The internet seems to be constantly inventing new ways in which we can present ourselves to the world. From the early days of Myspace to today when Instagram and Snapchat reign supreme, the curation of the self identity has moved from the real world to the virtual space. Curation of the image has become a 24/7 unpaid job, and the engine driving it is the all-powerful selfie.
While millennials get a lot of flack for their selfie trends, it is not as egocentric as older generations try to portray it. More than half of millennials admitted to posting a selfie to a social media, which adds up to approximately 25,700 selfies that the average millennial could take in their lifetime, according to a marketing survey. While there’s no denying that selfies feed the narcissistic desire to receive affirmation from friends and family, there’s actually some beneficial and progressive ways to look at the selfie fascination.
Curation of the self is something that we as social beings have been doing in the physical world long before the development of the internet. Whether it be in the clothes that we choose to wear or the people that we surround ourselves with. The way in which we choose a specific outfit to go out for a walk in the park in a way fulfills the same function as that selfie that you posted to Instagram and Facebook. While highly curated and carefully calculated, the selfie that you post to Instagram and Facebook is no less authentic than your physical self located in the real world. The difference now is that technology allows us to connect and interact with others in unlimited ways rather than just with those whose paths we cross.
The act of posting a selfie is a feel-good endeavor, whether it be to boast a straight As transcript or finishing a 5k marathon. For millennials, posting selfies to social networking sites boosts self-confidence and overall thoughts about themselves. A 2013 Pew Research study, the study found that 52 percent of adolescents reported that using social networking sites boosted their confidence. While this reliance on social networking sites as a way to make a person feel good about themselves is often used as an indication of narcissism, it’s unfair to deem this as the only result. In many cases, posting selfies to social media can help people feel better about their body image. A health survey found that 17 percent of millennial females said that they look to good selfies of themselves in order to “help get out of the funk of a bad body image day.” In the case of a 21-year-old NYU student, Sonia Tavarez selfies helped her to start loving her body. However, Sonia believes that it is easy to fall into the social media trap that makes people feel like their self-worth is based on the amount of likes that they receive on their photos, but that ultimately that can be avoided with conscious effort.
“I use selfies mainly as a celebration of myself,” Sonia said. “But it’s important to realize that social media should be an extension of yourself, not an integral part of yourself.”
Digital artist Molly Soda affirmed Sonia’s sentiments in a radio interview with NPR, speaking from a more holistic view of the selfie phenomenon.
“I think the selfie is a really positive thing, whether or not it’s art, it’s super positive affirmation of self love. And the act of putting it on the Internet for the world to see is an act of positivity.”
Selfies can also provide an outlet for self-expression. In discussing the nature of selfies as a means of self-expression, the terms “authenticity” and “trueness” are often brought up by those opposed to the selfie trend. However, the physical and virtual selves don’t necessarily have to be separate entities with one being more authentic than the other. It is actually more accurate to think of them as extensions of one another rather than mutually exclusive. The selfie then becomes this hybridized object that is not only a representation of the virtual self, but an extended version of the physical persona, giving millennials the freedom to experiment and explore in the digital realm. Although a study in Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications found only a quarter of the survey participants believed an online profile to be a true depiction of a person, Jamie Gordon, an anthropologist by profession and keeper of the millennial blog “The Narcissistic Anthropologist,” believes that the physical self and virtual self are one and the same. With the invention of the internet we merely expanded the limits of the physical world. “We created this whole other world in this virtual space where we choose the way we want to represent ourselves and the way we want to brand ourselves,” Gordon said in an interview. “driven in the same way to curate the way you represent yourself much as you would in real life.”
“It’s about continuously rewriting yourself. It’s an extension of our natural construction of self,” said Dr. Mariann Hardey, a sociologist of digital communications at Durham University in an interview with The Guardian. “It’s about presenting yourself in the best way … [similar to] when women put on makeup or men who bodybuild to look a certain way: it’s an aspect of performance that’s about knowing yourself and being vulnerable.”
The act of posting a selfie to social media helps us understand where we fit in in the larger scheme of things. As Jennifer Ouellette, author of “Me, Myself and Why: Searching for the Science of Self,” writes in her book, we [humans] all have an innate need to assert who we are, and understand who we are in the context of a wider world. Through our interactions on social media millennials are allowed the opportunity to explore the self. It is a mirror effect in that we are able to recognize the self only through the recognition by another. “To look at yourself in a mirror or to depict yourself in a self-portrait, a selfie, is a form of reflection that not only separates us from the animals but also from other human beings because, through self-reflection, we step into character and become individuals,” said Bent Fausing, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen. While people may not consciously be thinking it, the posting of the selfie forces participants to ask themselves “How do I see myself?” “How do people see me?” and “How do I want people to see me?”