What Your Selfie Says About You

Are Your Selfies Ruining Your Relationships?

Earlier this week, a Texas mother of four, Kimberly Hall, made national headlines with her online manifesto to teenage girls prone to taking and posting self-portraits on social media. “Who are you trying to reach?” the mom asked. “What are you trying to say?” Girls who keep this sort of thing up, the mom went on to write, will be blocked in her household, because “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you? Neither do we.”

Though her post is rife with sexism—the post runs beneath a photograph of her own three boys shirtless on the beach and includes no mention of the responsibility of the viewer, or her sons, in how he/they respond to such images—Hall makes a valid point. Ever since smartphones came equipped with cameras that face not just outward but also backward at the user, the self-portrait—dubbed the “selfie”—has taken over social media, particularly Instagram. (It’s popular on dating sites, as well.) Because of the selfie’s close-up nature, it’s far more intimate than, say, the portrait your sister took of you standing in front of the Grand Canyon. Many selfies carry sexual undertones, especially since the majority of selfies are, obviously, user-approved, and designed to leave a positive impression or elicit a positive response. But it’s not just technology that has driven the selfie—and it’s not only teenage girls and singles using it to take control of how they present themselves to the world.

Sarabeth, a 40-year-old, married chief operating officer of a digital media company, routinely wove magazine-worthy photographs of herself lounging seductively on the beach, laughing by candlelight, and snuggling with her kids into her Instagram feed. They weren’t all posed, though all were flawless, and served to project a certain image, that of money, power, and love of what, by all visual accounts, was her amazingly fun-filled life. “I don’t put much thought into what I post other than if it’s a nice photograph of a meaningful moment, I like to share it,” she told me. “But no, if I look god-awful, that’s not a photo that will see the light of day.”

On the surface, the trend is sort of affirming, if undeniably self-absorbed: Women, whether rich and powerful like Sarabeth or otherwise, increasingly have a healthy image of themselves. That’s a good thing. Girls creator Lena Dunham is a big fan of the selfie, both on social media and through her show—which shares with selfies a confessional quality. On TV, Dunham’s character often appears naked or in various states of undress; in real life, her Instagram selfies aren’t necessarily flattering by typical standards. They challenge the “Hollywood ideal” and that, too, is a good thing, especially when size 0 celebrities dominate so much of the modern day visual barrage. The more we see a range of body types, the better.

And yet selfies are also a manifestation of society’s obsession with looks and its ever-narcissistic embrace. There’s a sense that selfie subjects feel as though they’re starring in their own reality shows, with an inflated sense of self that allows them to believe their friends or followers are interested in seeing them lying in bed, lips pursed, in a real world headshot. It’s like looking in the mirror all day long, and letting others see you do it. And that can have real and serious implications. Excessive narcissism, studies have found, can have adverse effects on marriage and relationshipsparenting, and the workplace. One study found a link between excessive narcissism and violence.

What’s more, a recent study out of the U.K. found that the selfie phenomenon may be damaging to real world relationships, concluding that both excessive photo sharing and sharing photos of a certain type—including self-portraits—makes people less likeable. The same study found that increased frequency of sharing self-portraits is related to a decrease in intimacy with others. For one thing, putting so much emphasis on your own looks can make others feel self-conscious about theirs in your presence. The pressure to be “camera-ready” can also heighten self-esteem issues and increase feelings of competition among friends.

The trick with selfies may be to look at why you’re taking them—and what they do for you. Posting affirming selfies can be empowering. They can help readjust the industry standard of the beauty ideal. But they can also help reinforce the idea that what matters most in this world is how things, and people, look. For Sarabeth, the problem she noticed first, before she even noticed her increasing fixation with her own appearance and that of her family, was the fact that she was so busy controlling her image that she’d often miss the moment in real life. Capturing something on camera took priority over reacting to something in person. “Documenting the experience took precedence over living it,” she said. “And finally I realized, well, how can I expect others to pay attention to what’s happening in my life when I can’t even say the same for myself?”

Featured image via Shutterstock

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1251933113 Chris Martinez

    I once went a day without taking a single selfie. It was traumatic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002724166931 Karen Taylor

    Never taken a selfie.
    Seriously! N-E-V-E-R!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685558845 Maria Von Losch

    Great article and thanks for posting this! Selfies are a fine line in my world since I’m a Stylist & Style Blogger, I post pics of myself in my outfit of the day and give a savvy style tip to go along with said outfit. I post everyday because I’m in the midst of Shopping My Closet for 365 Days straight (on day 63) and it gets exhausting. I wish I could have a stand-in somedays! XO, Maria (savvynista.com)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=761152173 Tharon Herrick

    See, though, as a person who hated having her picture taken because of poor self image, The selfie has been an amazing tool to start to love the way I look. I have tons of photos of my daughter, my friends, even my x but I have nothing to remember myself by or show my daughter when she gets older. So this last year I snap a picture when I’m on the way out the door and I leave it on my phone. So I then have amassed a large quantities of selfies but I love the way I look, have been actually wearing shorts all summer. I’ve come to terms with my body
    So, to me, selfies have been an invaluable tool to love the skin I’m in.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1251933113 Chris Martinez

      Same here theron, I had such low self esteem and hated having someone take a pic of me. Turns out I just needed a way to control my own image and feel better about myself. :) now I don’t moan and figh it whenever other people take pics and I don’t even worry anymore. S’ all good!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543282259 Alice Thompson

        These kind if selfies are not cringeworthy – they just look like some one using a nice photo of themselves. The sexual, fake lashes, fake hair, fake tan, fake nails selfies are the ones i’m ranting about – but you guys both look great in your photos :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001063398167 Candince Krueger

