Oxford dictionary defines the ‘Selfie’ as: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website (they also added: ‘occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary’).I’m not going to lie I’m not sure this is the legit Oxford dictionary but it works. So I was inspired to write this post by Tyger Drew-Honey’s latest three-part documentary series ‘Tyger Takes On…’. In his second episode on the male body image, he talks about the affect selfies are having on our own image. With a predicted 1 trillion ‘selfies’ to be taken next year and an ever-growing collection of social media websites encouraging us to do so (Instagram, Snapchat etc), I can’t help but feel slightly uneasy at the growing normality of this pleasure-seeking ritual. So this all got me thinking – how have we become so self-obsessed and is this 21st Century phenomenon more destructive than we realise?
A brief history of the ‘selfie’ from Wikipedia: The concept of uploading group self-taken photographs (now known as super selfies) to the internet, although with a disposable camera not a smartphone, dates to a webpage created by Australians in September 2001, including photos taken in the late 1990s (captured by the Internet Archive in April 2004). The earliest usage of the word selfie can be traced as far back as 2002. It first appeared in an Australian internet forum (ABC Online) on 13 September 2002. The term “selfie” was discussed by photographer Jim Krause in 2005. In the early 2000s, before Facebook became the dominant online social network, self-taken photographs were particularly common on MySpace. In 2009 in the image hosting and video hosting website Flickr, Flickr users used ‘selfies’ to describe seemingly endless self-portraits posted by teenage girls. Initially popular with young people, selfies gained wider popularity over time. By the end of 2012, Time magazine considered selfie one of the “top 10 buzzwords” of that year. According to a 2013 survey, two-thirds of Australian women age 18–35 take selfies—the most common purpose for which is posting on Facebook. A poll commissioned by smartphone and camera makerSamsung found that selfies make up 30% of the photos taken by people aged 18–24. By 2013, the word “selfie” had become commonplace enough to be monitored for inclusion in the online version of theOxford English Dictionary. In November 2013, the word “selfie” was announced as being the “word of the year” by the Oxford English Dictionary, which gave the word itself an Australian origin.
The first issue I have been wondering is, are they making us more image obsessed? I mean, I’m not saying that I think I am super down to earth and never use a mirror or anything because, let’s be honest, that’s not true. Like, at all. I mean, my family call me a budgie. My mum thinks it is super funny to pretend that I could be kept amused for hours by my own reflection. Which I could. But that’s beside the point. So I am aware of my self-obsession but somehow I think it is justified. However; this is exactly the issue. To be honest, as someone who thinks they’re around average, I think selfies do enhance my own self-indulgence. Moreover, the filters etc. that we can use today to contort, customize and frankly reinvent ourselves to a higher standard of beauty do seem to have a knock-on effect. It seems mankind is becoming sucked in by our own propaganda. We literally operate around our own image: the IPhone 4 accommodated to our needs by installing the more user-friendly and thus indulgently lazy front-screen camera, YouTubers star in their own feature-length daily ‘selfies’ in the form of video blogging (camera turned awkwardly towards the face) and people have even started buying ‘likes’ as if to validate themselves in the largely uninterested eyes of their peers. It no longer seems valid to just exist in a moment unless you have captured it and can prove to the world: yes, yes I have bought a Starbucks. So if this is all evidence to prove that we are almost extravagant in our image obsession, does this promise a negative fate for humanity? Or can this egotistical phenomenon become a force of good?
The positive effects (and perhaps simply the short-term effects) of the selfie obsession seem to be easier to identify than the negative. Perhaps never before have we felt more globalized, evidence being in the countless campaigns, such as the recent #bringbackourgirls regarding the Nigerian kidnaps, which have brought issues in historically neglected areas of the word to the forefront of the developed world’s radar. Without the perfectly toxic formula of celebrity plus selfie it is safe to say that the countless issues, which have previously been supressed or simply ignored by the narrow-minded, twentieth-century bureaucracy more interested in consumerism than caring, would not have gained such prestige and subsequent aid had it not been for the simple art of taking a picture of one’s face. So does this lovechild of social media and self-obsession mean that there will now be a more accessible platform for charities and world organisations to get across all-important messages to a generation of ignorant but tech-savvy humans? Maybe. In fact, this seems a pretty cost-free endeavour for all those interested in protecting their issue of choice: remember the #nomakeupselfie of late 2013 and early 2014? For Cancer Research right? No. It wasn’t even started by them – they just managed to capitalise on people’s neediness to be on every bandwagon by encouraging people to text ‘BEAT’ to 80008 to donate £1. Only trial and error will prove that the ‘selfie’ is officially the most effective campaign instrument, so find a cause, get a celeb interested, find good lighting, use a filter, and post that selfie!
