Selfies are photos of the self that are frequently created and shared globally on social media websites such as: Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Taking selfies are much more popular than regular photos it seems, as they allow celebrities and ordinary folk alike to post images to convey who they are.
When analysing the art-form of the selfie, the mainstream media and academics try to determine why people like taking these type of photos; musing that it has something to do with either narcissism or self-esteem. In “Selfie-ists” or “Narci-selfers”? A cross-lagged panel analysis of Selfie Taking and Narcissism: Daniel Halpern claims that his research proves that people who take selfies and share them on social media are either narcissistic to begin with or gradually become narcissists from frequently posting images of themselves (2016). Halpern explains this by saying, “…users who engage in this behaviour probably feel rewarded by sharing their own images with other users, augmenting their levels of narcissism and consequently their use of SNS for selfie production” (2016). In other words, individuals become more self-involved by the attention they possibly receive from the selfies they post on social media; but, what if selfies are much more than narcissism? Maybe that label is a little narrow-minded.
On the other side of the spectrum, in his article: Selfies on a Stick, and the Social-Content Challenge for the Media, David Carr states selfies are a form of media content that the young generation use to self promote, saying “…younger consumers have become mini-media companies themselves, madly distributing their own content on Vine, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat” (2015).
By looking at these two points of views on selfies, along with other sourced opinions from academic and mainstream media articles, I will refute Halpern’s views on selfies being narcissistic, and prove that photos of the self can have more positive effects than negative. In the following paragraphs, I will firstly look into why selfies are dominantly seen as negative. I will then illuminate the positive side to selfies with examples of individuals who have gained celebrity status via social media, along with the opinions of two female and male participants (between the ages of 20-25), who answered a series of questions based on these type of photos.
The “Negative” Standpoint on Selfies
So why do academics and the some of the mainstream media have such low opinions of selfies? As highlighted above, Halpern strongly believes that selfies are photos which only narcissists take, or are the kind of images that will gradually transform an individual into a narcissist (2016).
The Oxford dictionary describes a narcissist as “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves” (2016). If we were to consider Halpern’s point of view and the definition of a narcissist; then one could easily be persuaded that only people who only value their looks would ever take selfies. This would mean that these kind of individuals would love or “admire” (2016) nobody else except for what they see in the mirror, or indeed a photo.
To say selfie takers are narcissists is a very narrow minded and stereotypical opinion. Just because one wants to look good in a photo, does not necessarily mean they are full of themselves. To be cliché, calling someone a narcissist for taking selfies is like judging a book by it’s cover; you’re only scrutinising the surface, not looking deeper into the core reason or hidden truth of the individual and their chosen art-form of conveying who they are as a person.
In “Let Me Take A Selfie”: Associations Between Self Photography, Narcissism and Self-Esteem, Christopher Barry states that selfies are photos that became popular from 2004 onwards and is “an aspect of current pop culture” (2015, p.2). In his research based on data collected from undergraduate university students between the ages of 18 – 43 (Barry 2015, p.1), Barry believes that taking selfies is a mix between narcissism and self-esteem. He goes on to explain this by saying that people who take selfies to show off the best side of themselves have “vulnerable narcissism” and “fragile self-esteem” (2015, p.8). Barry says:
“Individuals with vulnerable narcissism may use the display of physical appearance selfies to assert a sense of confidence in a relatively safe forum of social media…photo sharing may have additional appeal because of the availability of filters, cropping and other manipulations so that one can truly craft a preferred image to others” (2015, pp. 8-9).
In other words, individuals who lack high-esteem have a hidden narcissistic personality as they feel secure enough to share photos of themselves on social media, in particular, ones that they edit to look more appealing.
In a recent opinion piece, A Note to my Selfie from teen publication Dolly Magazine, Bree Grant concurs with the idea of “fragile self-esteem” (Barry 2015, p.8), revealing her negative experiences of sharing overly edited selfies on social media websites like Facebook and Instagram saying,
“I would spend hours curating my Instagram account. I mastered the art of editing my photos so they looked flawless and effortless…What everyone couldn’t see was the number of editing apps I was using…what I couldn’t see was that I was tearing down my own-self esteem…There was no way the real me could feel adequate” (2016).
Now while Grant agrees that over editing can hurt one’s self-esteem, she does not mention anything about selfies being narcissistic; instead she illuminates how selfies may have a positive effect if we use them differently. Grant reveals this by direct quoting “health expert” (2016) Kim Smith, who explains that we can feel good by taking selfies, as long as they are images of our true selves and are not edited. Smith states:
“Start posting real pics of you and your friends…doing everyday things and looking natural”, she also goes on to say “natural beauty” needs to be “encouraged” (Grant & Smith, 2016).
