Self love or self-obsessed? For and against selfie culture

Romey Norton explores the arguments against selfies

Recently, there have been reports of a girl horrifically dying in a car accident because she took off her seatbelt to take a selfie. This had me thinking about the effects that taking selfies has on people’s lives and how our social media presence is affecting our real life. This isn’t the first devastating death that has happened because someone wanted to get a good picture; tourists have fallen to their deaths on mountains for the perfect selfie with a sunset, and disgustingly people have killed animals trying to get a selfie with it. 

Everyone likes to takes a selfie, and my profile is full of them, so this isn’t a rant against wanting a good photo; I am just delving into an idea that we are slowly becoming so self-obsessed with how we look and how we are viewed by the online world that we’re actually starting to self-harm.

The common selfie is already been taking over by photos for body positivity of all shapes and sizes, ranging from gym shots to baby-bod, dad-bod to bikini shots. It is great to see people having the confidence and ability to showcase their bodies freely, but with online bullying being at an all time-high, what happens when your selfies don’t match Kim K’s: how are you left feeling? Pretty crappy, right? So, it’s not just one selfie that harms you, it’s also everyone else’s. 

I can’t help but think of a Dolly Parton quote from the film Steel Magnolias: “There is no such thing as natural beauty,” which is an idea that society has constructed for the beauty market. This is why people will spend hours on their hair and makeup, get botox at 30, lip fillers at 16 and fake nails in secondary school. Ironically a lot of “real” unedited photos, ones that contain female pubic hair or female stretch marks, are still condemned as ugly and “bad photos”, and can be taken down from social media, which supports the idea that selfies are about vanity.

Selfies are a secure way to showcase your looks. They’re a way to showcase your life, but I would be careful not to let what others think about you control the way you live and the way you see yourself.

Judge Judy said it best: “Beauty fades; dumb is forever.” Take selfies, if you want, but try not to let it take over your life. 

Rebecca Townesend argues why selfies are a useful tool for self-acceptance

There are lots of worries about selfie culture: that it reflects a more self-centred and self-absorbed society and demonstrates plummeting levels of self-esteem. I completely understand these perspectives and there are undoubtedly concerns about our selfie obsession and how it can make people feel, and this should continue to be scrutinised.

As a naturally optimistic person I want to try and see if there are some positives to be found.

I really like taking a selfie and, scrolling through my Instagram feed, a handful appear. I have become quite fascinated with ones of myself because of how I smile: a wide open smile, teeth showing, a smile that forces my chubby cheeks upwards and highlights the wrinkles developing around my eyes. But it isn’t my appearance as such that intrigues me; it is because I didn’t always smile like this. I almost always used to smile with my mouth closed. I have become much happier in recent years, not all the time of course but as a general trajectory, and I stare at these selfies, at this woman who is so much more comfortable, relaxed and authentically herself.

At its best, social media should make us feel good. And overwhelming selfies make me feel this way; whilst writing this article I have seen a lovely picture of my brother-in-law snapping an image of himself on the way for a pub lunch with a beautiful background and the sun reflected in his sunglasses; my sister cradling her dog who hasn’t been well; a friend of mine capturing a picture of himself and his partner during a birthday weekend away.

The faces of the people we like, love and care about are so important. In a world where we are increasingly apart and we rely on social media for contact, what could be better than seeing a face or group of faces we like appearing smiling and saying, “Here we are!” Having fun, relaxing, celebrating.   

As part of a wider movement which social media has allowed to flourish, selfies could also be seen as part of body positivity, reflecting the diversity in terms of ethnicity, body and face shape and style which the mainstream media so often denies us.

Although I don’t consider selfies to be equivalent to an artist’s self-portrait, the fact that artists have been painting them for centuries reflects an endless human fascination with our faces and how they appear to others and ourselves.

I am reminded of Gok Wan’s How To Look Good Naked and the arc of each programme; someone would start off ashamed or sad about their body and by the end they would pronounce happily, “Yeah I look great naked!” It was fantastic to see people feeling so confident, and maybe selfies can be seen in a similar light. In a world in which we are made to feel bad about our appearance, what could be better than someone taking a picture of themselves and posting it because they like their make-up, hair, outfit, face, cute lipstick? Liking how we look in a context where we are constantly told to change, and that we are not good enough just as we are? I’m totally up for that!

As for me, I think I will continue to take them, if for no other reason than to check that I still feel like, at least some of the time, smiling with my mouth open.

Image by Emma Stevenson @em.illustration

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