On the daily, my social media feeds are filled with political news, so-called “alternative facts,” cute animals doing cute things, and selfies. Lots, and lots of selfies. In today’s world, it seems as if just about everything qualifies as a selfie worthy moment. At the gym? Selfie it. Having a bath? Selfie it.
Hanging out with your dog? Most definitely selfie that.
Sites like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat were created so we could connect and reconnect with family and friends. In theory, the idea of social networking is genius but us humans have a bad habit of ruining good things. Social media has basically turned the world into an unofficial, never ending selfie contest. The prize? Internet fame that will most likely result in millions of people you don’t know following your every move, sending you death threats and the odd marriage proposal. Amazing eh’?
This contest isn’t exclusive to millennials either, everyone is taking place- Parents, grandparents, and even babies. The funny thing about this contest is that there is no closing date, and no one really knows they are taking part. We have become so accustomed to sharing our every move and revealing personal information just to gain attention and improve our online status. Celebrities like Kim and Kylie are no exception. Hour by hour we can see what they are wearing, what they’re eating, where they’re going and everything in between. The selfie game is the only one I can think of where normal, everyday people like you and I are up against the most famous and powerful people in the world. Our social media profiles should be raw and authentic, a genuine glimpse of what kind of life we live. Instead, they are composed of edited selfies with strategically thought out captions. Selfies have become a normal practice in our society in the blink of the eye.
I cannot even remember a time where selfies did not exist, the whole concept seems so normal to me. Nothing about this selfie culture is normal, but this is what our society has come to, living behind a filtered lens.
The world seems to have two contrasting opinions when it comes to selfies. Some believe that taking and viewing selfies empowers women, and helps build self-esteem. The majority, though, think the exact opposite. Countless academic studies have shown that constantly viewing idealistic images of women can be linked to low self-esteem and negative body image in women and girls. Selfie practice has even been linked to mental health disorders such as depression, body dysmorphia, and even psychosis. According to the National Report on Self Esteem, 98% of girls feel immense pressure from external sources to look a certain way. When images of perfect girls and women are constantly in the media it’s hard to not feel pressure to look a certain way. Big eyes, blonde hair, small waist, flat stomach-This is what every girl in the world is chasing. Why? Because that’s what is thrown in our faces all day, every day. Diversity is what makes life interesting. Beautiful people can be found in every race, shape, and size, but the world seems to think that there is only one look that defines beauty.
Being a visible minority, I have experienced this pressure myself.
I have often found it hard to feel secure and confident because I am not the girl you will see on the cover of Elle or Cosmopolitan. I’m not what people are shown, or told is beautiful. Girls all around the world find themselves in my shoes- Defeated and frustrated. And in the selfie contest, we will never be the top contenders.
Essentially, we are comparing our behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. That beautiful girl in the selfie you’ve been drooling over? She probably doesn’t look like that when she’s at home in sweatpants scrolling through her phone, like you were when you saw it. Filters, photoshop, and editing have made it possible to turn ourselves into anyone, or anything we want to be. “You can photoshop yourself into your ideal and that illusion is so perfect that nobody wants real life anymore, where you actually have to work really hard to get anything done- or to look a certain way.” (Porch, 2015) As Porch mentioned, nobody wants real life anymore. We live in a time where we would rather pay 19.99 for an editing application than buy a gym pass. Where we would rather blur away blackheads and scars than embrace them.
The fact that our society has come to this is both frightening and saddening.
Since selfies have become a societal norm and phenomenon overnight, a lot of researchers are starting to really examine why exactly we are so obsessed with them. This led me to the question, “Why do I take selfies?”. My immediate thought was “Because it’s the normal thing to do, what girl doesn’t take selfies?” But, the more I thought about this perplexing question, I realized there is a lot more to it than that. As mentioned before, I have suffered from self-esteem issues my whole life. When I upload a selfie and see that 500 of my “friends” have liked it and left nice comments, for some reason I feel better about myself for a bit, I start to question if maybe my insecurities are just all in my head. Researchers have started to refer to comments, likes, and shares as a form of social currency in our attention economy. (Marwick, 2015) Decades ago, people who had as much exposure as your local city’s “It Girl” would have been considered celebrities.
Now, it is not unusual or unheard of for normal people to garner 1,000 likes on a selfie. Our attention economy is driven by many underlying societal problems. The most common probably being loneliness, low self-esteem and the need for instant gratification. Some will argue that selfies are a sign of narcissism, but that is not always the case. Yes, some people take selfies because they are narcissistic, that is to be expected. But, I truly believe most of us who take them are just looking for love and approval. The only catch is that the person receiving all this love and attention isn’t even us- It’s the person we want to be, the person we want the world to think we are. I don’t eat designer cupcakes every day, or dress like I’m ready for the red carpet every weekend, but my followers could easily infer that. They don’t see me sitting in my office with bags as dark as storm clouds under my eyes waiting for the clock to hit 4:30. They don’t see me going through the McDonald’s drive-thru at 2 am because I couldn’t stop thinking about a small chocolate shake and fries. And they most certainly do not see me scrolling through Instagram with tears welled up in my eyes wondering why I can’t be someone else, someone who’s life looks better than mine through the little squares of their Instagram grid. Our society has become stuck in this vicious circle of posing and jealousy.
We don’t want to show the world any side of us that is less than perfect, yet we all know none of us truly are.
“Beware of those who are too focused with polishing and beautifying their outer shells. They lack true substance to understand that genuine beauty is reflected from the heart that resides inside.” (Kassem, 2010) This quote from Suzy Kassem can also be said for those who are focused on polishing and beautifying their online presence. Many of us become so consumed and utterly obsessed with who we are online that we forget how to live offline. We should be polishing our minds, and beautifying our souls. You may not be able to see kindness, intelligence, or passion through the squares of your grid, or a 7-second Snapchat story, but that type of beauty is one that will never get deleted or fade.
I think it’s time we start to receive gratification and satisfaction from the things that truly matter in life. We’re all so concerned with being pretty but I think it’s time we start to worry about being pretty kind, or pretty smart, or pretty strong. Qualities that lay beneath the surface are ones that will be with you when Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter aren’t. At the rate we are going, once our profiles are gone, we’ll be gone with them. We need to reteach ourselves how to live, how to truly experience things in the moment.
After all, the fondest moments in life usually happen when you put down the camera.