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The Heart of the Selfie

March 17, 2015

They’re everywhere. Plastered all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, just about any social media you can think of. It seems like everybody’s taken a pose, snapped a pic, and put it up somewhere on the internet. Even the president has posted this contemporary form of self-portraiture known as the selfie.

So many people see selfies as benign. “It’s just another form of self-expression,” they say with a shrug. “No different than a self-portrait, and those have been around for ages.”

Others scoff at the very idea of a selfie, stating that it’s a desperate, pitiful plea for attention, that it’s related to narcissism, antisocial disorders, even psychopathy. “This is a dangerous phenomenon!” they claim. “Parents, be on your guard!”

But today, you’re not asking what “other people” think. You’re asking what I think, where I stand on the issue.

Well, I stand with both. Yeah, you read that right. I stand with both.

With most issues, you can’t take everyone in the world, stuff them in one tiny box, and say they are all doing something this way for this reason. Life doesn’t work like that; people don’t work like that. Because each and every person on this planet is unique, each and every person could have a completely different reason for taking a selfie. Most likely, you could boil each personal reason down to either self-expression or something related to narcissism, but you won’t find that you can boil all of them down to one or the other.

Say Brenda goes to a concert, takes a selfie, posts it on Facebook, and tags Tommy because she's got a crush on him and she knows it’s his favorite band. That there would be a loud and clear cry for attention. But say Brenda tags Lisa instead, because, although Lisa is her best friend, they’ve never had a similar taste in music, and Brenda knows that Lisa hates this band. Maybe after tagging her, Brenda adds a joking hashtag, like “Don’t you wish you were here?” In that case, Brenda is simply joking with a friend and expressing that she is at this concert and enjoying the music no matter who likes it or who doesn’t. The selfie could even be a form of self-exploration if Brenda has never listened to the band before and is trying out something new. So you see, that one selfie could be a cry for attention, a form of self-expression, or a form of self-exploration, all depending on the person and their reason for taking it.

The same goes for millions of other selfies. Tommy might post one of his abs because he thinks the hot girl who sits next to him in chem will like it: plea for attention. But Lisa might take a selfie with a book and a cup of coffee, photographing herself in the moment of a favorite activity simply because she wants to: form of self-expression.

Personally, I don’t take selfies much. Why? Because I don’t like to have my picture taken; it makes me feel awkward. If you happen to find me in a picture, it was most likely forced upon me, and I felt there was no way to get out of it without making a scene. Which would only make me feel more awkward. But since I understand that I don’t like pictures, you won’t find me taking many of myself.

On the other hand, some people love photography. And those people don’t post a selfie just so everyone will look at them and tell them how cool they are. Some just want to let their friends and family know what they’re doing, not necessarily so everyone will applaud them, but because they think their friends on social media will care. Others just felt like taking a picture that day, the same way I might sit down and write something, not because I intend to wave it around and demand everyone look at what I did, but simply because I want to write.

That’s not to say that no one takes a selfie out of narcissism or a need for admiration and approval. There are many people who see selfies, indeed social media in general, as little more than a way to snag other people's attention, a way to get everyone to “like” them.

What I’m saying is that it’s impossible to take something that so many people do and give them all one reason for doing it. It is impossible to put millions, maybe billions, of people in one little box and slap a label on them. You could postulate for days on the reason behind just one selfie, so to group every one in existence together and say that they are all either forms of self-expression or pleas for attention, it simply cannot be done.

And, at the end of the day, it isn’t the selfie that's important anyway. The selfie itself is just a picture; at it’s heart, it’s just another form of art. Like anything else in this world, it isn’t the thing, but the person and their heart that truly matters.


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  • March 17, 2015 - 1:23pm (Now Viewing)

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