Yesterday, my teenage son explained that kids at his high school measure a person’s popularity by how many followers they have on Instagram. I do not have an account on Instagram, but from what my kids tell me, it is basically a website where teenagers (mostly girls) post selfies of themselves in various poses and outfits, then beg for attention from their friends (“How do I look with this hairstyle? Don’t I look so cute in this outfit?).
Now, as selfie was deemed 2013 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionary, I’m pretty sure that most people know exactly what a selfie is, even if you live in a cave, like me. However, though most of us can agree what a selfie actually is, there appears to be a lot of dispute about why our culture is currently so obsessed with taking selfies, or about whether doing so is a positive or negative thing.
My first thought about selfies? What a stupid waste of time! My second thought about selfies: How narcissistic! My third thought about selfies: I wonder if I should take a quick selfie to post on my blog post about selfies?
Oooh, I wonder what I look like upside-down?
You see, I was all set to focus this article on Selfie-bashing. It is so easy to do. For starters, selfies appear to be a way for girls and women to seek attention, praise, and flattery for their appearance and sexuality, as opposed to their intelligence, accomplishments, and inner worth. (Don’t believe me? All it takes is a quick Google Image Search for Selfies to see a ton of disturbing examples of half-dressed young women trying to look sexy for the camera). Secondly, the idea that a young person’s self-esteem may be boosted or crushed by how many people give them positive feedback on their self-portraits is rather disturbing. (Please, guys…tell me that I don’t look too hideous with this haircut! I think it looks weird. Doesn’t it look weird? SOMEBODY TELL ME!!) Finally, there is something about seeing oneself from the perspective that others see us that can serve to heighten insecurities about one’s appearance. For example, I didn’t care at all about whether my curly hair looks unattractive, or whether my forehead was too shiny, or my chin too pointy, or my eyes uneven until just now, when I was studying my selfies. Oh no — is the rest of the world thinking these things when they see me, too? Aauuuggghhh!!!
But some people view selfies in a more positive light. Perhaps, like blogging, selfies are the average person’s way of “living out loud,” of making themselves feel visible in a large world. Selfies can be an expressive and empowering form of art, or a display of self-confidence — “I feel good about my appearance today and just wanted to share that with the world.” Additionally, Selfies, like blogs, can be a way to tell the world your story. Some people use them to chronicle their struggles fighting an illness, or to show the places they’ve been, or to pose with the people who are important in their lives.
Whether we choose to view The Selfie as the new evil of out times, or as a postive form of self-expression, or even as a neutral way to just be silly and have fun with our mobile phones, we cannot deny that they are a prevalent part of our culture. As a parent, the best that I can do is encourage my kids to respond to the trend in the most positive way they can. As far as being popular among their peers, well, I am lucky to have kids to whom popularity is of little importance. But even if it were, then I would give my children this advice: It is far better to be admired for the person that you genuinely are than to be admired for the person whom you present through the lens of your own camera.