The rise of the ‘selfie’

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Since the introduction of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and in particular Instagram, it’s become the norm to see self-portrait photographs, otherwise known as ‘selfies’, on your news feed. Search for ‘#selfie’ on Instagram and you’ll find millions of posts, with ‘#selfiesunday’ returning over 8.5 million results. ‘Selfie’ was named as word of the year in 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries due to its ubiquity; the word became so popular that its frequency allegedly increased by 17,000% last year. Even prominent figures such as Barack Obama and David Cameron have jumped on the bandwagon, clearly recognising the popularity of the selfie in modern culture.

In recent weeks, selfies even became the catalyst for a social media campaign to raise cancer awareness. The hashtag ‘#nomakeupselfie’ was seen on various social media platforms, along with bare-faced self-portraits. It’s unclear where this campaign sprang from, but over £2m was donated to Cancer Research because of it. While this trend became widespread and it has been acknowledged that the money donated amounted to a large contribution, I did not take part. Some may have thought of me as cynical or cold-hearted for refusing to participate, but my reluctance to join in stemmed from my worry that removing all make-up appeared to be a very significant event for many women. On Instagram, there are over 10 million posts under the hashtag ‘#nomakeup’, suggesting that going completely make-up free is a big deal for a lot of people. In my opinion, current pressure to look beautiful has contributed to a lot of women feeling like they have to wear makeup in order to adhere to the standard of beauty upheld by society (and in particular, fashion magazines and the media).

In today’s society there seems to be a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Selfies are a popular trend within celebrity culture – Rihanna’s Instagram account, for example, has over 12 million followers and nearly 2,500 posts, many of which are carefully constructed selfies to make her look a certain way. While Rihanna does not purport to be a role model, hers – and other celebrities – prominence within our culture depicts an unrealistic image of how everybody should look, and suggests that looking like these glamorous celebrities is the norm. However, the ability to post flattering selfies can portray an outward image which is completely different from what a person looks like on an average day.

The story of a boy who was apparently addicted to taking selfies was published in March, reporting that the 19 year old took up to 200 photos per day in order to take the ‘perfect selfie’. The teenage boy, who was diagnosed with OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder, became so obsessed with taking selfies that he became suicidal. This is probably not a case that would have occurred before the surge of social media and particularly Instagram. While this appears to be an extreme standalone case, it is worrying that the selfie trend can have such harmful consequences and it’s possible that cases such as this one could appear elsewhere in the future.

I am not completely criticising the selfie – I’ve been guilty of taking them since the days of MySpace.  When you’re feeling good about how you look, selfies can be a way to capture and share this feeling. It’s nice to know that it’s possible others are going to appreciate how you look, I suppose it’s a form of ego boosting. The problem arises when people feel as though they’re in competition with one another to look good. When you see a selfie taken by an absolutely gorgeous girl or boy, with dozens of likes and comments, it can sometimes make you feel a little inadequate.

Perhaps we all need to be a little more loving towards each other away from a social media context. The compliments received on profile pictures and Instagram snaps might make you feel good, but in my opinion they don’t compare to being told you look nice face-to-face. I’ve always tried to make a point of telling people I like what they’re wearing if their outfit catches my eye, and their reaction is always positive. Don’t be shy – if someone looks good, tell them. They’ll most likely be really appreciative that you took the time to tell them in person rather than just leaving a comment on a social media site. I think it’s time that people put down their phones, stepped out of their selfie bubble and saw people for what they really were, in real life.

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