The Selfie: A Social Trend or Mental Illness?

Selfies. Love them or hate them, they’re everywhere. Certainly if you are not taking them yourself, you know someone who is. I shamelessly confess that I, too, indulge in a good selfie on occasion. I will share some studies on the psychology behind this photographic phenomenon, as well as my views on the history of the self portrait, and this wildly explosive trend.

What is a ‘selfie’ anyway?

sel·fie: noun. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

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This isn’t a new trend.

Take a look at some of history’s most profound artists. Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and George Harrison. What do all of these famous names have in common? They all have at least one self portrait in their collection. When I say self portrait, I refer to a piece of work featuring him/herself as the subject. Many of these I named were paintings, and some of the paintings were done before photography was even an art form.

I absolutely put to test that these early self portraits were indeed an origin of the self portrait of today. I presume these artists painted themselves while placed in front of a mirror. (I’m not an art historian, so I may be wrong.) But I do think this is where it began, and then led into the days when having a 35mm camera was a common household device, in which we utilized to take more photos of our own pretty faces. I remember being a kid and on Christmas every year my parents would dress my sister and I up in our fanciest dresses, then my dad would pose us all in front of the tree, set his 1980’s style Cannon on the mantel, and push a little timer button. We’d eagerly watch the blinking light, and then snap! The family self portrait was complete.

A few years later, when I was in high school, I remember buying those disposable cameras and my friends and I would flip the camera to face us, with our arms extended on a 45 degree angle above our heads, attempt to all line up within what we assumed was the tiny viewfinder, with the hopes nobody’s head would be cut out of the final print. Yeah those self portraits were selfies too.

What the experts say.

According to some experts, taking excessive photos of oneself can actually be a sign of mental illness. Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist in cognitive behavior therapy at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and The Priory Hospital, told The Sunday Mirror: ‘Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.’

BDD is characterized by a preoccupation with one or more perceived flaws in appearance, which are unnoticeable to others.

Dr Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston Massachusetts, said: ‘Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t spectre of either narcissism or very low self-esteem.’ ‘Preoccupation with selfies can be a visible indicator of a young person with a lack of confidence or sense of self that might make him or her a victim of other problems as well.’ She believes that excessive or provocative taking of selfies is a form of ‘acting out’ in young people and can be a cry for help.

It’s important to point out that there are two different acts being analyzed here. One, is the taking of the photo. The other is the sharing of the photo. People take and share for different reasons. This leads to another concern that is associated with the excessive posting of selfies, which is that young people may be putting too much weight on what kind of response their photo may or may not get. In today’s realm of social media, many young people base their own self value on what their followers and online community say.

Obsessive selfie takers may take 50 selfies, for instance, and then critique each of them, deleting all but one, which is the photo that gets shared on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. If this is happening all the time, then this person is shaping the image that people see of him/her.

I admit, I do this. I only post the pictures in which I approve, usually in the best light, and after I’ve utilized a filter or blemish correcting photo app. Is this problematic? Perhaps it is. Perhaps we are spoiled (drowning?) in all of the technology and options available to us on our smartphones and tablets.

Lastly, the phenomenon of “if there’s no photo, it didn’t happen”. This isn’t literal, but many people act under this pretense that if anything- or nothing- is happening, it must be documented. At what point is is too much? When is it unhealthy?

Good selfies vs. bad selfies8b4799f4fe3d1be1ae8cb4d421171ad1

The last thing I want to touch on is the difference between when it’s okay to take a selfie and when you should reconsider. This is just my opinion, but I really like progression photos. For example, the pregnant belly growing or the weight loss and/or exercise shots are really fun to look at. If you need a profile picture, but have no one around to take it for you, then take a selfie where you fill the frame evenly, and where your hand placement disguises the fact that it is being taken by the person in the frame. I also like the ones that are silly and fun, as long as there are not a ton of them posted.

DO NOT take selfies in the bathroom mirror, especially where you can see the toilet. I know everyone does bathroom pictures, but seriously, they are tacky. If you choose to do one anyway, then close the toilet! And finally, please don’t do the duck face. I think the duck face can fit into a condition of it’s own. It’s not attractive. At all.

I don’t foresee the selfie trend going anywhere any time soon. The more we utilize technology and social media platforms, the more the reason to pose, snap, and share.

Just for fun, check out this dance hit by The Chainsmokers:

Source: Mail Online UK

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3 thoughts on “The Selfie: A Social Trend or Mental Illness?

  1. Pingback: bipolar self portrait linkdump | blahpolar diaries

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