Now the negative: are selfies damaging for mankind as they create a society who bases their validation as humans primarily on their image. If we are becoming increasingly image-obsessed, ergo, surely we are thus raising the standards for everybody else. It is no longer a question of making yourself as appealing as possible and thus being content with the results, we expect super-human standards. This is justified by the belief that, surely if I can look this good – and this probably isn’t even my best – then my potential lover/human companion should look as good as me. Now we see as well a trend in people thinking they are considerably better looking than they actually are – that is the power Valencia (the second most popular filter on Instagram – that is if you count ‘Normal’). Now the issue is not that people are rejecting the invisible confines of the beauty status quo, people should be free to marry the Leonardo Di Caprio of their dreams; however, the issue comes when the same standards they set up for other people, are equally reflected onto themselves – thus creating a Mexican standoff of people not willing to settle for anything less than a Victoria’s Secret model. Now, this whole confusion is not helped by the celebrity obsession with selfies. Almost worse than that of the normal human, celebrities infest social media with hourly updates on their private-jet filled and Louboutin-sponsored lives through perfectly orchestrated, lighted, and styled selfies almost good enough for the pages of Vogue. These seemingly ordinary photos make the naïve twelve-year olds and desperate twenty-somethings alike start to believe in the ridiculous myth that celebrities are people just like you and me, while simultaneously encouraging the demi-god worship of celebrities which blurs the lines between reality and the unobtainable. These negative trends may seem to effect a small, fanatical minority of ‘fan girls’ at the moment; however, it is this generation of tweens that will raise the future – potentially shaping it into one based on the validation of beauty more than any other attribute of humanity.
I have mentioned briefly the effects the ‘selfie’ and the demi-god culture of celebrities is having on the majority who make up society; however, this issue is even more complex than simply its effect on our own ideals. The selfie is, more than any social media platform has been able to do before it, dramatically augmenting the increasingly infallible power of celebrities. Yes, as I have mentioned, they have been used for good by promoting awareness for some of the many issues plaguing the world today, however their powers for good only go so far. Fans maketh the celebrity and, in this age of communication it is not unreasonable for fans and super-fans alike to expect a somewhat consistent conveyer belt of inane drivel from their favourite celebrity on every single social media website you can think of. And while celebrities often understand that with great fame comes fervent fans who expect a certain level of technological existence, some seem to indulge in their god-like image a little too much. In fact, it could be argued that some, naming no names (the Kardashians), literally maintain their fame and celebrity image by chronicling their life and looks through selfies – even at the less appropriate times. Furthermore, even the most beloved celebs who people look up to as beacons of moral behaviour and human perfection are willing to pimp themselves out if the price is right. Take the ‘selfie that broke twitter’ as a key example. We all cooed over the Oscar selfie of Ellen, Bradley Cooper, J-Law, Branjelina and others, but unrevealed to the wider world, this was the product of endorsement from none other than Samsung. I recognise this looks like an anti-establishment rant about celebrity culture (but you should know I’m a sucker for celebrity fantasies – *Chris Pine*) and I am well aware that this isn’t porn, but on some level this is self-exploitation for the right price. So does this not then make the line between dignity and profit just slightly less clear than it used to be?
My longest blog post ever? I think so! Congratulation’s if you made it to the end without falling asleep. I don’t think I’ve really come up with a definite answer on the big question: are selfies good for humankind? Nor do I believe that this is indeed a serious issue which deserves more attention than, oh, I don’t know, let’s say the sufferings of the Syrian people, Global Warming, or Gay marriage. However, these were supposed to be musings, and, at times, opinions. Good or bad I think only time will tell, and, at this point they do not seem to be worrying society too much. Moreover, they seem to be here to say – I do not think 2014 will be the year selfies become ‘old news’. So, for those of you selfie haters or, secret selfie takers, it is now or never to unleash your outer beauty and perhaps use it for good rather than self-indulgence. Yes, beauty may only be skin-deep, but I’m almost certain the internet doesn’t know that.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments or tweet me (your selfies!).
Until next week,