Today the phenomenon of the ‘selfie’ may not be entirely new. I even remember as a child using a disposable camera – you know the ones you had to wind on and take the film to the chemist to get developed – turning the lens on myself and posing for what usually turned out as a blurry photo of myself at an unflattering angle (see below). However with the revolutionary development of the camera phone, today taking a relatively ‘good’ photo of yourself is quite easy.
what I’m interested in exploring this week is why selfies have become so common and what is the true meaning behind them? What are we actually trying to convey to the online world when we post one to Facebook or Instagram? And most importantly, what type of self are we presenting in the selfie?
Oxforddictionaries.com defines selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.” It is the second part of this definition I am most interested in. The aspect of sharing the photo online, giving us the idea that the selfie is made to be shared.
Dr Mariann Hardey told the Guardian that selfies have become a form of documenting and gathering autobiographical information about ourselves and our online friends and followers. She explores the idea that taking a selfie and posting it online is performative. That is, the individual taking the selfie is choosing to present their self in the most flattering or in some cases unflattering way. The important thing to note is that the selfie is intentional.
Admittedly I’ve been one to take a selfie that I know is not truly what I look like at that given moment. Instead I construct an image based on the best lighting, best angle and – I’ll admit it – I take a few before selecting the one I like best. Only to go edit it with a filter on Instagram to ensure my selfie is up to the standard of those posted by my online ‘friends.’
Alice E. Marwick in Instafame: Luxury selfies in the Attention Economy says the mobile aspect of the Instagram app allows the selfie to be a running commentary of an individual’s life. However although the presumption in the app’s name is that a photo can be uploaded instantly once taken, the act of posting a selfie to Instagram is actually a time-consuming and selective process (Marwick, 2014, p 143). A social set of rules have been established which includes limiting users to posting only a few photos a day and discourages posting them consecutively at any one time (Marwick, 2014, p 143). If these rules are to be followed when posting selfies to Instagram, the control one may exercise in constructing, taking, selecting, editing, and then posting their selfie may in fact be dictated by the expectations formed by other selfie takers on the social media site. Therefore the balance between free self expression and social power teeters on the scale.
Kyle Chaka argues that a selfie is about being your own digital avatar, projecting an online version of yourself for others to see. From this, we can begin to see that the point of the selfie is for it to be distributed for others to look at, like and comment on. At the same time, we come to rely on our selfies as a signal that we are liked and accepted by our peers.
Olivia Flemming for Elle Magazine has explored the power of the selfie and how it’s altering our self perception, placing more focus on our virtual image rather than ourselves. Presenting ourselves through a selfie on social media acts as an attempt to discover which version of us will receive the most positive feedback, acting as a temporary booster of our self-esteem. I’ve certainly recognised this myself when posting my own photos online, feeling satisfied when I receive a decent amount of likes and a little flat when there is only a few. I’ll also be perfectly honest, I have deleted a selfie before after not receiving enough likes…an act which left me regretting posting it in the first place but more so embarrassed that I actually cared enough to delete a photo based on how many of my online friends liked it. (Please tell me I’m not the only person who has done this before!)
Dubbed the selfie king, James Franco wrote for the New York times that selfies are aimed to get attention, which is “name of the game” when posting on social media (Franco, 2013). He says the selfie for the everyday non-celebrity person gives them a chance in the temporary spotlight of the social media realm. By posting the image we give ourselves a chance to present our most desirable self. In this way you can argue that selfies are highlighting the power of images in the internet age. Where we will tend to place more emphasis on how we are represented in a photo rather than in real life.
For example, while getting my hair and make-up done for my year 10 formal, I was advised by my beautician that my make-up will be a lot more dramatic than I’m used to. I was told that even though I may not be used to it, I shouldn’t worry because it will make me look better in the photos. At the end of the day, is this the reason why we are placing more emphasis on how we represent ourselves through our selfies. It is because images are powerful and they give us a chance to communicate our best self, in exchange we receive a moment of attention in a media-saturated world.
So to sign off here’s a little how to guide on how to take the perfect selfie by vlogger Michelle Phan. With over 3 million views. it’s clear that selfies are a growing trend and really do give us the opportunity to represent the side of ourselves we want others to see.