Discovering the reasoning behind the social media fad that continues to grow

By Ellise Shafer, ’17

Good lighting? Check. Killer outfit? Check. Eyebrows on fleek? Most definitely. The fingers of a teenage girl slide up the screen of her phone to reveal the camera, and then double tap to activate the front-facing option. She figures out the best pose, makes sure that the angle is just right, and then, tap. She just took a selfie.

The next step is the editing process. She uploads the photo to Instagram, Snapchat, VSCO or all three to get the perfect combination of filters and settings. Once she’s satisfied—at least for the time being— she shares her selfie with the world.

As a result of a quick Google search, one can find the most common definition of the word “selfie”: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. However, the example sentence below it is quite telling, too: “occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself everyday isn’t necessary.”

As social media has grown, so has the fad of selfies, leading some users to take to posting them quite often. Whether it’s a celebrity or a high schooler, there is no doubt that selfies have become an ever-growing trend. But why, exactly? And what leads people to post them?

Oftentimes, it is the type of behind-closed-doors instant gratification that selfies result in.

For senior Ellie Auch, this is a large factor.

“Posting a selfie and getting good feedback is basically the same as going out and receiving a compliment from someone,” Auch said. “You feel good since someone has reached out and complimented you, but with social media you can reap the rewards in the comfort of your own home, as well as reach a wider audience.”

Although selfies are often posted to receive admiration, others can see them as the start of a career, like junior Jake Dunlevie.

“I personally take pictures of myself because I would like to pursue modeling as a career,” Dunlevie said. “It gives me experience testing different types of poses and looks.”

However, no matter the reason for their existence, there is a negative stigma surrounding selfies, leading those who take them to be labeled as selfish or narcissistic. Sophomore Andrew Mastruserio agrees with said stigma.

“I think [that selfies] are definitely an overused thing to be posted on social media, like people just post them so often that it gets annoying almost,” Mastruserio said. “I think a lot of times [people are] just looking for attention.”

Mastruserio is not wrong. According to an article from the Masters of Pyschology Guide entitled “What Do #Selfies Say About The Psychology of You?” written by Ann Steele, a marriage and family therapist based out of San Diego, a self-esteem boost is often the incentive to taking a selfie.

“It quickly becomes clear that one thing many people are looking for via their selfies is a boost to their self esteem,” Steele wrote. “From a psychological perspective, individuals are looking for an avenue to fulfill this need and they have found it on their social media page. Every like, share and positive comment is a boost to their confidence, and this works to fuel the desire for more selfies.”

Auch believes that although a self-esteem boost is definitely a factor in the desire to take a selfie, it can also be for reasons that are a little less selfish.

“Selfies are taken for two main reasons: to get attention by taking an attractive photo of yourself or to capture a moment or feeling whether it be with or without friends,” Auch said. “I believe that the second category has been overshadowed by the first.”

Auch cited social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat as guilty of heightening the popularity of selfies, and therefore contributing to their eventual negative stigma.

“With the popularity of social media, we have cultivated a society that wants to put their best self out there. Selfies allow you to take a picture the way you choose to present yourself. It is a safer and a more efficient way to get results,” Auch said. “I think that the negative stigma has become the most popular opinion toward the selfie as people see it as vain to take picture of yourself.”

In fact, studies have been conducted recently in an attempt to determine if there is actually a correlation between selfies and narcissism. One such study was described by Gwendolyn Seidman, an associate professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department at Albright College, in a Psychology Today article entitled “What is the Real Link between Selfies and Narcissism?”

Seidman wrote that when compared to the four main aspects of narcissism: self-sufficiency, vanity, leadership and admiration demand, the study found that only admiration demand was consistent in frequent selfie-takers.

“Thus, narcissism can explain only a small amount of the selfie-posting behavior that we observe on social media,” Seidman wrote. “There may be many other still-to-be-uncovered factors that also influence this behavior. And this study also shows that while narcissistic men are somewhat more likely to post selfies, narcissism in women, for the most part, is unrelated to selfie-posting.”

Said undiscovered factors are likely to be a desire to connect with others as well as the want to share a specific moment or feeling, as Auch mentioned.

However, according to Steele, selfies oftentimes play a very positive role in a person’s life.

“Selfies help people portray a version of themselves to the world. This is a statement that says ‘Look at me. This is who I am.’ At times, it can be a very powerful statement and inspire people on to great things in their lives, while at other times, it is simply something that helps them get through the day,” Steele wrote. “In real life, people are constantly trying to stand out, whether it is by what they say or the clothes that they wear, and the selfie is no different. It is a statement to the world. It allows people to stand out among the masses.”

Dunlevie finds Steele’s point of view to be consistent with his own reasoning behind the selfies he takes.

“For me, selfies mean I get to show emotion, character and setting in my pictures and this can be a very powerful thing because one picture can send a large message on what you live for and fight for,” Dunlevie said. “A selfie is larger than what we all see it as.”