There’s been a lot of press in the last couple of years dedicated to “selfie” scholarship. It’s partly the fault of the Oxford dictionary who declared it a real word in 2013 and therefore somehow more worthy of critical attention. There is the pro-camp, who says it’s empowering and should be encouraged. There are the detractors,who say they reek of low self-esteem and encourage plastic surgery.
I am ambivalent personally. I am by no means immune to the practice. It’s too big a temptation with the camera right there in my hand at most times, the smartphone being practically an extension of the limb these days. But while I take them semi-regularly, I am generally loathe to post them on social media. For fear of being one of “those girls.”
We all have that friend, the one who feels the need, daily, to post a “selfie” to their social media page. The hashtag may read #nyc or #lacma but the background is secondary. The focus and the majority of the space is dedicated to the face, often wearing a strikingly familiar expression. What is the need the “selfie” fulfills?
I agree with James Franco when he said “Selfies are tools of communication more than marks of vanity (but yes, they can be a little vain).We all have different reasons for posting them, but, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.” I think that one of the people we are communicating with though is ourselves.
The “selfie” is about seeing ourselves from the outside.It is a self-portrait, true, one we create with the intention to affect how we are seen but it is more than that. It is difficult to imagine how you are perceived. A logical mind will fixate on the diversity of possible perspectives and the changing nature of the self. It matters who’s looking at us and how we happen to be at any given occasion. We are not the same today as we were yesterday. The “selfie,” a visual check-in, serves to capture “objectively” the mutating reality of the self.
Now most people would admit that photography has from it’s birth been subject to manipulation and tampering with, but it is also the best tool we’ve got for capturing some of life’s most precious truths. Birth, Death, what your friends looked like out at the club last Friday…
Human vanity, sin or not, is natural, timeless and virtually inescapable. We love to gaze at our own reflections, in mirrors, in photos, and in “selfies.” It is the narcissitic hallmark of our times. Much has been written about whether the “selfie” version empowers or demeans, objectifies or elevates. I posit that it serves like a GPS- this is where you are now. It reassures.It confirms. It realizes. I am here. I exist.