find out that one of our more affluent friends has purchased a new luxury bag through a selfie post that appears on our news feed. The inability to afford such material luxuries might have adverse consequences on perceptions of material wealth. adolescents might become obsessed with the prospect of earning money, and place an unhealthy amount of emphasis on monetary wealth since it asserts their status quo. Selfie could also be seen as proof of one’s ‘cultured’ lifestyle due to their vast travelling experiences. Many tourists have taken stunning selfies around the world to impress their friends. In 2014, a Dutch student, Zilla van der born, carried out a social experiment to discover how easy it is to distort our lives on social media. Equipped with photo-editing wizardry and her knack for creativity, allowed her to create fake photos of picturesque beaches and Buddhist temples and deceived her family and friends on social media to think that she was on a vacation in Southeast Asia. In actual fact, she had not left Amsterdam. Her results points conclusively to the fact that photos have served as a trigger for people to impress rather than experience the spirit of traveling. This demonstrates how selfie has warped the ideals of travel – instead of a retreat to nirvana from the hustle and bustle of daily living, we become even more consumed by the need to impress and beguile our social circles.
In summary, the selfie culture should neither be demonized nor should it be worth singing praises of. Selfie, in its raw form, acts as a novel way for us to express ourselves as we choose. The negative drawback of this culture is not to be borne by selfie alone, but also by teenage insecurities. Like a certain Dove experiment showed, we often perceive our appearance to be a far cry from our true beautiful self as seen by others. It is thus important that we as a society truly encourage the notion that “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”❄