Selfies for the Self-Esteem: Exploring the Topic of Posting Selfies
The topic of selfies is explored through primary and secondary research throughout this essay. It looks at the reasons behind posting a selfie on social media. It is written from a personal lens. I explored the question of ‘is posting a selfie an act of stroking ones ego?’ My research shows that the reason for posting selfies is not to stroke ones ego, but rather to increase ones self- esteem. Each individual has their own reason to post a selfie. Through my research I found that there are three categorizes as to why people post selfies. These categories are; to create an online persona, to create a digital documentation of ones life, and for a boost in self-esteem.
Disclaimer: When age or gender is not specified it is due to a person wanting to stay completely anonymous.
The term ‘selfie’ is relating to the type of photography in which an individual captures the
image of oneself, often posted on social media where it can collect likes, shares, favourites, and/ or comments. I will be exploring the topic with a personal lens and focusing on social media users who are between the teenage and young adult stages of their lives. This demographic has grown up with social media and knew it in it’s first stages of development. I am nineteen years old and grew up with my parental figure monitoring my Facebook and social media, preventing me from posting too much online, and only allowing me limited access to the internet. This however gave me a chance to grow up with an educated perspective and awareness of the dangers and effects of social media. It also caused me to have a biased opinion of social media being ‘bad’. Through scholarly articles, and my own primary research, I explored the reasons behind selfies, personas, and the influences selfies have on an individuals self esteem and self worth— and it completely expanded my thoughts on social media.
Both primary and secondary research were used to explore the topic of selfies and the
motive behind posting them. I also explored how much of a correlation there is between posting a selfie and ones self esteem. Throughout the essay scholarly articles are referenced to. These articles range from studies conducted in Brazil, to articles on narcissism and social networking, to a mother writing about the positive effects of social media, to papers on the connections between selfies and the internet. These articles provided me with a wide range of beliefs and opinions in which I was able to go in and find what I believe is a common ground. In order to understand the reasons behind a selfie, one must first understand the idea of the selfie, and the culture around social media. I used my own understanding of the use of social networking combined with the scholarly articles to understand this and approach my primary research. The primary research I conducted was to get more personalized responses from people and allow an open response. I first talked with peers around the topic getting a variety of opinions, and from that I came up with the question in which I found would be most useful; “Why do [you] post selfies on the internet? (Facebook, twitter, Instagram etc)”. I then used my social media accounts asking my followers and friends to message me their answer.
My primary and secondary research showed me the plus side to posting selfies. The act of posting an image of oneself is not always an act of narcissism or seeking attention. The reasons behind posting selfies are to document a point in the users life, to portray a certain image, and for confidence building.
Selfie for Documentation
I found that in both my primary and secondary research selfies can also be used as a way to express emotion or show an event and document it, as if it were a digital scrapbook. In Brazil, the favelas of Gurigica São Benedito is an area where drug lords control the slums. People are fearful to post regularly to Facebook because they might be watched or monitored, “Despite their fears, most of the interviewees still posted selfies on their Facebook page as a tactic to express their feelings and opinions in an implicit and safe way.” (Freeman and Nemer, 1839) A boy named Andrè explained that his selfie “had nothing to do with narcissism or attention seeking… His selfie was a strategic way to show his grief about the shooting he witnessed, his disappointment about his current living situation” (Freeman and Nemer, 1839.)
Another use of selfies for documentation was used by a twenty-two year old male whom responded to my question via Facebook. His answer was “I post selfies to share experiences I’ve had. I’m not a daily selfier, so when I’m doing something or I’m with someone, I like to take a picture just to have a memory of that event in my life”. When talking to him further, I learned that he uses his Facebook account almost as if it was a personal online documentation of his life, which happens to be accessible to his friends and family. Another social media user stated that, “I don’t post a whole lot of selfies on Facebook or Instagram but when I do its usually because I’m somewhere interesting and wanna show others and prove I was there, or I’m doing something funny or fun I wanna share with people.”
The use of the selfie for these three was an act of excitement and/or a reaction to an event. They were not trying to receive attention for how they looked but to keep track of where they were and/or what event happened. These selfies were a way of documenting what the user did and how they felt at the time.
Selfie for Another Self
The world is filled with mass media, and has a consistent flow of data uploaded to the internet. The users are so used to seeing skewed content, they have built up a numbness to media, allowing the users to put out their own personas online where they are not questioned nor second guessed. “It is still about mirroring oneself and seeing oneself but also being seen by others… The mirror and the self-portrait accentuate the same new meanings in Western society: to view oneself, to create a reflection of oneself and thereby think about oneself and one’s situation.” (Fausing, 1). The ability to post a selfie on the internet allows the user to create their own reflection (mirror). This control gives the power to the individual to create their own online persona by how they choose to represent their immediate self.