So by using selfies in a fun and natural way, self love is discovered by not only one individual, but by many. This then proves that, while over editing may be a negative to selfie posting, taking selfies can also be used in a positive manner where they are taken for fun and show the real self. So if you learn to love who you really are and convey the fun you have with family, friends or your significant other, this proves that self love in selfies is not narcissistic at all.
So now that we understand selfies can be taken to express positive love of the self and love for others, let’s look deeper into how these photos are used within the mainstream media.
The “Positive” Standpoint on Selfies
Looking back to how David Carr reveals how “young consumers” (2015) of social media are becoming successful by transforming into “mini-media companies” on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (Carr, 2015), we can easily see how this is true. All we have to do is go onto our newsfeed on any social media website to see new articles being spat out by the mainstream media about an ordinary person finding celebrity status through their selfies.
An example of this idea is Australian selfie celebrity Kurt Coleman who, according to Liz Burke from Gold Coast Bulletin, found his celebrity status by taking selfies on Facebook and Instagram.
“With a fanbase of more than 200,000 followers across Facebook and Instagram…Coleman is part of a new breed of celebrity making money from their online profiles” (2014).
In a feature by The Sydney Morning Herald, Coleman discusses how he takes selfies to inspire and convey self love, stating that it has nothing to do with narcissism. He says:
“Yes, I am a vain person, and I will admit that. But it’s a different thing to narcissism…a narcissist is someone that doesn’t care about anyone but themselves and that’s not me. I care about a lot of people. I care about anyone that needs a hand or inspiration” (Bailey, 2016).
From claiming that he uses his selfies as a way to inspire others, Coleman shows how loving oneself may help many individuals to love who they are too, therefore showing how these images can be used in a positive way and that conveying to the world or social media that you’re happy with who you are is not necessarily a negative. If you believe in yourself, why should it be considered narcissistic or bad?
Writer John Baily also reveals the hidden truth of why Coleman is confident to express his self love publicly saying “As a child Coleman used to agonise over why the bullying he faced was as casual as it was merciless (2016). He then went on to direct quote Coleman, who states:
“My message is to love who you are. Always value yourself and never let anyone else tell you that you’re not right or not good enough” (Baily, 2016).
This then shows how selfies have not only become a way for individuals to gain celebrity status, but also a way to stand up against bullies; conveying that no matter what horrible words people might say, these images prove that you don’t need anyone’s validation to love who you are inside and out.
In his essay Sharing Selfies, Uschi Klein reveals that selfies are a way for people to “actively participate in the world…” allowing them to, “visually perform their self …in an online community which they can share their present experiences and moments” (2015, p.89). Klein elaborates on this concept by explaining that there are many of reasons as to why people take selfies (2015, p.92). Klein says:
“…the relationships and connections we create and maintain with others by sharing selfies is no less important as part of our popular and visual culture…exchanging personal photographs, including selfies, is fundamental to maintaining off- and online relationships” (2015, p.91).
From looking at the above quote it can be easily identified that selfies are used as a way to communicate, and not just to express the self. That people have fun in taking selfies and sharing them with friends and loved ones.
David Carr gives a perfect example of in-the-moment selfies and other photos being shared via social media on New Years Eve saying, “Snapchat created its own New Years Eve event as part of its stories feature, a collection of user provided photos and video celebrations from around the world, including Times Square” (2015).
The fact that people share photos/selfies on Snapchat or even Facebook and Instagram to their loved ones, shows how these kind of images are used to keep in touch with people, of whom we are close to.
Klein adds to this saying selfies are used to show creativity. He explains: “The impulse to be creative and original when taking selfies indicates a strong desire to connect with others in a variety of ways and to share experiences in real time” (2015, p.92).
Looking at how Klein believes people use selfies as a way to be creative, we could easily identify how some individuals use selfies as not only a way to express the self, but also as an art form. Thinking back to how ordinary people are gaining celebrity status from their selfies, one other example is Annelies Maria Francine.
Taking selfies to the next level, Francine turns herself into her favourite Golden Hollywood actors or movies characters. Some of these, Diana Bruk reveals on Good House Keeping are: Vivian Lee as Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina; Snow White, and Elizabeth Bennet in 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (2016). In the profile article, Francine talks about how she got into creating these photos saying:
“I have always loved using make-up and hair to transform myself into other people and movie characters…A year ago I cut my hair into a pixie cut and people started telling me I looked like Audrey Hepburn…when I looked her up I fell in love with the elegance of vintage silver-screen glamour” (Bruk, 2016).
Looking at her Instagram account, where she posts all her creative selfies, Francine currently has 128k followers and her recent post depicts her as Lady Mary from Downton Abbey (Instagram 2016) where she states “…She is so fabulous! I chose to recreate one of her season one looks, because I’m all about the Edwardian style” (Francine 2016).