    I take selfies every once in a while. Usually when I feel really good about myself for whatever reason.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543282259 Alice Thompson

      Agreed! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543282259 Alice Thompson

    Thank you. Finally some one is outing this stuff. I mean, the occasional selfie of your self smiling or doing something worth documenting is cool, and it doesn’t sound like Peggy Drezler is against that, but the incessant “i-have-to-show-everyone-how-good-i-look-with-this-much-make-up-on-every-time-i-think-i-look-good” of it, is seriously a depressing sign of the state of western mankind and our values. Not only is it ENTIREY irritating to everyone but the photographer, but it makes you look SO desperate for a smidgen of approval, that if one ever actually came face to face with a serial-selfie such as yourself, it’s almost impossible to respect them or believe that anything they have to say is of any use to anyone’s ears, plus they’ve made themselves plain unlikeable.

    We will go down as the time that had the most scientific opportunity, the most technologically advanced, the easiest to educate, the fastest machinery, closer to other countries on the other side of the world through the connectivity of engines such as Facebook, yet somehow the least social development and smallest social conscience than had come before.

    We fought lions and hunted fish with our own bare hands, we defended what was ours in the name of protecting our families and neighbours, we built homes, we sent our best out exploring to find other countries and discover the secrets of our planet, we began to settle, create jobs and markets, we built things for ourselves, buildings and societies, and made life comfortable… then we started to go to war… squabble with other countries over resources or ego, and in doing so killing our own, and the decline begun. Do you really think you great grand parents who died in World War 2 thought “I just hope my great grandchildren live long enough to takes selfies”. Go out and make something! Stop the decline of our evolution! Stop making our existence into a meaningless, self-absorbed, seriously narrow sighted era that people will look back on in shame. Shame that we became so, so self obsessed that we stopped moving forward on the grand scale of evolution, and just decided to pout – a pout exposing how deep our sense of social unawareness is, exposing how pointless our existence therefore is, exposing how lazy at life we’ve become, exposing the undeniable, brutal, sad and pathetic truth that as long as you’re “hot” – you don’t have to be good at anything the fuck else, and your life will go unnoticed and change nothing for the good in our world. And you are helping us be forgotten, poisoning future civilisations reflection of what we tried, or more did not try to do.


    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1251933113 Chris Martinez

      The type of people who post piles of selfies tend to be young teens and adults who are generally a self fascinated sort to begin with. I think they outgrow it at some point and move onto other things. It doesn’t seem so bad to me. :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543282259 Alice Thompson

        I wish I could agree with you but I just don’t find that to be the case. I think when Peggy says “It’s like looking in the mirror all day long, and letting others see you do it.” that’s a great way of describing it. The matter of fact, for me, is that those taking lots of selfies are the same ones who spend most of their time on facebook looking at their own tagged photos for 20 minutes and hoping they’re ex is looking too and thinking “damn i missed out”… when really they’re thinking “what an horrendous bullet i dodged”.
        Ladie’s – if we don’t start telling each other the truth we stand to allow each other to make a mockery of ourselves and our society which is moving faster and faster in the wrong direction, the opposite from where we should be going.
        Like I said, i’m not saying the occasional selfie if you’re documenting an actual moment or place or having a great hair day and fancy flashing a smile at the camera is bad at all! I do that! That’s just people living their lives, and there’s no need to attack that. But those serial-selfies, you know who they are just as well as i do, the ones who really don’t have anything more creative to put out there to the world via the internet, the ones who really don’t care about anything but themselves, you can spot them a mile off, and they, my friends, look ridiculous. Boys think they’re high maintenance self indulged princesses who they’d have to hold their handbag-dog while shopping for heels if they were with them, and who girls either feel sexually threatened by due to the overt sexuality of the picture, and therefore don’t like (to be threatened is to not like – a perfectly human and instinctive emotion), or who girls just think “thank god i’m not her looking foolish to all of these people who see this on their homepage today”.
        The harsh truth is those who have lives, lives where they strive to do something good for some one else occasionally, or where they actually have fun and live life to the fullest, or lives where they experience every moment of it as openly as they can so they can learn and grow from their experiences into an interesting, happy person… are not the ones taking a selfie of their latest flattering angle.

    • gounei

      I absolutely dread the serial selfie. I’ve seen fine promising young men and women apparently lose their awesomeness to their obsession with their self depictions. I agree with you on that. I agree this generation should be more socially conscious. I don’t know however if you are a Gen X or a baby boomer or just glorify them, but your history of humanity seems a bit like it was written on top of a very high horse. First, war did not come after men civilized and progressed. It is as old as man himself and it was not glorious then and it is not now. Secondly, just about everything you mentioned as a high point for human kind happened to have ill consequences including “fighting lions”. Third, lazy useless self absorbed people have also existed since human beings began walking this Earth. So please try to consider this more of a social evolution rather than This Generation Is Crap Compared To Their Grandfathers, because it always looks like that, and yet it is exactly the same kind of people being born albeit in different circumstances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002660434841 Jen McCarroll

    I might take a lot of selfies, it’s true. But I also look at my friend’s selfies, read their statuses, and catch up with them. If you don’t value something someone does, then focus on what you find valuable instead and leave that person alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006199895278 Kristina Louise

    I think selfies are fine. Judging people for selfies may be a little worse because judgment in my eyes is always worse than pride. If someone is prideful–yeah it’s a sin but it doesn’t always end in someone hurting someone else. Judgment on the other hand is always something that will either offend/hurt someone or benefit somone else.

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