In my primary research, the responses supported the notion that selfies can be used to create ones persona. A nineteen year old female told me she posted selfies “to portray the image of [herself] that [she] wants people to see and how [she] wants people to think of [her]. So essentially to try and push the image [she] has and wants of [herself] onto them.” She wanted to be in control of how people viewed her and therefore posted photographs directly corresponding to how she wants to be perceived. Similar to her, another female around the same age messaged me saying, “I don’t often post selfies on the internet but when I do it’s because I think that the picture of myself can accurately represent what I really look like in reality. It’s more of a form of identification and authenticity than anything else.” She too wants to put forward an image of herself. She informed me that the images she posts online are not altered or edited. Through posting images that accurately display how she looks in real life, she was able to create an honest online identity.
The most common perceived reason people post selfies are for their self esteem and/or ego. “For ordinary people, selfies provide another form of empowerment by (re)constructing confidence and receiving acknowledgement. Posting a selfie usually implies vanity and narcissism, which presents an optimized, selective, and edited self and expects attention, compliments, and admiration” (Freeman and Nemer, 1835). From my study, I found that the people whose profiles are most filled with selfies with no content of event or location are the ones looking for the most attention. Though it may seem that these people produce mass amounts
of selfies to collect the number of likes, comments and followers, I found that these people are actually using it to ask the world if they are good enough for them. An answer I received from a 24 year old best depicted this idea, and personally shattered my beliefs of why they had so many selfies. “I was bullied in school so I would add a lot of strangers on Facebook…They didn’t know what a ‘loser’ I was in real life. So when I took a picture, I’d normally get a lot of likes from people I didn’t know and it made me feel good about myself.” This person was not the only one to admit their use of social media as a way to boost confidence.
An 18 year old female explained that she posts when she has a bad day and wanted “…an external boost to [her] self esteem.” Another nineteen year old male said along the lines of the same thing; “it gives a good confidence boost, when you drop a fire pic and you get bare likes”. Despite his slang, the message he is saying is when he posts a good selfie and people like it, it increases his confidence. Lastly, a twenty-three year old female commented on the post saying why she posts selfies and exposed what most were afraid to say, “Validation…The need to know that other people find you likeable.” This caused four more people to message me saying they second her answer, thus proving that there are people who post selfies for their self esteem. Discussion:
My research showed that posting selfies online can result in positive outcomes. Selfies can create a digital scrapbook for your future self, create your own identity without external media telling you who you are, and having your peers give you positive messages and making you feel good about yourself. I believe these are all positive outcomes, but with everything, it needs to be in moderation. “Although decreasing depression and increasing self esteem may sound like positive effects, these studies also found that these social media behaviours may lead to narcissism, egotism, and increased implications of social comparison such as envy” (Poe, 2).
Social media can cause a boost in self esteem and in self worth but is this the source we want our youth to go to? Yes, the person gets what they need, comments, likes, favourites, but what the people are commenting and liking are not exactly the full truth of self, it is the persona of only the positives of a persons life. I believe people need to find validation within themselves.
I followed up with the twenty-four year old who confessed to me about their bullying experience asking the person about how they feel about likes and comments now, and about what their life online is like now. “I don’t care about likes. I hardly ever post anything now…I don’t need the approval of others to be happy I find my confidence in what I love. Math and science. And in real friends that I have. Ones I’d rather interact with in real life than fake ones online. The likes online provided a small dose of happiness which was never satisfying. Hanging out with friends for an evening is worth insanely more than likes on Facebook.”
Social media is neither good nor bad, it is what the user makes it. Posting selfies could have a positive effect on an individual, but in long term it becomes dismissible. People choose to post selfies for a variety of reasons. The harm that could come out of posting selfies is harm to ones self value. A person should find their own self worth before posting, and be able to separate themselves from what Marshall McLuhan would say— the extension of themselves. Monitoring ones social media accounts is vital to finding self worth. The internet is a part of our lives and social norm, and posting selfies isn’t bad. Nobody is 100% transparent through social media nor in real life, and therefore when viewing accounts one must be aware of themselves and the persona they give off and the persona others give off.
Selfies give people the power to present themselves in their own unique way. It is a way to create a digital photo album of where they were in the past and how they looked in the moment. As long as people are aware of the reason they are posting the selfie, and it is a healthy reason, then social media is good. In conclusion, people post selfies not to be narcissistic but to share their lives the way they perceive it and sometimes to get an uplift when feeling down and when used in moderation is an acceptable practice.