Selfie Mania – Gliding from Charm to Harm?

  • With Selfies, a constant preoccupation of idealizing one’s image, self and self-admiration is taken to an extreme.
  • Constant selfie takers are addicted to their own image, constantly manipulating others to validate or glorify that image.
  • A certain degree of self-admiration is healthy, but overly toxic abnormal love of self is not good.

The “selfie” fever is on! People flood social media pages with selfies. This oft-annoying behavior shows increased levels of narcissism over time. Narcissus is a figure from Greek Mythology who was so impossibly handsome that he falls in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Even the lovely nymph Echo could not manage to tempt him from his self-absorption. Narcissus’ name lives on as the flower into which he was transformed and as a synonym for those obsessed with their own appearance.

A selfie is a self-portrait digital photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or smartphone, which may be held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often shared on social media, via social networking services such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.

Researchers at Georgia Tech combed 2.5 million selfies to uncover what motivates people to take and post these pictures. They categorized them into 15 subsets. Ranging from “appearance” – showing off one’s makeup, lips, body, face, etc – to social, health and fitness, travel, among others. The full study was presented in May 2017 at the international AAAI conference on Web and Social Media (studyfinds.org).

“Selfie” was first entered in Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013. It is described as when an individual holds a camera or smartphone at arm’s length and takes a picture of their face. With the selfie movement anyone can become a ‘celebrity’ of social media.

When does selfie become problematic. According to American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 1 in 3 surgeons surveyed have mentioned that requests for surgery have increased because people want to appear better on social media. Eonline.com refers to Los Angeles talent manager Triana Lavey who underwent plastic surgery as her selfies weren’t up to snuff. Since 2012, Lavey has dropped $15,000 for plastic surgery, all in the quest for a perfect Instagram selfie. She underwent a nose job, a chin implant, botox and fat grafting to change how she looks.

Danny Bowman told abcnews.go.com his first selfie was at age 15, then he starting using selfie to pick himself apart. He noticed his hair wasn’t perfectly coifed, skin discolorment, nose too big etc. He retreated from day-to-day life and refused to leave home for 6 months. He found out his problem was called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition that leads sufferers to have a distorted view of their looks to the point where they will isolate themselves out of fear that other people will notice the flaws they obsess over. About 1 percent of the U.S population has this disorder, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

About two years back, I was at Grand Canyon, we happened to see a teenage boy taking a selfie, dangerously standing near a sharp edge, the crowd literally dragged him to senses. We also witnessed a similar incident a few years ago in Yosemite where a girl was posing for a selfie on a dangerously steep stone. Taking an extreme selfie can cause selfie death. A 2018 study of news reports showed that between October 2011 and November 2017, there were 259 selfie deaths in 137 incidents reported globally, with the highest occurrences in India followed by Russia, United States and Pakistan.

Why do people indulge in this high-risk behavior knowing that the consequences might be fatal? In Ireland, doctors suggested adding “selfie injuries” to hospital admission forms to collect more data. “The consequences of poor spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has to lead to multiple traumas,” says a report in the Irish Medical Journal, by doctors in Galway who studied four cases of selfie-induced injuries in the space of a single week.

Selfies are now the in-thing.  A NBC News recent article reveals politician’s using selfies to their utmost advantage. Campaigns pay good money for digital ads that insert smiling photos of their candidates into voters’ Instagram and Facebook feeds.

They are often casual in nature (or made to appear casual). “Selfie” typically refers to self-portrait photos taken with the camera held at arm’s length, as opposed to those taken by using a self-timer or remote. A selfie, however, may include multiple subjects. As long as the photo is being taken by one of the subjects featured, it is considered a selfie.

I don’t know but I always found various poses of selfies– consisting of up-close angles of faces, showing discrete pouting, duck lips, funny-trying-to-be-cute– a little weird! The camera, when you take a selfie, sees a nose or a chin super close, and then the eyes seem much further away. This makes the face or chin look ginormous and distorted to a wide angle lens. Pictures have the power to make us feel wonderful or lousy about ourselves. “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” I’m sure you’ve heard the story. “Thou, O queen, art the fairest in the land,” said the mirror. (Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the best selfies of them all? Is the new mantra!)

