Selfies: self-aware or self-obsessed?

by Laine Bernstein

Anne Swenson can recall some of her very first selfies.

“I recently logged in with my best friend from middle school to her old Photobucket account and we discovered some very humbling selfies of ourselves,” Swenson, a senior art history major said. “We were probably 12 years old.”

The term “selfie” did not exist eight years ago when Swenson says those photos were taken. In the very beginning stages of social media at the time, they were popularly referred to as “MySpace pictures” in reference to the pioneer social media website that perpetuated the growth of the modern selfie.

In an article published in The New Yorker last year, Kate Losse wrote, “from 2006 to 2009, the term ‘MySpace pic’ described an amateurish, flash-blinded self-portrait, often taken in front of a bathroom mirror.”

The quick transition in general preference from MySpace to Facebook marked a change in taste and demographic, particularly regarding photos of oneself, Losse suggested in her article. She wrote that Facebook changed what it meant to interact with others and present oneself as a social being on the Internet.

Both Losse and assistant professor of art, Micol Hebron, both count the advent of front-facing cell phone cameras to mark a watershed in what we now know the selfie to be.

“Selfies exploded with the invention of cell phone cameras. With digital photography, it was hard to compose a shot of yourself, or you’d have to use a self timer,” Hebron said. “With a selfie, you can move it around and get the exact photo you want. And of course, with social media, what’s the point of taking a selfie if other people aren’t going to see it?”

Facebook and apps like Instagram and Snapchat have significantly proliferated selfie use and dissemination over the past several years, as has the culture of social media personality, Hebron said.

“I think social media has this implicit culture of happiness. Life is good for everyone online,” she said. “It’s an interesting culture of self-awareness.”

A culture it most definitely is, and a very divisive one at that. While Swenson says she is a full proponent of the selfie, many people are not, claiming it promotes egotism and an inflated sense of self-importance.

“I can see why people are against selfies because they come across as narcissistic,” Swenson said. “There’s definitely a valid argument that can be made for that case.”

In an article written by Erin Ryan for Jezebel, the author states “self-taken digital portraits are typically posted on social media, ostensibly with the intent of getting people to respond to them – that’s what social media is. In that respect, selfies aren’t expressions of pride, but rather calls for affirmation.”

Hebron echoes this, claiming that this “cult of individuality” surrounding selfies is wholly a first-world phenomenon.

“They [selfies] are coming out of a position of privilege and resource. It’s also a privilege to know there is an audience of people looking at your selfies,” Hebron said. “There is a subconscious or implicit hope that someone will see something in you that you don’t see or other people don’t see.”

Swenson says it’s not that complicated.

“Sometimes if your double chin mercifully disappears and your eye makeup looks good, you might want to take a photo and share it with your friends, because why not?” she joked.

Despite the controversial nature of selfies, Swenson claims that people who are against them don’t have to participate in the fad.

“I understand the side of people being against selfies,” she said. “However, I think it’s an individual’s own prerogative whether they choose to take them or post them, just as much as it is an individual’s prerogative to not follow people who post selfies.”

Something everyone can agree on, though, is that selfies are here to stay.

“Self-portraits will persist, but I think the form of them will change, as they have changed,” Hebron said. “I think that they will become more normalized, like white noise maybe, if we’re lucky.”

Swenson, on the other hand, has high hopes for the future of selfies.

“I’m hoping they become holograms you can send around,” Swenson said. “Check back with me in ten years.”

+ posts