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The Societal Obsession with Selfies (and What’s Wrong With It)

beautiful young blonde hipster woman selfieWe all have that friend(s) who we follow on social media sites who constantly posts selfies. If you know what I’m talking about, you may find yourself scrolling over those pictures absent-mindedly. These photos usually consist of up-close angles of a person’s face, which may come across as awkward. There tend to be various poses including the discrete pouting, the duck lips, the funny-trying-to-be-cute face, etc. I have to admit that I have unfollowed people when it became too excessive and a bit of a nuisance. While scrolling through my Instagram, I looked up the hashtag “selfie” and a total of 103,363,119 images surfaced, not including the pictures on private. Two hours later, I decided to check again and an estimated 50,000 selfie images had been uploaded in that time frame. These overwhelming numbers can be seen as evidence for something that I want to term as the “Selfie Movement.”

So what’s a selfie?

The term selfie has become so immersed in our culture that not only has it has been officially entered into the Oxford English Dictionary, but “selfie” was Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2013. It is described as when an individual holds a camera or smartphone at arm’s length and takes a picture of their face. Selfies have been glamorized by high-profile names from pop-star Justin Bieber to President Obama. People now have the option to filter out pictures or edit them to their liking. Popular media sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are among the most common places where people upload their images.

What is the purpose?

For the most part, people want to share their experiences with friends and family. On the other hand, people who post an excessive amount of selfies may come off as being narcissistic and seeking attention. For example, it so happens that a friend of mine who recently broke up with her partner has been uploading more selfies than before. In my personal opinion, I think that now that she’s single she wants to draw attention to herself because she lost someone important to her. When a relationship ends, we tend to feel vulnerable and need some form of reassurance and comfort. It is interesting to note what circumstances may lead people to focus more on social media. Now we have the option to control the way we want to be seen through pictures. With the Selfie Movement we can transform ourselves into whoever we want to be. The internet has become a place for people to become “celebrities” of social media.

What is the problem with selfies?

Selfies were never a problem when they first started gaining popularity but now that social media is a part of our daily lives, there have been more notable cases of selfie obsession gone wrong. So when does it become a problem?  Triana Lavey and Danny Bowman are two prime examples of how the focus on taking the perfect selfie can be taken to alarming extreme.

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 1 in 3 surgeons surveyed have mentioned that requests for surgery have increased because people want to appear better on social media. Triana Lavey, a reality TV producer,used Photoshop apps like Perfect365 to enhance her appearance on social media but she still hated her look, so she made the drastic decision to go under the knife. ABC News reported that Lavey spent $15,000 on plastic surgery, having chin and nose surgery, fat grafting, and Botox injections. She stated, “Your selfie is your head shot so you can reinvent yourself every day with your IPhone. It’s a legitimate form of promoting yourself.” Lavey’s experience highlights how people have become obsessed with being “Insta-celebrities,” and how a selfie determines your status in that social world.

The story of 19 year old Danny Bowman, an aspiring model, is another example of selfies getting to an unhealthy level.  At the age of 15, Bowman became obsessed with his looks after people made critical comments about his appearance on Facebook. He resorted to dieting, to skipping classes so that he could take selfies without being interrupted, and then dropped out of school completely.  In his obsession, he did not leave his home for six months where he would spend 10 hours a day taking up to 200 selfies. After failing to capture “the perfect selfie” he became so depressed that he attempted suicide. Thankfully, Bowman’s mother found him just in time to get him to the hospital.

According to psychiatrist Dr. David Veal, “two out of three of all patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have compulsions to repeatedly take selfies.” That is not to say that people who often take pictures of themselves have BDD, but when this practice gets out of control, it’s clear that there are other issues taking place. Expert Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston, states: “Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t specter of either narcissism or very low self-esteem.” Basing their self-esteem on how many likes they have is a way for people to feed their ego. However, since people now have the ease of comparing themselves to those they idolize, social media is also feeding their feelings of inferiority.

Self-esteem is a very broad term for how good or bad we feel about ourselves, and it can generally vary from situation to situation. For example, if you fail a test it may be upsetting, but ultimately a grade doesn’t determine who you are.  People who have low self-esteem usually have a very pessimistic outlook and are often quite self-critical, withdrawn socially, and are overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority.  A person with low self-esteem may place importance on their looks, thinking that taking and posting selfies will help them feel better in the long run, rather than focusing on more important ways of changing their negative self-image such as self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-respect.

What now?

Although not all people struggle with low self-esteem, it should be a reminder that what we see on social media are not the real things that give life meaning. What people post is actually an illusion. Sure, we see the rich and famous post pictures that can make anyone just a little jealous, but comparing ourselves to others will not fulfill us at the end of the day. There is nothing wrong with a little confidence and posting a few pictures, by all means go ahead! But in general, be mindful of the reasons behind the picture.

8 comments

  1. please can you tell me the publishing date of this article

  2. Well written, reading this article confirmed what I’ve been observing in those who are in my social media circles and who posts selfies constantly. The interesting point is that some of them are the most non-social people in a social setting, in other words, their social media personality (Instagram & Facebook) are much bigger than their personality in person.

  3. So this is what use think selfies really are about, low self-esteem?theres always them oddballs but come on, thats being judgemental. A picture is a picture, how else can we obtain one besides bugging someone else. Doubt someone whos socially withdrawn would care to post pics anyway seeing how they must not think theyd get a reply. 1 pic a month i consider normal, but if someone takes more dont envy their pics if they look better, just delete them 😉

    • That’s funny that you think someone not posting pics of themselves is socially withdrawn . Social media is somewhat of an oxymoron. (Especially when you can be in a room with 30 other people and no ones talking to each other , but rather , their eyes fixated on a little screen in their hands . Because social media is social . That’s like someone with 1000 friends on Facebook … But no one to drink coffe with in the morning .

  4. can you please tell me the author of this article and sponser???

  5. The only thing that too many selfies of a person tells me is that they have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. What in the world would make someone think that people they barely know are interested in seeing a bunch of pictures of themselves. Occasional pictures are OK, but when they start to become a daily or weekly occurrence, I find it offensive. Some people have nothing but photos of themselves on their Facebook pages. One person I know has at least 1000 pictures of her kids on her page. She is constantly posting photos of her kids from brushing their teeth to picking their nose. I am tempted to unfollow her because I find it so disgusting. Don’t tell me there isn’t a serious problem there. What is she trying to compensate for?

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