If 2013 was the year of the selfie, then 2014 turned out nicely (ahem) to be all about the belfie. Bum + selfie = Belfie. Kim Kardashian became the reigning queen of the celeb belfie thanks to that snap she took of her peachy derriere and it wasn’t long before the likes of Kylie, Cheryl Cole and Rihanna were getting in on the belfie action and posting their cheeky snaps on Twitter and Instagram. Another trend is to take a “bothie” using both the front-and-rear-facing cameras at the same time. They’re often shared on social networks.

Who can resist taking photos standing next to wax celebrity statues at wax museums, it allows us to take mini-adventures into another time and place, even if only briefly. They allow us to play, to have fun and to poke fun at ourselves. Selfies are no different. They can enable a brief adventure into a different aspect of self or a relaxation of normal constraints. Margarita Tartakovsky, an associate editor and body image advocate at PsychCentral.com says:

“If we’re taking a photo of an object or our natural surroundings, we’re paying attention, We’re listening. We’re absorbing an object’s lines, a park’s multicolored leaves. If we’re taking a photo of ourselves, we’re seeing ourselves. Really seeing. We’re listening too. We’re acknowledging.”

Hospital selfies can be more helpful than harmful, normalizing stigmas and helping people who have gone through surgery to realize that their scars, pain, and healing isn’t abnormal or strange. According to the ASAPS American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery 96.2 % of patients who sent in selfies of themselves to their surgeons during the first few days following their procedures reported a higher quality post-op experience.

Many love taking travel selfies. They derive great joy from taking photos of places they visit and their captures are made all the more special by having them in those pictures.

I mean, if I want a picture of Niagara falls or the Taj Mahal, I can just download one from Google, but having a picture of me interacting with the Niagara Falls or the Taj, a snapshot of the moment in time captured for eternity, that’s priceless. When you travel alone and don’t want to bother asking strangers to take pictures, you can get creative, lug around a tripod and fiddle around with self time on your camera or whip out your iPhone and take travel selfies. According to one travel blog, “As the ranks of the social network-savvy armed with smartphones impaled on selfie-sticks proliferate, people increasingly target trips that offer the greatest social returns, while destinations that lack crowd-sourced cachet — or the vital Wi-Fi connectivity — risk being shunned.” Benefits of digitally documented trips include basking in adulation “like a rock star returning from a world tour.”

Snapshots of family weddings, travels, tulip gardens in full bloom, medals of our latest half-marathons, or stage performances abound on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram. They typically garner praise, not eye rolls…hmmm! L.A.’s newest kid on the block is the fun, and extremely relevant, “Museum of Selfies.” If you find yourself wandering down Hollywood Boulevard, I suggest you make a quick stop at this pop up shot of history and good lighting – it’s a selfie museum, of course the lighting is going to be good.

It is biology, a natural instinct to share aspects of our lives with others in order to get a response. It is the foundation upon which the whole internet community is built on! I have many friends who refrain from taking selfies in public because they’re afraid of the backlash. Being holier than thou over something as insignificant as a self-portrait is a time waster, especially since, regular selfies are a harmless activity. Taking selfies once in a while doesn’t make one vapid or narcissistic, or make one seem less intelligent and informed about the world than  a person who takes “serious pictures” of the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids. Extreme or otherwise, we take selfies for all kinds of reasons: to communicate with people we love, to build self-esteem, to curate our self image, to chronicle our personal histories, and –increasingly to build our personal brands.

Readers, how often do you take selfies?

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Madhavi Vudayagiri

Writing and reading has always been my hobby. I would never buy a greeting card to wish a family member or a close friend, instead I would compose a poem highlighting their qualities and greet them. Having been in the field of teaching, studying people is what I do best. Creative writing is my forte, in order to hone my creative gene, I acquired a diploma in creative writing. I love to probe people's minds and try and understand their thought process. This website seems to be just what I am looking for!


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