The psychology of selfies

I read an interesting article in last week’s Stylist magazine about the self-taken photograph and the psychology of ‘selfies’ [¹].  It seems that selfies (‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website’ [²] )are now accepted as a means of communication, as a way of projecting ourselves as more and more people communicate through online social media.  The article asks why would people choose to post self-taken pictures of themselves online, thereby sharing themselves with others, often with strangers, and looked at four women who frequently do so. In each case, a psychotherapist gave his view on what he believed to be the driver behind the need to post selfies and to share them with a wider audience.  The full article can be read here.

The case studies were interesting and diverse. One woman hates being photographed so that by posting selfies she feels in control of how she looked and where the photographs would be seen. Another, who is a freelance beauty writer and tv presenter, posts selfies as a means to do her own PR, using social media as a way to promote herself in a competitive market.  A third girl works in PR; as a user of social media to communicate in her work, selfies are a natural part of her life.  The final woman interviewed uses self-taken photographs as a way of documenting her goals visually;  to motivate herself and also as a memento of her ‘journey’ (in her case training for a marathon).

It would seem that there are numerous reasons why people choose to post self-taken pictures of themselves online, ranging from insecurity; the need for external validation from others yet with the wish to control how they are seen, through to the carefully chosen self-promotion of ‘you’ as a brand. However issues can arise; the article points out that it can be damaging for a person’s self-esteem to be entirely dependent on the views of others and that negative feedback can be difficult to handle.  Social media images can also be sought out by anyone through the use of search engines, resulting in a loss of control over who views them.

I take my photography seriously so my initial reaction to the article I must admit was one of disdain and I questioned whether selfies have a place in the photographic world.  To be honest I can’t see selfies becoming part of my life and the article itself asks whether selfies are ‘self-expression or a malady of the techno-savvy world?’ (p.64).  However, in response to my questioning I think I missed the point of the selfie.  I’ve realised that selfies aren’t a threat or an attempt to undermine the more serious side of photography, or indeed photography as an art.  They are more a way of communication, a means of self-expression.  I think that used carefully and with dignity selfies can provide poignancy to someone’s story.  As well as illustrating the glamorous and sometimes fatuous side of social media, they can also draw attention to and explore the less superficial areas of people’s lives, being used as documentary and motivational aids.  Maybe more importantly they can create memories.

[1] Source: Stylist magazine, issue nr 187 dated 28 August 2013.  Available online from http://www.stylist.co.uk/people/the-psychology-of-selfies   [accessed 28 August 2013]

[2] Source: Oxford Dictionaries [online].  Available from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/selfie  [accessed 02 September 2013]

3 comments

  1. I think that putting my photos and thoughts “out there” is enough for me – personally not comfortable with anything else. Am in agreement with the “need for validation” aspect of many people! However, in the industry I work, instagraming (and social networking as a whole) is a massive part of things now, and really makes a “virtual” community : it’s a phenomenal business tool – just prefer it not to be in my personal life …

  2. Very interesting reading Carol. I find it hard to keep up with this phenomenal growth in instant communication. All those reasons given do make sense to me – guess you have to look at the world from their point of view.

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