I’ve been aware of the growth of the selfie for a number of years now. How could anyone possibly not be? It makes me think just how narcissistic we’ve become. Look on Instagram. How many of the most popular posts are selfies? It seems an extraordinarily vain thing to do, to take a photo of yourself pouting. I’ve seen far too many selfies of teenage girls in provocative poses. That really makes me uncomfortable. And don’t come back to me with ‘it’s actually a celebration of girl power’. It’s not.
So, when did the ‘selfie’ start?
The word became part of the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, but the birth of the selfie is much further back in 2002 (when I was but a young whippersnapper) when a drunk Australian took a photograph of an injury sustained at a party – his name was Hopey and he was looking for advice on stitches. From there as a race we made an amazing leap to using the selfie as way of flagging up publicly how perfect we are – how amazing our lives are.
The selfie is generally used by young women pouting, people partying, celebrities thinking we’re interested in knowing about the minutiae of their lives, or proof that we were somewhere / with someone that we really, really want people to know about. Why do we feel we have to do this? Because our friends are doing it, they have fabulous lives! Because if we don’t do it, we’ll look like losers.
What on earth did we do before the selfie? Take pictures of other people having a good time. Photograph lovely buildings, landscapes, flowers, pets, babies, clouds. Sometimes, we attempted to be in the photograph by wrestling with the timer mechanism. Is there anything lovelier than a photograph of a family or group of friends with heads cut off, or at a wonky angle? Ah, those were the days.
The acceptable benefit of the selfie must be for mums of new babies and young children. I have a boxful of old photos of my children growing up – I haven’t made it into many of them as I was always the one taking the photos. Similarly I don’t feature in holiday snaps – I wanted to have memories of my children having fun, not me. I hope I can remember having fun without having a photo to prove it (possible, as long as cider isn’t involved).
To be absolutely honest, silly selfies seem to be an okay thing. I won’t put them in Room 101. I have had my fair share of smiles from a selfie posted on social media by someone who doesn’t care that they look really, really daft. Somehow that’s not narcissistic. Although probably some clever psychology professor would disagree with me there.
I’ll fess up here. I very occasionally feel the need to take a selfie, I do. In fact, I took one just the other day. But always for a giggle, not because I think I look gorgeous. That doesn’t work for me anyway, given my age, my sagging neckline and my inability to pout without looking like an old trout or Leslie Ash. No, I don’t look great in a selfie, beautifier or no beautifier. In one, taken after two pints of cider in celebration of being at a rare Kate Bush concert, I look like I have an equally rare skin disease. Not a pretty sight.
Interestingly, having learnt about the origins of the selfie, it makes more sense that of the one I took after I injured my eye (an event I’ve written about in an earlier blog). I was in the middle of the woods, there was blood coming from my eye, and I took the photo to see what I’d done. That was just before I fell in the mud.
I hope the selfie obsession is all harmless, I really do. But in a culture that’s become so obsessed with how we are seen, rather than how we feel, I’m not convinced.
So put down those selfie sticks, go out and take a picture of a bee or a sausage roll. And don’t be tempted to stick your noggin in front of it!