Selfie. It was the 2013 Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year, they are what dominate Instagram feeds, and they are stirring up quite a bit of controversy.
Many say that selfies are empowering. To some, selfies may be a way to express confidence in one’s own skin. Dove’s latest installment in their Campaign for Real Beauty includes a short film, Selfie, claiming that social media is “widening the definition of what beauty is.”
Others, including many psychology experts I spoke to, believe selfies can turn into a harmful act of obsessing over our looks, reinforcing the desire to look “perfect.”
I’ll be upfront and say that I don’t find myself standing strongly on either side of the debate. I started taking selfies in middle school, during the Myspace era; I would change my profile picture nearly every week. Fast forward a decade, and I’m still taking selfies… usually when I want to show you guys my makeup of the day, or I’m just feeling great and want to capture it! But, I agree that both good and bad can come of any and all trends. I think I’ve mentioned on my blog before that when I was much younger, I actually photoshopped my own selfies. I would fix the bump in my nose, lift my double chin, and tuck in my tummy. This is where the problem starts.
Social media gives us the power to control how we are perceived, and more often than not, we choose to share the pictures that would shine us in the best light. I reached out to experts and asked: are selfies harmful or helpful for an individual’s self image?
“As with so many things it is a matter of degree— one selfie here and there every few weeks is a non-starter. But by and large, selfies become a way for a person to scrutinize, twist and turn themselves to get that perfect angle and critique themselves,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology.
With the rise of selfies has come the rise of hundreds of new smartphone apps that work to give us flawless skin, makeup, and even make us look thinner in our instaphotos with a touch of a button. (Where were these when I was spending hours learning how to use photoshop?) All kidding aside, now there is a new avenue of pressure to make us feel that even our unedited, #nofilter selfies are not enough to be beautiful the way they are.
Adrienne Ressler, eating disorder and body image specialist at The Renfew Center Foundation agrees.
“We feel pressured to edit and alter our images so we look like what we think of as our best selves instead of our real selves. The concern is that these social media habits can fuel negative self-esteem or body image issues, setting the stage for addictions or other destructive behaviors, such as eating disorders. The high is never high enough, the scale is never low enough and the image posted on social media is never good enough.”
Dawnn Karen, founder of the Fashion Psychology field, points out the underlying need for affirmation shown by posting selfies. “This validation is given through likes and comments. If someone receives the validation sought, it can be empowering. However, it can become problematic when one does not receive validation; it can be disempowering to the ego,” she explains. Psychologist Frank Bevacqua, Ph.D. agrees this is the most dangerous factor of them all.
“We now put our worth in others’ hands. How many likes or shares or comments a photo of us gets means the more popular we are, the more we are liked, or the better we look. No longer does our self-esteem actually come from ourselves, our self-esteem can now only come from the approval of others. A new haircut, a new outfit, or a new body (someone who has lost weight or gotten work done) now must be shared with hundreds of acquaintances and potentially thousands of strangers. Even if I like my new haircut, outfit, or body, it does not become validated until others validate it for me.”
Everything considered, I personally don’t think selfies will pose a threat to your well-being when done in moderation. The main point being: don’t let others’ validation be the motivation for how or why you choose to display yourself. I enjoy capturing a great picture of myself as much as the next person (what, you couldn’t tell by the accompanying photos in this article?). I think selfies have the ability to tell a story, to share something about ourselves to the world. However, I do recognize that when done excessively, taking and sharing selfies have the potential to damage our self esteem and diminish body positivity.
What say you? Are you pro-selfie, no-selfie, or in the middle of the road like I am?