noun (pl.selfies) informal
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media: occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself everyday isn’t necessary.
I’m sure you’ve read at least one of the countless articles branding the millennial age as “the most vain generation yet.” Various social critics brandish teens for the unapologetic and seemingly overconfident odes to their own appearance, selfies, calling on parents to separate children from their smartphones to treat a child’s self-obsession. While the selfie phenomenon may not be entirely beneficial, these pundits have it all wrong.
Clearly, it does take a certain amount of self-confidence to share a selfie, since posting the image implies that the photo is worthy of other people’s appreciation. In previous eras, people—particularly women—were chastised for appreciating their own beauty and showing off their bodies. Now, people feel liberated enough to break that boundary.
However, why do we feel the need to share that photo? Wouldn’t true confidence be keeping the picture as a personal memory rather than posting it for the judgment of others? In fact, a recent study from The Journal of Eating Disorders followed 101 sixth grade girls and reported that adolescent girls who post selfies are more likely to be displeased with their bodies and to restrict their diets.
While true liberation would be a disregard for others’ opinions, many people my age see the value of their photos based on likes, favorites, and double taps. I’ve received all variations of texts requesting my judgment on pictures, posts, and tweets: “Please like my photo. It doesn’t have enough!” and “Is this okay to post?” or “What’s wrong with this photo. It didn’t get likes fast enough!” Today, we have an actual number that represents the value of a photo and thereby what seems to be our own value. What began as a liberating cultural phenomenon has become a presentation for others to define our own self-worth.
While the subject of a selfie may be insecure, selfies can also have a negative impact on the photographer’s social media followers. In fact, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Group, Dr. Alex Yellowlees, notes that selfies are contributing to the rise in eating disorders. Dr. Yellowlees notes that many use these self-portraits as diary entries for their eating disorder, called “thinspiration” posts, and these diaries can even become competitive. As those suffering from eating disorders share these updates, they encourage others to lose weight in a similar fashion. In fact, the Priory Group, the largest eating disorder treatment provider in the United Kingdom other than the National Health Service, saw a fifteen percent increase in patients being treated for eating disorders in 2014 alone.
Similarly, apps like FaceTune, a photo-editing app used by Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, lead people to post unrealistic photos of themselves, snowballing into beauty standards that are unreasonable and unattainable. In a way, young people now hold themselves to the ideals portrayed in pictures of people that do not even exist.
While the goal may have been to liberate young people, the selfie has the potential to become a black hole of impossible beauty standards as a result of the market for photo editing apps and “thinspiration” posts. In today’s age, young people are always vying for attention, competing for likes, and measuring themselves against others. Though the selfie in theory seems to illustrate that it is more acceptable to be confident, those who post selfies may, at times, be desperate for the approval of others. While some have a healthy attitude, selfie-taking has the capability to become a neurosis when it alters normal behavior and induces stress. Under these circumstances, it may be time to reflect and seek help. Though they may be masked as such, these examples of public self-appreciation are not truly liberating—rather pleas for validation.