The term “selfie” has been traced back to Armidale, NSW, in September 2002. A University of New England student excused the quality of the photo he posted to a message forum about the injury he received while drunk at a 21st birthday party.
It took 9 years for its common use to be acknowledged and the word has evolved considerably in that time. “Selfie” was awarded Oxford Dictionary of English’s ‘Word of the Year’ in 2013, which prompted the research of its origins. Now there are many types of selfies: traditional front camera selfie, mirror selfie (camera directed at the reflection of the subject), animal selfie, no makeup selfie (particularly popular with raising awareness for cancer), ugly selfie, location based selfies such as the gym, beach or bathroom, and many more.
Katrin Tiidenberg and Edgar Gomez Cruz write that selfies have made it possible for women to reclaim their body in this post-fourth wave feminist society (2015). The selfie provides a woman with the opportunity to control the gaze directed upon her person, making her both the artist and the artwork, in the Pygmalion sense. As a woman constantly bombarded with representations of beauty in the media, sharing a selfie with social media, whether it be one person, a select few, or the masses, is a huge act of bravery.
My personal practice in the sharing of selfies is fairly complex. Firstly, despite the ubiquitous nature of selfies, they are still dismissed as “frivolous and self-absorbed” (Tiidenberg & Gomez 2015 78). As a result I avoid sharing them on Facebook, where the majority of my friends can see and judge them. Instagram, with its many filters and quick-to-use editing tools, is a platform not so personally connected with real life people. Strangers on Instagram are more interested in gaining likes and followers and present a much nicer attitude to images shared on the platform (Marwick 2015). The focus is on the image itself, empowering the artist behind it.
Last month I broke my regular habit of keeping selfies away from Facebook to share the above image. I was at my cousin’s wedding and particularly proud of the work I had done on my makeup and hair for the formal occasion. When you don’t have many opportunities to get “all dolled up” (as a friend put it), you want to share how happy the experience is and that means taking it online (Senft & Baym 2015). To my surprise, this particular photo gained over 70 likes and a number of positive comments. This kind of quantifiable approval is an example of how social media users equate their value and self-worth on a numbered scale: the quantified self (Wolf 2010).
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on all have what Alice Marwick describes as “status affordances” – the likes and comments by which one can quantify the success of status-seeking practices such as the ability to take a “good” selfie. Unfortunately, more often than not most selfies go unnoticed by the masses and very little social status is gained.
My most common selfie practice is actually sending quick snapshots in Facebook Messenger to individual people I am chatting with. Being able to send a quick snap in Messenger is an affordance of the application itself, possibly an attempt to compete with Snapchat. There are very few people who see these photos; they do not show me in the best light or with fancy makeup or filters. This practice is a way of maintaining long distance friendships and is an enhancement on communication that was exclusively text-based before.
Selfies are a fight for attention, regardless of who sees them or what quality they are. Ultimately, if you can capture someone else’s attention with your image, society’s emphasis on superficial features will continue to be reinforced. The selfie is a type of information we now have to sort through just as much as other information types. Let’s hope this selfie can satisfy you.
Dokterman, E 2014, ‘#NoMakeupSelfie Brings Out the Worst of the Internet for a Good Cause’, Time, 27 March, viewed 3 April 2016, <http://time.com/40506/nomakeupselfie-brings-out-the-worst-of-the-internet-for-a-good-cause/>.
Marwick, AE 2013, ‘Chapter 2: Leaders and Followers: Status in the Tech Scene, in Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 73-111.
Marwick, AE 2015, ‘Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy’, in Public Culture, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 137-160.
Mejia, L 2015, ‘Felfie, Delfie, Ussie: A Guide to Every Ridiculous Selfie’, Popsugar, 15 July, viewed 3 April 2016, <http://www.popsugar.com.au/tech/Different-Types-Selfies-37902689#photo-37902682>.
Pearlman, J 2013, ‘Australian man “invented the selfie after drunken night out”‘, The Telegraph, 19 November, viewed 3 April 2016, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/10459115/Australian-man-invented-the-selfie-after-drunken-night-out.html>.
Senft, TM & Baym NK 2015, ‘What Does the Selfie Say? Investigating the Global Phenomenon’, in International Journal of Communication, vol. 9, pp. 1588-1606.
Tiidenberg, K & Gomez Cruz, E 2015, ‘Selfies, Image and the Re-making of the Body’, in Body & Society, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 77-102.