From looking at two examples of individuals who have gained celebrity status by via their social media profiles on Facebook and Instagram, using their selfies as a way to inspire and create, it is evident to see how these photos are taken not out of narcissism, but love, creativity and fun. It is also proven that selfies are used as a way to communicate and feel closer to loved ones.
Interviews on Selfies
As a part of extra research, four participants between the ages of 20-25 were interviewed to illuminate how selfies are ideally used, and to reveal their thoughts on how these type of images can be positive.
“I like the fun of it when you take a silly photo with friends or creating memories with them”. Daniel (25) reveals about the type of selfies he likes to take, “I like to surprise people with a selfie of me on their phone…when they leave it lying around…and it’s usually of me picking my nose”.
Talking about taking selfies for fun, Tom (20) adds “I take selfies where…something comedic is happening…where I’m smiling, looking goofy, or with others.”
Nadja (22) agrees with preserving memories with friends too, but also reveals selfies can also capture a moment where you feel good with the way you look. She says:
“…I take selfies when I am in the middle of a memorable moment, when I’m with a person (or people) that I enjoy spending time with…or when I simply look extraordinarily pretty.”
“I find I take selfies because that day I’m feeling happy and I want to share that with my friends.” Chanel (25) adds, “I take selfies when I’m feeling good about myself; when I’ve put in effort either in training, skin care, or in my makeup and hairstyle for the day”.
The four participants revealed that the main social media sites they use to share their selfies are Facebook and Instagram – averaging in 2-10 selfies per week.
Talking about the positive aspects of selfies, all mutually agreed that it feels great to receive compliments on the photos they share, and that selfies can be positive images if they reflect who you are.
“I take selfies that are “silly” for two main reasons, which I believe reflect my personality”. Dan explains, “I want to make people laugh with the response of ‘what on earth is he doing?’…To challenge people to not take life so seriously”.
Finally, Chanel adds to this, revealing how her selfies reflect who she is in the moment saying:
“I believe my selfies reflect me because I normally take them either when I’ve finished the gym, which is my passion in life; training and being healthy. Or when I’ve had a nice skin treatment…which is to do with my job as a beauty therapist… My selfies always incorporate the day I’ve had, what I value and what I do”.
From analysing how selfies can be a positive form of reflecting the self it is evident that these photos are not taken to be narcissistic, but for many other reasons. Selfies can be used: to convey who you really are and to express self love and love for others; to communicate with friends and loved ones, and to be uniquely creative.
Selfies are a window into an individual’s life, of which they wish to share via social media and to people they care about; to let their audience see who they are in that moment.
Overall, selfies are not saying “look and worship me” but instead are declaring, “here I am, I love who I am and the people in my life”.
Bailey, J 2016, ‘Masters of the internet: how savvy teens rule social media’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 April, viewed 27 May, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/masters-of-the-internet-how-savvy-teens-rule-social-media-20160401-gns40r.html?utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=nc&eid=socialn%3Afac-13omn1676-edtrl-other%3Annn-17%2F02%2F2014-edtrs_socialshare-all-nnn-nnn-vars-o
Barry, C 2015, ‘“Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem’, Psychology of popular media culture, advance online publication, pp.1-13.
Bruk, D 2016, ‘This 17-Year-Old’s Transformations Into Iconic Female Characters Will Amaze You’, Good House Keeping, 18 May, viewed 27 May, http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/news/a38538/17-year-old-as-iconic-female-characters/
Burke, L 2014, ‘Self-obsessed Gold Coast teens achieving fame and fortune with selfies and social media’, 20 June, viewed 27 May, http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/gold-coast/selfobsessed-gold-coast-teens-achieving-fame-and-fortune-with-selfies-and-social-media/news-story/9ab807ac644e132d4f20915a953c1a59
Carr, D 2015, ‘Selfies on a Stick, and the Social-Content Challenge for the Media’, The New York Times, 4 January, viewed 27 May, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/05/business/media/selfies-on-a-stick-and-the-social-content-challenge-for-the-media.html?_r=0
2016, Definition of narcissist in English, Oxford Dictionaries, viewed 27 May 2016, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/narcissist
Grant, B 2016, ‘A Note to My Selfie’, Dolly, May/June, viewed 28 May, http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/detail/detail?vid=8&sid=1b506587-9d9d-409e-b0ed-5696e578b7de%40sessionmgr104&hid=121&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=114302727&db=f6h
Halpern, D 2016, ‘“Selfie-ists” or “Narci-selfers”? A cross-lagged panel analysis of Selfie Taking and Narcissism’, Personality and individual differences, vol. 97, pp. 98-10.
Klein, U 2015, ‘Sharing Selfies’, in Waskul D & Vannin P (eds), Popular Culture as Everyday Life, Routledge, New York, pp.85-94.