The selfie phenomenon in popular culture is mind boggling. There’s not a single day that Facebook isn’t abuzz with selfies from friends, and our news streams are being flooded and overtaken with yet more Kardashian selfies.
And I have to be honest, I don’t get the obsession. We all have friends who post multiple selfies a day,no matter how bored their audience gets. Is it an exercise in vanity? It can sure look that way from the outside. “In its most pessimistic characterization, to take selfies is to stroke and fondle the self in a masturbatory display of self-aggrandizement.” (Murray, 2015, p511)
In a more favourable analysis, selfies are a way that we craft, control and present ourselves to the world. Social media and selfie culture can be viewed as a powerful tool for expressing agency and mediating the way you come across to the people in your sphere of influence. Rettberg, 2014 (p.42), says social media and selfies allow us to “change our self-presentation over time.”
The way that I use social media is very controlled. The selfies I post are almost exclusively with other people. Selfies taken just of me are only posted if I’m desperate for a new profile photo. It’s not that I don’t like the way I look. But I definitely don’t want to be perceived as overly interested in my appearance, or as having so much free time and self interest. Moreover, whatever I’m doing is probably more interesting than my involvement in it.
On the rare occasion I post photos of myself, with or without others, I have standards and rules that apply to all uploaded photos. First, they should be on my good side (the right). I should be smiling, doing something interesting, and of course, having a good hair day. Bonus points if the selfie is celebrating something.
Of course, I have rules for the non-visual content I post and share as well. My social media sites are full of celebratory posts, funny things I’ve seen, places I’ve been. They project a happy, active, busy and confident young woman. At least, that’s the intent. My content rules include (but aren’t limited to); don’t air dirty laundry – save that for the bff; don’t insult or complain about other people or things – this will come back to haunt you; don’t post anything an employer shouldn’t see because they will google you.
Seidman, 2013 (p406), analysed how personality types affect self representation online –
“High neuroticism and low conscientiousness were the best predictors of self-presentation. Conscientious individuals are cautious in their online self-presentations.”
I’ll choose to take conscientious as a good thing (although it could be read as paranoid). Considering how deeply our media usage infiltrates our lives and how many people – acquaintances, lecturers, employers – use social media as an initial evaluation, it pays to be cautious. For the first time, we have have a radical kind of agency that allows us to not only create our own self-definitions, but even go back and edit them later.
Why not take advantage?
Murray, D.C, 2015, ‘Notes to self: the visual culture ofselfies in the age of social media’, Consumption Markets & Culture, vol 18, no 6, pp 490-516
Rettberg, J, 2014, ‘Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices To See and Shape Ourselves‘, Palgrave Macmilllan, Hampshire
Seidman, G, 2013, ‘Self-presentation and belonging on Facebook: How personality influences social media use and motivations’, Personality and Individual Differences, no 54, pp 402- 407