Selfies are everywhere. You only have to look on Instagram these days to see a flood of teen selfies. I just did the math myself; a quick ‘go-through’ of my Instagram account and some selfies immediately pop up. These days, it is a daily activity for a lot of GenYers AND it was even integrated in the Oxford dictionary as an official word: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”
By the way, did you know that the third most frequently used hashtag on Istagram is #me? Through this hashtag, you’ll find more than 90 million self-portraits. But that’s not surprising, is it? Because everybody does it. I do it, my friends, family and colleagues do it, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber do it, and even Hillary Clinton and the Obamas do it.
So if you see someone posing with his or her camera, slightly raising one eyebrow, showing a kind of sideways smile, doing a duck face or faking an ‘I just woke up’ face, you’re looking at someone who took a selfie. And you can capture one in many different ways: alone, with a friend, uninvited (read: photo bomb), with or without a duck face. But for the confused minds among you, here’s a little guide.
No, they are not new
If you think selfies are a whole new phenomenon, you’ve got it wrong. In fact, selfies – not the word of course, but what the word represents – go way back. Self-portraiture already existed thousands of years ago, in many different ways. It’s the expansion of technological innovations which caused the democratization of the phenomenon of self-portraiture. What was once only intended for the elite has now become a world-famous activity.
With the invention of the digital camera the selfie boomed in popularity, but a few years later, the time had finally come. In 2010, Apple introduced the new iPhone 4, with a brand new front-facing camera; that same year, the social network Instagram was born. The combination of being able to take pictures with your cell phone, having a front-facing camera and being able to post pictures online immediately, made self-portraiture or selfies what they are today: more fun and available for everyone.
Selfies = selfish?
Apart from the fact that we’re now living in a world where front-facing cameras, Instagram and other social media have become part of our daily lives, the real question is: Why are we so obsessed with selfies and why do we take them?
Some people say we are witnessing the growth of a narcissistic generation which just loves taking pictures of themselves, constantly seeking approval, seeking ‘Likes’ for what they look like. That’s true, but does this mean that the ‘selfie generation’, Generation Y, is a narcissistic one? Of course it doesn’t. We are all seeking approval. We are all social animals driven by the need for connection and social validation. And that’s a good thing, especially for Millennials, as they’re in a stage in their lives where they start reflecting about the self and shaping their identity. And one of the most effective ways of getting to know yourself is to see yourself as others see you. The world of selfies is one way to do that.
Ordinary people doing ordinary things
But more importantly, selfies are about sharing experiences. Our phones have front-facing cameras for a reason: to take pictures of ourselves. And we want to do so. We want to share pictures of ourselves showing friends where we are, what we’re doing and what we are wearing. Selfies give us the ability to create a life narrative through images. And we like that, because – as stated in ‘How Cool Brands Stay Hot’ – Generation Y is also called the ‘ME generation’, a generation where we are stars of our own soap operas which all our friends play their parts in. And as pictures say more than words and images encode experiences, our daily selfies and those of our loved ones make sure we can revive the context, emotions and experiences surrounding the pictures again at any time.
I think we can all agree now that selfies are not just about Millennials being narcissistic. Selfies celebrate regular people doing regular things and offer a quiet resistance to the barrage of perfect images that we face each day. Selfies offer us an authentic representation of beauty – the beauty in all of us ;-).