A mention of the word “selfie” is generally followed by a collective eye-roll from everyone in the room who is under the age of 17. Selfies are generally perceived as being “narcissistic” and “attention seeking”. But is the infamous self-portrait photograph with your mobile phone an act of narcissism or an act of empowerment?
Selfies and Narcissism
The link between selfies and narcissism is associated with the assumption that such photos are taken to show off one’s physical appearance. The act of taking and uploading a photo of oneself to the internet is not a new phenomenon. According to a study by the Pew Research Center (2013), 91% of American teens with a Facebook account upload photos of themselves. A further study conducted at Elon University interviewed 93 students about their photo uploading habits. 97.8% of the interviewees reported that they believe a person’s popularity is determined by the amount of likes they receive on their profile pictures (Wickel 2015). Further research revealed that 90.2% of students interviewed upload photos to social media for the sole purpose of gaining likes (Wickel 2015). I’m not sure about you, but to me this seems like a rather narcissistic act. But why has society suddenly become so worried about how they look in a photograph?
According to Jesse Fox (2015), leader of a study at Ohio State University, “with the growing use of social networks, everyone is more concerned with their appearance.” This has led to self-objectification becoming a significant issue within society. With the growing pressures to fit in to society and the prevalence of social media in our lives, teenagers feel the need to create “desirable online identities”, especially when it comes to photos of themselves (Wickel 2015, Gregorie 2015). Studies revealed that teens believe social media sites are essential to their life, as well as posting photos that are impressive to their audience (Pew Research Center 2015, Wickel 2015). Evidently, the habit of selfie taking can be linked to traits of narcissism due to excessive interest and self admiration being one of the motivations for uploading photos on social media.
Selfies and Empowerment
There have been recent discussions within society that suggest taking selfies can actually be a form of empowerment rather than an act of self-obsession. Various social media campaigns have prompted men and women to take a selfie, and upload the photo online in support of numerous social causes. The power of the selfie has been used to raise awareness for a number of prevalent societal issues such as depression, objectification of women, and mental health disorders. Not only do these campaigns change the way in which taking a selfie is perceived, but they also prove to be effective ways of making a change.
Take for example the #nomakeupselfie campaign. With the aim of raising money for cancer research, women took to the internet, posting barefaced selfies as well as making donations to Cancer Research UK or the American Cancer Society. The hashtag went viral and people all over the world jumped on board to support the cause. The social media campaign was so successful that 8 million pound was raised in just 2 days (Dockterman 2014).
In this circumstance, the act of taking selfies was seen in a positive light, as a form of empowerment and encouragement to raise funds for a good cause. Not only did the campaign bring awareness to the importance of cancer research, but it also taught women that it is okay to be photographed in their own skin. In particular, without layers of caked on makeup and the perfect angles and lighting and instagram filters (yep, that’s right, without the narcissistic traits).
The Dove brand is also well known for encouraging empowerment in women through their self-esteem project (Unilever 2017). The company aims to “build positive body confidence” and promote healthy relationships between a person and their appearance. The #beautyis campaign again makes use of the selfie as a form of empowerment. Dove set a challenge for women of all ages to take an honest selfie, without editing the photo, or using a filter (Gould 2014). The aim of the campaign was to prove that all women are beautiful in their own ways, no matter their flaws. The campaign took away all forms of self-obsession and excessive interest in physical appearance. Women began supporting others in uploading photos, encouraging others and ensuring them that everyone has their own special kind of beauty (Gould 2014, Unilever 2017). That to me is pretty damn empowering.
So are selfies an act of narcissism or an act of empowerment? Personally, I believe selfies can be seen in two different lights, however it is the context that changes what message a photo will send. Perhaps a photo with a duck face pose paired with a caption about how much you love yourself won’t send out an empowerment vibe. Similarly, posting a photo in support of a social cause won’t be deemed narcissistic. Whatever the motivation behind the photograph is, people should be able to take photos however they like (perhaps just make sure it’s internet appropriate before posting it on all 6 of your social media accounts).
Until next time,
Dockterman, E 2014, #NoMakeupSelfie Brings Out the Worst of the Internet for a Good Cause, Time, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://time.com/40506/nomakeupselfie-brings-out-the-worst-of-the-internet-for-a-good-cause/>.
Gould, H 2014, ‘How to Use Social Media to Redefine Beauty’, Marie Claire, 21 January, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.marieclaire.com/beauty/news/a8893/dove-campaign-selfie-redefine-beauty/>.
Gregorie, C 2015, Study Links Selfies To Narcissism And Psychopathy, The Huffington Post, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/selfies-narcissism-psychopathy_n_6429358>.
Pew Research Center 2013, Teens, Social Media, and Privacy, Pew Research Center, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/teens-social-media-and-privacy/>.
Unilever 2017, The Dove Self-Esteem Project: Our Mission in Action, Dove, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.dove.com/uk/dove-self-esteem-project/our-mission/the-dove-self-esteem-project-our-mission-in-action.html>.
Wickel, T 2015, ‘Narcissism and Social Networking Sites: The Act of Taking Selfies’, Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, vol. 6, no. 1, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1138/2/narcissism-and-social-networking-sites-the-act-of-taking-selfies>.