Selfie: The mark of a Digital Generation

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I know you have, come on admit it. There is no shame in it, everyone has. We all want to look our best and now we have a camera with us just about wherever we go. Who hasn’t been tempted to take a picture or 50 to show the world how good we look or the cool things we’ve been up to.

Selfies

The word Selfie has just been added to the English Oxford Dictionary and are a global phenomenon. Instagram is made up of people taking pictures of themselves doing cool things or just showing the world how good they look getting ready for work.  Studies have shown that the comments on your Facebook profile picture your Facebook profile picture strongly affect your level of perceived physical, social and professional attractiveness

Then it’s suffice to say that the pictures we have up online need to show us in the best light.

This goes back to my previous blog entries on why we connect to social media. Many of us are connecting more with our virtual self than our physical world.

I think the selfie is a great example of why this is. We can re-take a selfie until we get our perfect image for our profile. That image will never age, put on weight or get spots. It’s the once in a lifetime shot that is not sustainable and yet it’s us at our best and online for all to see.

Looking-glass is a psychological concept that suggests we develop our sense of self based on the perceptions of those we interact with, said Andrea Letamendi, a doctor of psychology at UCLA.

“Now that we can interact with hundreds – no, thousands – of people simultaneously, we’ve strengthened the impact that others have on our self-value.” Says Dr. Letamendi.

So what Andrea Letmendi is saying is that we now need masses of praise for our image in order to get the same satisfaction that many of us used to get in the physical world by a much smaller and more intimate circle of friends.

How can the physical world compete with 100,000 Instagram followers adorning your new outfit? It massages the ego in a way that only movie stars and rock gods are used to. And look at how many of them have turned out, with unrealistic expectations of the world and a disillusioned reality. Now many of us are becoming more accustomed to this form of interaction and praise, no wonder we want to spend more time online and less in the physical world.

Studies have linked social media to ‘narcissism, depression, low self-esteem, addiction and a host of other negative effects’. For example, Facebook use has been linked to depression while Twitter use has been linked to low self-esteem and narcissism. Selfies, specifically, are proven in the future to cause these negative mental health issues.’

 The effect of Selfies on how we relate to self

So how damaging is this new way of relating to one’s self-image? A study done by Amy L. Gonzanes and Jeffery T Hancock in the paper ‘Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem’ states that Facebook actually ‘raises ones self-esteem’ and I can definitely see how this is the case, but is ones self-esteem based on one’s physical reality or a virtual one? Are a generation disassociating themselves from the physical world in order to feel better though social media and selfies in the virtual world? Is a selfie the epitome of disassociation of self into the virtual world?

To answer these questions we must think why are we feel the need to take so many pictures and share them online. I have been known to take pictures of experiences just so I can share them on twitter. It’s not enough I am in/at the place but I have to show it off for all to see.

It is easy to dismiss the idea of a selfie as a waste of time or narcissistic but I think it is quite telling of the society in which we live. We feel the need to keep up with everyone else and show the world just how beautiful we are and how much stuff we are doing. This is exacerbated by social media (everyone else doing the same) and also the celebrity culture we live in.  In fact I would argue that for many the pleasure is not from the experience itself but from the comments or likes on social media. Reaffirming the point made by Dr. Letamendi that we now need the praise of thousands to get any self-worth.

Peggy Drexler says   “There’s a sense that selfie subjects feel as though they’re starring in their own reality shows, with an inflated sense of self that allows them to believe their friends or followers are interested in seeing them lying in bed, lips pursed, in a real world headshot. It’s like looking in the mirror all day long and letting others see you do it”.

And because everyone else is taking selfies and ‘starring in their own reality show’ it gives us permission to indulge ourselves in such matters and for it to be viewed as normal. By doing so it enables us to feel connected with society and gain the admiration we so desperately crave.

That all well and good but the consequences are that we have an inflated ego, need constant admiration from thousands of (usually unknown) people and that we are connecting more with our virtual selves than our physical selves, ready to seek pleasure not in experience but praise from other people.

In fact one Boston-based psychologist thinks talking lots of selfies is an indicator that someone has a lack of confidence and I can’t help but agree. We are no longer content in our own view on our self-image but need to be validated by others.

Conclusion

Society has instilled in us that we must look our best at all times and as we have seen pictures on social media demonstrate how successful we are. A selfie then is the epitome of society’s importance of gaining self-worth from looking good. However many of us are ditching our physical image in favor of our online one where we can be adored by thousands rather than just our small circle of friends. It is affirming my view that we are disassociating ourselves from the physical world and gaining much self-worth from our virtual self through social media; using the physical world in order to facilitate our virtual identity, when it should be the other way round.

 

Philip Karahassan

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3 Comments

  1. Nice discussion of some of the psychological implications of selfies. I was reminded of the concept of “experiential avoidance” from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Theory). Experiential avoidance describes when people are experiencing reality in their heads as fleeting thoughts as opposed to reality itself (i.e., the sensation of being in our bodies and noticing what we experience in the present moment). Seems to be that selfies are the epitome of not being in the present moment–it’s like obsessing about an idealized version of the past. The antidote to experiential avoidance and perhaps selfies, is dwelling mindfully in the present moment, and accepting ourselves and our experiences in the here and now. Zach Boone, Utila LLC, utila.us

  2. thank you for your response and yes I agree that it seems the Selfies are a way of not living in the actual experience of a moment which I see happening more and more in terms of how we relate to each other and technology.
    My last post was concerning a child acting out a computer game in real life and is a great example of the ACT theory you brought up.

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