Anne* posed for the perfect pout. She put her hand over her lips, suggestive of a kiss she will be blowing soon. Seconds of silence were dedicated to looking intently at her only audience. And without delay, she did it. She then declared it good.
Later, 28 other people thought it good too.
Guessing what Anne was doing was a no-brainer: she took a selfie with her camera of choice — in this case, her iPod touch. She later posted it on Instagram, where it enjoyed the company of her 300+ followers and hashtags like #kiss and #mystical.
The selfie, as defined by the Urban Dictionary to be “a picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website,” has become both sensation and habit. The word ‘selfie’ has become too buzzed a buzzword that the Oxford English Dictionary is eyeing on the word’s possible inclusion to the language.
The word, however, is not an infant in age. The first dated use of ‘selfie’ is back in 2005, when Jim Krause is said to have referred to and popularized it in his book Photo Idea Index.
The image-hosting site Flickr caught on with the term in 2007, when a user created a group solely for “selfie shots” which she defined as “a photograph of oneself in an arm extended posture.” A selfie, in the group’s strictest sense, is that “taken with either the right or left arm extended and the camera turned back upon oneself.” The birth of the iPhone 4, more particularly the rise of the front-facing camera, in 2010 killed the previous definition and gave way to less grotesque and more tasteful selfies.
Or did it?
Keep your selfie to yourself
Millions of selfies are uploaded to social media sites everyday. With these millions come an uninterested audience who have been made to look at them. Looking is not exactly the problem. The subjects to be looked at is: girls pressing their barely-there cleavage, boys obsessing over their non-existent abs, and people posing in their messy bathrooms.
“Selfies are annoying. They just clog up your feed with faces of friends or people you’d rather care less about,” says Elias*. “A selfie is a symbol of vanity. When before there was time and art to having yourself immortalized[,]now it’s as simple as pointing your front-facing camera to your face,” he continues.
For some people like Elias, this particular type of photo reeks of narcissism. Still, to others like Lourd De Veyra, the selfie indicates this generation’s decline in taste. In his article “Selfie-destruction,” de Veyra notes how old portraits, no matter the number, still has dignity: “They were solemn. They were decent. They had class and style.” But today’s portraits? “Something tells me an entire generation is gonna get sodomized by the long prongs of regret.”
Regret will come in the form of getting grossed out by past selfies’ audacity — the boldness of capturing oneself in either their most un-photogenic state (as with a wake-up selfie) or their most awkward duck faces. The age of selfie-ing is seen as a life stage as momentous as adolescence. Only difference is that grown-ups cannot wait for this generation to graduate from this selfie phase.
Young people who are fond of taking selfies would like to tell their cynics this: they are doing fine, and their selfies fuel their self-appreciation. Shouldn’t that be reassuring?
Anne, from the earlier selfie scenario, shares how her selfies make her feel. “I take selfies sometimes to boost my confidence [be]cause I do not take selfies when I am not in the mood… I want to remember the times I am happy and confident of myself.”
She mentions growing up having to hate herself and the world. Taking selfies has become a habit to reverse that. “This is a way for me to show my love for myself since I am letting go of hatred and negative emotions.”
Still, cynics can find a loophole in her argument. If Anne is indeed happy and confident, why does she have to release these selfies in avenues generated by a culture of approval and virtual cliquishness? Cynics may say that Anne is only displaying her vulnerability through selfies more. What she mistakes for self-confidence is actually her long-running insecurity and dependence on what others have to say about her.
But Anne shrugs these doubts off. When asked if she expects a flux of likes or new followers after every selfie post, she replies, “No. I share my photos because I want to show the kind of person I am and if someone likes my photos and follows me then that is just a bonus on the part of my self-confidence.”
Despite various opinions about it, the selfie continues to be one thing: a pictorial reproduction of one’s self. It is simply another medium where one can explore aspects — or even angles — of themselves. The selfie is another venue that allows the affirmation of one’s existence in the worldwide web, a world where vanity has overtaken modesty as the prized value.
There shouldn’t be anything surprising about the selfie phenomenon. Everything about it is commonplace. It is ordinary for all the private elements the selfie contains and people are familiar of: egotism, a candid self, a space that allows one to privately take a photo. But perhaps, the interest lies in private habits’ new platform: the public sphere. What used to be confined to the personal realm is now slowly seeping into public consciousness.
There is reason to worry. As taking selfies become more accepted as a way of living, more private things will be made public. But that is also cause for celebration. That may mean the self has much less things to hide.
*names are changed to protect anonymity