The Selfie: Self-Love or Self-Centeredness?

A defense of self-expression on social media

In 1839, photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius took a self-portrait in Philadelphia using a method of early photography called daguerreotypy. While his picture was obviously not taken with a mobile phone and probably required him to hold still for several minutes, Cornelius had unwittingly taken the first known selfie.

A sepia-toned photograph of a young man in a dark coat.
Robert Cornelius takes the first recorded selfie in 1839. | Credit: Wikipedia

The modern selfie has been a cultural phenomenon in many Asian countries, especially Japan, since as early as the 1990s, but didn’t take off in the United States until shortly after the turn of the century. The emergence of early social media platforms like MySpace and Facebook no doubt helped the selfie gain popularity, especially with teenagers and young adults who were suddenly finding access to a bigger audience to admire their photos.

“Mirror selfies” and “duck face” became common phrases in social vernacular, and selfies picked up more speed when disposable and point-and-shoot cameras were left behind for mobile phones, selfie sticks, and ring lights. Ellen DeGeneres got in on the game in 2014 when she instigated her famous group selfie at the annual Academy Awards, and even President Barack Obama was known to take a selfie or two before stopping the practice in 2017.

It’s safe to say that the selfie is here to stay, and people will continue to find creative ways to capture themselves on camera. Despite that logic, taking an excess of selfies is commonly seen as a sign of vanity and self-absorption. Posting selfies on social media, especially if you’re a young woman, is often treated like an open invitation to critique the subject or tell them why you don’t like the content of their post.

Here’s the thing, it’s 2020. Selfies have been globally popular for at least 20 or so odd years now, and yet there are still people who consciously fret over whether or not they should post theirs online. They don’t feel pretty, they’re afraid of the possible comments they’ll receive, they’ve been told before that they post too many selfies. Whatever the reason, they all suck and undoubtedly stem from someone or something making that person feel unworthy of praise at some point in their life.

A triptych of a short-haired young woman’s selfies where she’s wearing a green blouse and an octopus necklace.

No matter how someone looks or how many followers they have, a person’s selfie should make them feel empowered. For us ladies, the selfie is essentially a simple but effective way to exert control over the male gaze. It allows us to express ourselves in whatever manner we want. We control the angle, the timing, the facial expression, nearly everything. Wield that power.

Up until a few months ago, I bought into the idea that I shouldn’t be posting too many selfies on my personal social media because it would make me appear vain, that I would lose followers, or would affect the engagement of my other posts. I did a little experiment on my Instagram for a few weeks earlier in the year where I made every other post a selfie (or at least a picture of myself). To my genuine surprise, pictures that featured my face actually had better reach and engagement than posts that I felt had more substance to them, which really just proves that your face is just as visually interesting and deserving of attention as striking landscapes, stunning artwork, and beautifully-plated food. You are striking, stunning, and beautiful, too.

So post that selfie. Post another. Post as many as you like! Feeling especially pretty today? Awesome, me too. Do you need to put on a full face of makeup before you take a selfie? Totally cool. Are your selfies touched up a bit (or maybe a lot) in Photoshop before they’re posted? Dude, same. Do whatever makes you feel happy.

As long as you’re being respectful to yourself and others online, who cares what you do with your personal social media, right? If someone has a problem with it, the unfollow button is right there.

Written by

Award-winning Social Media Manager in Florida. Advocate for digital accessibility and inclusive content. Former Chicagoan.

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