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Feminspire | April 18, 2014

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The Evolution of Selfie Culture: Self-Expression, Narcissism, or Objectification?

The Evolution of Selfie Culture: Self-Expression, Narcissism, or Objectification?

While it will probably never be included in a museum photography exhibit, the first amateur self-portrait taken by aiming a point-and-shoot camera at a mirror may be one of the most monumental advances in photography culture to date.

Photographers — as well as painters, cartoonists, and all other 3-D and 2-D artists — have created self-portraits through the ages. As inexpensive digital cameras and social media have gained popularity, it’s never been easier to create a gallery of regularly uploaded profile pictures taken via cell phone, laptop, or camera held at arm’s length.

Urban Dictionary defines these photos, dubbed “selfies,” as, “A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera, in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them.”

This tongue-in-cheek definition doesn’t make taking selfies any less popular. The subjects of these photos, thankfully, have started to trade peace signs and “duck lips” for other edits. Instagram filters can add an “artistic” flair to a pic, and the Mac program Photobooth makes it easy to pretend you’re taking your photo anywhere from under the sea to on the moon.

A quick search of #Selfie on Instagram returns almost seven million photos. Is this a rise in narcissism, or a cry for validation in the eyes of our peers? Or is it a platform for promoting positive self-image and self-worth?

Dr. Amy Slater and Professor Marika Tiggemann of the School of Psychology at Flinders University in Australia studied the effects of Internet use on girls age 12-16, and found that of the 96 percent of girls who had some access to the Internet at home, 72.1 percent upload pictures of themselves.

These same women are more likely they are to experience body shame, dissatisfaction with their weight, and lower self-esteem, according to the survey, and of the 1096 girls surveyed, 40.1 percent said were dissatisfied with their bodies and one in two were terrified of gaining weight.

The anonymity the Internet provides creates an adult playground for cyber bullies. What one woman may find an empowering photo of herself, an Internet commenter can shatter with a sentence.

Celebrities from Rhianna to Justin Beiber regularly post selfies on their Twitter accounts. And now, women are posting selfies of themselves in their college apparel to cheer on their athletic programs. And by themselves, I mean their boobs.

KU JayhawksWhat started as a University of Kansas fan’s down-blouse – or, in this case, down Jayhawks shirt — photo has spawned the creation of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and newspaper articles cheering on college teams through cleavage, which, after the Jayhawks won in a come-from-behind victory, became the team’s good luck charm. And as we get closer and closer to March Madness, this trend can only gain in popularity.

Of course, this is positive press concerning breasts, which is a step up from the stories about a woman in Washington state who has been accused of using her double Ds to smoother and kill her boyfriend.

But however proud these women might be of their respective teams, most of these photos begin at the woman’s neck. Many selfies are solely body shots, sometimes to show off a new outfit or post diet and exercise bodies. Is this because these women would rather draw attention to their new dress or cleavage than their faces? Would they rather their identity not be attached to a photo that has a specific purpose of joining what some news outlets are calling a “boobment”?

Think of it this way: In order for a superstitions person to carry around a “lucky rabbit’s foot,” someone has to sever said foot from a rabbit. By photographically cutting off their heads, women become mannequins for displaying a shirt and their breasts. And what are mannequins? Objects. Sports fans are people, first and foremost. It’s objectification in its most basic form, no matter the intentions behind it.

While the culture surrounding selfies could be positive and even creative self-expression for some, or a fun and easy way of sharing ones sexuality, it’s a trend that brings up some disturbing issues and important questions.

What is your take on selfie culture? Harmless, fun, or disturbing? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Written by Lauren Slavin

  • Jennifer Elford

    I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking pictures of yourself. Although I do find it kind of weird and annoying when they take literally HUNDREDS of the things. Also, duck lips need to stop.

  • Angela Rose Schifani

    I agree with Jennifer that there’s nothing wrong with taking and sharing photos of yourself. I think that women like to share when they’re feeling confident. They want to show people when they’ve put a lot of thought in their outfit or work hard on their hair style/makeup. Feeling that confidence and the want to share it with others is a sign of good self-esteem. That’s great because many women don’t experience that very often. However, I think that photos that largely focus on the woman’s breasts ESPECIALLY when the face is cut off completely, could be a sign of low-self esteem and a cry for attention. This can be both annoying to other women who are dealing with their own self-worth problems and could be harmful to the photo taker herself—generally that kind of attention is not what she truly wants deep down. I believe women should feel free to express themselves, their sexuality, and their confidence through “selfies”, however they should be cautious when it comes to more sexualized representations of themselves, for it may hurt their self-esteem more in the long run.

  • EllaC

    I think that the reason many women choose to take self-photos without their faces is because any remotely sexual photo, clothed or not, can be used to harm our careers and social lives still. We may take the photo for any number of reasons: for others to validate us, for us simply to capture a moment in which we feel good about ourselves, or for the basic purpose of documenting a moment. But the moment that someone, ourselves or otherwise ascribes a sexuality to that photo, it can be used against us. It’s easier and safer to remain as unidentifiable as possible in most circumstances.

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  • Neha

    I don’t think that taking selfies are bad. I find that it is a great tool for showcasing your life as long as you are doing it for your own happiness and not to seek the approval of other people.

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  • JustMyOpinion

    I think its very disturbing. Its narcissistic and self important. Why the need to post pictures of oneself …in every imaginable outfit or pose… Get. A. Life! Do something productive. Actually do something interesting and then maybe you will not find the time for incessant selfie posts.

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  • Trabue Gentry

    I love selfies. They are the voyeur’s delight. There is no form of photography that is more candid, intimate or honest. Try as one might, there is no way you can lie or be pretentious in a selfie. And there is no way you can shoot a selfie incorrectly. Selfies are the ultimate in WYSIWYG.

    Nude selfies are a wonderful example of our desire for freedom to self express. Never did I think I would see the girl or guy next door provide the world w a glaring and daring shot of their private parts. I think it’s wonderful that people feel free today to “let it all hang out”. They seem to show no fear or shame of their bodies. It is as if they have achieved what the rest of the world has not: the ability to accept themselves for what they are and to accept others for the same. I cannot think of anything healthier.

    I worry, though, that nude selfies will inevitably lead to sexual violence as they provide a window shopping experience for the sexual predator. I’m surprised that we have not heard much w respect to this potential being realized. Perhaps that is a positive statement as well. Still, I fully expect to see this become and issue sooner or later.

    Like them or not, duck lips and all and despite all the jibes, selfies continue to grow in popularity and seem they are here to stay…at least for a while longer.

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  • macguffin9979

    “Smoother and kill”? Someone was murdered with excessive charm?

  • Fuller

    I work out regularly and hard and I eat healthy. Some days I’m disgusted with the way my body looks not because of my pant size or how I compare to someone else, but because my body is the manifestation, the tangible result of my hard work, and when my body doesn’t look the way I want it to, it’s a manifestation, a tangible result, of my short comings in my training. But when I get dressed and look in the mirror and think, damn, I am on it today and my training is doing what it’s supposed to, hell yes I share that with the world! Not because I need them to tell me I look good, but because I want others to share in my celebration, and maybe I can help others get moving and get healthy. Selfies indicate a problem if the caption reads “I’m so fat and ugly,” because that isn’t a proud display of achievement. It’s a cry for help, love, and validation.

    • Dannymac

      You think your part of the solution but your not these attitudes to body image ARE THE PROBLEM