In Defense of the Selfie

Selfie.  By definition, a photo taken of oneself, by oneself.  Dressed, undressed, in the bathroom, at the gym, with the dog/cat/parrot/random drunk person, at the beach, at the store, at the club, with beautiful landscapes, at famous monuments, in the messiest bedroom – basically any and every moment of the day is a selfie opportunity.  As long as the camera on your phone works and your arm is long enough to see your whole face in the photo – bam, selfie realness.

It seems social media users are divided rather cleanly down the middle between selfie-takers and selfie-haters.  A brilliant articulation making the rounds discussing the “worst” kind of selfies, replete with examples can be found here.  Or you can check out the articulate exploration of the history and meaning of the selfie from Greg Steven’s here.

So what’s the real beef with selfies?  Let’s be honest, all of the myriad reasons behind taking and sharing a selfie boil down to the same request – “Like me.”  But so do so many other things – the things people tweet or post on Facebook, the clothes one puts on before leaving the house.  Unless you are that truly rare breed of person that genuinely does not care what any other person on the planet thinks, some aspect of the way you go about your day says, “Like me.”  And that’s okay.  Really.  As people we are inherently beings of community and being accepted by our given or chosen community is a part of succeeding within it.

The selfie is essentially the most brazen example of the desire to be liked and receive positive reinforcement and attention.  And it’s used in countless different ways to achieve that.  “God I look awful.”  “What do you guys think of this outfit?”  “Look at where I am!”  “Look at who I’m with!”  “Look at what I’m doing!”  “Look at what I’m wearing!”  “Check out my body!”  “Look at me!”  “Look at ME!”  “LOOK AT ME!!”

Okay, so what’s wrong with that?  Really, nothing.  But of course the collective irritation with selfies says much about the irritated viewer as well.  It starts with presumptive character judgments.  “They’re self-absorbed.”  “They’re a narcissist.”  Then it moves to the presumption of the poster’s intention.  “They think they’re better than everyone else.”  “They’re just bragging.”  Then it moves to straight up judgment.  “They don’t look as good as they think they do.”  “Who do they think they are?”  “I would never post a photo like that.”  Now the observer is choosing to stand in a moment of superiority and judge.  Which is so much better than posting a photo that flagrantly says “I would like some attention.” Right?

The thing is, in nearly every opportunity there is to view a selfie on social media – you choose to be there.  You choose to be their Facebook friend, or follow them on Instagram or Twitter.  Whether they are the closest of friend or an internet-only acquaintance, you made the choice to put yourself in a position to see the photos, and so you can opt out just as easily.  Don’t like the selfies?  Or the enormous number of the selfies?  Or the duckface or the ab display or the twisted body in the perfect lighting to get the best angle possible aspect of the selfie? Or your perception of the tone of the selfies and what the person is trying to say by posting the particular selfie?  Don’t follow.  It’s really that simple, and so it makes the complaining about them seem snobby and arrogant.  They aren’t making you look at the photos, you’re choosing to do so – and then judging them for it.

Because there are as many reasons for posting selfies as there are ways to do so.  Some people want to share their lives.  Their lives, the one they are living, through photos of what they are doing – with them in it!  The aspects of their lives they choose to share vary as well.  Some people are working out with goals in mind, and the gym selfies and the shirtless selfies capturing their progress are motivation to stick with it.  I bet the compliments help.  Some people love fashion and share every outfit.  Some people love traveling and want to show where they are – and that they are there.  Some people love their friends and want to take a photo with them every time they are together.

Yes, some of it’s juvenile, no, not all selfies are equal, and yes, some truly terrible human beings take selfies because they do think they are cooler, hotter, more successful, more attractive than everyone else and all around the best thing ever.  Of course, why are you friends with, or following, that person in the first place?  To presume that is the motivation behind every person who posts a selfie is jaded and cynical.  All the more so when it isn’t someone you actually know.  There’s that moment when an attractive person posts a photo of themselves and it’s “they’re so into themselves” and an unattractive person doing so gets “good for you, not caring what other people think” and both extremes are insulting to the person, especially if you don’t know them.

I’ll admit it, I don’t come to this selfie discussion unbiased.  I’ve grown to be a selfie taker – sort of.  I actually reallllllly don’t do well at holding out the camera and taking a direct and literal selfie at arm’s length without having to take forty photos to find one I’m happy with.  (Cut to separate discussion of self-esteem and self-perception that we’ll skip for now.  You’re welcome.)  In that, I regularly post pictures I let other people take of me.  At events.  At screenings.  At parties.  At the pool.  At the beach.  Fully dressed.  Speedo clad.  Whatever.  And yes, I post the ones where I am happiest with how I look.  Of course I do.  And some of my friends role their eyes literally and figuratively in their comments.  And I’m fine with that.  My own personal journey to being happy and comfortable with the man and body I see in the mirror and in photos was a long and arduous journey as it was for so many.  So now I celebrate it, clothed, naked, and anywhere and everywhere because I don’t care anymore – but I’ll happily take the compliments from those who chose to give them.

I’m not a photographer.  I don’t take lovely pictures of beautiful vistas to share the awesome wonder of the world with people who follow me.  I take pictures of me.  And what I’m doing.  And who I’m doing it with.  Because it’s my life, and if no where else, I get to be the star of that story.

My selfies don’t say anything about what I think of the viewer, other than “I hope you like this.”  It’s a narcissistic endeavor at its core.  It’s about me.  I don’t think I’m better than anyone else, I don’t think my life is better than anyone else’s; I’ll admit I think my friends are better than other people’s friends, and it’s because I love them and think they are amazing.  Stop reading into why I or someone else posts what they post, like it or don’t, and move on.

Because, if you don’t like it from me or for from anyone else, well…the unfollow and unfriend buttons are easily accessible.  If the negative of my possible selfie obsession is still outweighed by the positives of the other things you get from me, at least do me the courtesy of rolling your eyes and judging silently.  I mean, that’s what I do!

Besides, it could be worse – I could have a pet or a baby.

PS – follow me on Instagram @EmersonCollins

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