People are endlessly fascinating. Their features, appearances, personalities are all intricately detailed. But rarely do we take the time to focus on minute details – the truth behind the generous smile, the tired eyes or the crinkled forehead – things that provide hints to the complexity or depth of each individual. This is where the importance of capturing an image of a person comes.
A portrait remains a testament forever, giving a glimpse of an instant of someone’s life or a side of a person’s personality. Hence, as long as people have made art, there have been portraits. For the first few thousand years,
portraits were reserved only for the important people of the society like royal family members and religious figures. With the technological advancement that came with invention of cameras, portrait paintings were somewhat replaced with portrait photography. With the economical manufacture of cameras and efficient processing and printing of film, self-taken photography was becoming easier day by day. Emergence of digital photography also made this process a lot quicker.
It was not until the advent of social media sites like Flickr, MySpace and later, Facebook, that self-taken photographs became highly popular among youths. Each profile on these sites required a profile photograph and thus grew the importance of these self-taken photographs. In 2010, when Apple released the iPhone 4 with the front- facing camera, the golden age of ‘selfies’ began. Instagram, also launched in 2010, is considered the ‘breeding ground’ of selfies.
The ease with which such photographs can be taken and instantly shared with a worldwide audience has made selfies a global phenomenon. This has led some to wonder if the practice is a reflection of the growing narcissism of today’s youth.
Social media has taken us to new territories of self-disclosure where the common people can broadcast details of their daily life. This gives each of us the opportunity to be the star of our own show. As a result, everyone wants to bring into focus only the best parts of their lives and hide whatever ugliness resides inside. A selfie gives you a chance of doing just that. Numerous photo editing apps as well as filters on sites like Instagram are available to remove any faults in your photograph and make it look nicer.
Things like a pimple, chapped lips or an ugly birth mark are rarely visible on selfies these days. Then once the photo is uploaded, it is ‘liked’, ‘retweeted’ or ‘reblogged’. You feel accomplished. You feel actually liked. And that feeling is addictive. You strike a different pose, try a different lighting. You repeatedly seek the reassurance that people still find you eye-catching enough to pause the infinite scrolling of their news feed and hit the ‘like’ button. This lift in self-esteem is like a drug for the brain.
There is nothing wrong about seeking approval of others. How we look is a very significant part of our lives. Moreover, appreciation from others is great for our mental health. While it is important to be confident in one’s skin, too much of it may lead one to become stand-offish, haughty or even arrogant. The desire to be accepted sometimes drives one to constantly look for ways to upgrade themselves. This in turn may lead them to undermine
Taking excessive selfies help increase other traits related to narcissism, such as materialism, unrealistic expectations and self-righteousness. This leads to less concern for others and lowers one’s ability to empathise. The
practice sometimes exposes people to constantly criticise others or find faults in things they do or even their physical appearances.
The ever growing obsession with selfies has led this generation to be labelled as the ‘selfie generation’. This decade has seen so much technological advancements compared to the ’90s and ’00s, and much of it was possible because of the millennials. We can now carry an entire computer in our pockets, start political protests online and use social media to raise awareness about various unspoken issues. And yet, the one thing we will be known for are pouting self-portraits with a Sepia filter.
The notion of control on selfies is misleading. You can use tools to manipulate how you look on digital media. But once it is posted online, you have no control over how people perceive you. Businesses use it as a marketing tool or future employers may see it to judge you as a potential employee. A particularly salacious selfie may even cause you to be manipulated by a jilted ex-lover.
But perhaps, not all effects of selfie-taking can be seen negatively. Selfies are great ways for commemorating significant events. Popularity of Eid selfies, wedding selfies and group selfies is proof of that. If nothing else, selfies are concrete evidence that we were here. It is a way to mark our limited existence. People who suffer from low self-esteem may receive a much needed ego boost by posting a ‘selfie’ which is acknowledged by others. Moreover, we take pictures of things we love. If we don’t love ourselves, how are we going to discover our self-worth?