There’s been an awful lot of discussion circulating both the internet and real-life conversation on the topic of selfies. Although the word “selfie” is a relatively new catchphrase, spawned in conjunction with the reverse camera on cell phones and the popularity of Instagram, young people have been taking photographs of themselves for a long time (think Myspace). Regardless, dozens of think-pieces have recently been written on the topic of selfies, with titles like “The Problem With Selfies” and “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry For Help.” Authors of these articles write, at length, complex criticisms of the motivation behind taking a picture of oneself. While selfies are taken by both men and women, these critiques seem to typically be targeted at females.
The most common criticism, as shown in articles like those mentioned, is that selfies are a reflection of low self-esteem, a need for validation, an indicator of some kind of psychological flaw. If a girl is taking a picture of herself, it must mean that she’s desperate for attention, that her entire self-worth is dependent on the ‘likes’ flowing in through notifications on her iPhone screen. Any girl who posts a selfie must live for that instant gratification of knowing that people, somewhere, no matter what, find her attractive.
Aren’t we being a little too presumptuous here?
A few days ago, this article popped up, entitled “Ladies, Please Stop Doing This On Instagram.” The article is criticizing women for posting risqué photos of themselves on Instagram. The author writes, “The psychology behind your behavior in taking these nude pics is very straight-forward: you’re suffering from a lack of self-esteem and are looking externally to make yourself feel good about you.” This is an awfully broad conclusion to draw from a large pool of women, all with different backgrounds, histories, and stories. Is this author actually speculating that every single woman who posts a racy photo on Instagram suffers from low self-esteem? How in the world is he to know that about these total strangers?
As a society, we are very quick to judge others on all aspects of life. As kids, some of us judged others on the clothes that they wore. Some of us judged our peers on the types of clubs they joined in school, slapping on labels like “band geek,” “nerd,” “drama queen.” As adults, we can look back on that behavior with a wiser eye, knowing that we may have acted immaturely.
However, that patronizing judgment hasn’t gone away in our adulthood; it’s only changed shape. Now, we are quick to make some rash assumptions about total strangers, based solely on their cropped squares of lo-fi filters. We love to jump on soap-boxes and wail about the “obvious” psychological reasons behind the decision to post a photo of oneself. We still love to stamp labels on others, only now the words are even more loaded. We love to speculate, and we love to shame.
The problem with this specific issue is clear: We can’t possibly be right, not even close to half of the time. We cannot actually believe that we can accurately analyze the Instagram photos of people unknown to us, and then further diagnose them with poor self-image just because they happen to post a selfie. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but we need to stop fooling ourselves into thinking that our opinions about complete strangers translate into fact.
Consider this: Isn’t it possible that a girl just wants to show off her new haircut to her friends, some of which might live across the country? Is it plausible that another female just bought this great new eyeliner at Sephora and she wants to share it with those who follow her on Instagram? Or perhaps someone just wants to say “hey, check out my new shirt!” through a dressing room selfie, and it’s as simple as that. Can we entertain the possibility that sometimes there’s not a deeper message, and there’s not an underlying motive? No self-esteem issues, no psychological trauma, just a simple photo taken in good, innocent fun.
If we pile up all these articles, these discussions, these in-depth criticisms, it’s obvious that there’s an awful lot of negative energy being wasted on shaming others for what they post on their own personal social media accounts. Can we all take a step back and think about that? There’s a simple solution. If you don’t like something, or find something to be silly, you don’t have to follow. You don’t have to hit a like button. You don’t have to do anything except move on and channel your energy towards something more worthwhile.
The bottom line is, that we need to move beyond the collective eye-rolling and the condescending assumptions. Let’s focus on our own lives instead, and on things that actually matter.