Written by Betsy Wagoner and Kevin Dunne. Media by Cassandra Rieke.
My introduction to the selfie came towards the end of my high school career. I remember very little from my high school experience, but I do remember that fateful day when I first saw somebody take a selfie in study hall. I do not know if the term “selfie” had been popularized by then, but what I can confirm is that I was utterly confused. Why on earth would somebody take a picture of their face? What purpose did it serve? Are people truly that narcissistic? This traumatic event plagued me for several weeks and hurled me into a great existential crisis, the likes of which I had never before experienced. More and more, I saw this fad, this thing spread. It was inescapable and I thought it was dumb. C’est la vie. So it goes, right?
I went on a college visit to a certain school in southern Illinois, where I saw college-aged kids engaging in this cultural phenomenon. I, a seventeen year old kid, whose key interests were Middle Earth and Led Zeppelin, could not wrap my mind around this abhorrent ritual. The Silmarillion made sense to me. Led Zeppelin III brought me visions of clarity and relief. But selfies? Bewilderment surrounded the nature of selfies, until I found myself, years later, sitting in Cultural Anthropology. The same institution that further led me down the proverbial selfie rabbit-hole also aided my understanding and acceptance of the selfie.
In 2013, the Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” as word of the year, and rightly so. If I have learned anything while at Greenville, it is that you cannot look at a subject, an idea, or a person in just one way. In this day and age, it just won’t do. Keeping in mind cultural relativism, one must realize that their culture and their way of thinking is not the end all way to think or act. Ethnocentrism exists, but we must acknowledge this when we come across something that might
confuse or shock us. From an etic perspective, the selfie does indeed seem self-centered, narcissistic, and self-gratifying. Yet, life is all about balance and perspective. If you immerse yourself(ie) into a culture firsthand, you gain an emic perspective, which can totally change how you perceive something, and how your attitude towards that particular thing can change.
Speaking of perspective, that’s why my good pal, Betsy, is writing this article with me. I see selfies in one perspective and I have fully embraced them. She could easily point out something that I have overlooked. So really, when you think about it, selfies represent complex cultural ideas and anthropological principles. Don’t believe me? Here is what leading selfie expert and frontman of Vampire Weekend, Ezra Koenig, had to say about selfies in a Rolling Stone article by Simon Vozick-Levinson:
“I’m definitely pro-selfie,” he says. “I think that anybody who’s anti-selfie is really just a hater. Because, truthfully, why shouldn’t people take pictures of themselves? When I’m on Instagram and I see that somebody took a picture of themselves, I’m like, ‘Thank you.’ I don’t need to see a picture of the sky, the trees, plants. There’s only one you.”
Adds Koenig, “I could Google image search ‘the sky’ and I would probably see beautiful images to knock my socks off. But I can’t Google, you know, ‘What does my friend look like today?’ For you to be able to take a picture of yourself that you feel good enough about to share with the world – I think that’s a great thing.”
Selfies are all about one thing: the self. In other words, you. I’m sure this is how great philosophers, like Albert Camus, intended their works to be interpreted. And yeah, maybe Nietzsche was a hater on the self, but he was after all the original hater, so I’ll let his would-be hate of the selfie slide. And I don’t think it’s narcissistic to say to everybody, “Here is what I look like today and this is what I am doing.” I love that. Maybe we have lost the ability to communicate, and maybe social networks have played a hand in that. I like to think that selfies have given us the confidence and the self-esteem (how ‘bout that article title?) we need to actually initiate that real life conversation. Selfies have given people back the confidence that they not only look good, but are good. Selfies make people feel great, which increases confidence, which makes everybody happier, which is awesome.
Selfies are all about people, and I agree with Koenig that a person is more beautiful and more interesting than the sky. I can see what the sky is doing pretty much anytime I feel like it. Sure, the sky, especially at night, shows us the sheer vastness and unimaginable depths of creation, making us feel a bit finite, but nonetheless awestruck in the process. You know what though, I think that makes the selfie all the more important. There is only one you. We can certainly gaze at those stars, and we should, but one thing to keep in mind is that we are on a tiny, insignificant rock, floating around one of those stars. We are, as of now, the only forms of intelligent life in the universe. Drink that in. You are a member of the human race. The race that has literally reached for those stars you see at night. The race that has an entire week dedicated to sharks on the television. The race that has created magnificent pieces of art and architecture. The race that has been full of dreamers and doers for thousands of years. The selfie is a symbolic and cultural reflection of the successes and triumphs of humanity, past, present, and future. Rejoice. Dance. Celebrate. Liberate yourself from the oppressive shackles of the naysayers and haters. Go ahead, take that selfie.
Now my good buddy Kev has made some pretty strong points about the importance of selfies and I must admit that he has me contemplating about whether or not I’ll post a Selfie Sunday this week. Even with that being said, I would still classify myself as a #selfiehater. I must admit that back in the day I snapped quite a few pictures of myself in the locker room at my high school, but as a senior in college I’ve realized my lapse in judgment.
Oh sure, I have nothing against someone taking a picture of themselves on prom night, their wedding day, or even their 21st birthday. It’s great to capture the special moments of life, the days where you look your best and feel happiest. Everyone is encouraged by a smiling face, and friends who cannot be close in physical proximity still want to share in those special occasions with you. My true hatred of selifes are those that take place in your grandma’s bathroom, the backseat of your best friend’s mom’s mini-van, or at Chuck E. Cheese’s at your little cousin’s 10th birthday party.
Like I said earlier, I’ve taken plenty of selifes. I know what it’s like to take your parents’ new digital camera, snap a picture of yourself in your cutest polo shirt from Old Navy, and upload it as your MSN Messenger profile picture. I’ve taken the peace sign picture in my bathroom mirror to try and capture my crush’s attention on MySpace as a freshman in high school. And I’ve been that 16 year old experiencing a cell phone for the first time, that just so happens to have a camera so I can take a picture of my brace face self. Oh, selfie-taker, I’ve been there. I’ve walked in your shoes, I’ve been in your camera lens, I have stood in the shadow of your bathroom mirror (figuratively of course).
Somewhere in the midst of my Greenville College experience, I decided that selfies were kind of a joke. I can’t count how many times I walked into the community bathroom in Burritt to see a floor mate posing in the mirror in some yoga pants and Pinterest inspired workout shirt. As I walked back to my room, that photo would already be posted on Facebook. Now I understand that a lot of our parents and our friends at home want to see pictures of us while we are away at school. I get that, it’s completely valid. I’m also assuming that our family members would like to see us in pictures with other people, so they can at least think we’ve found some lifetime friends at college. And if we’re being honest, selfies are normally taken to attract the attention of those we see on a regular basis anyway. That cute guy we have in our class. We are having a good hair day, our make-up is flawless, our outfit perfect. It’s the right opportunity to take a selfie to post on Instagram, even though he saw us for that entire hour of Western Civ. and didn’t even take a second glance because he was too busy flirting with the chick who sits right next to us. To guys, it’s that pretty girl you see in the DC every day, you added her as a friend on Facebook, but still haven’t had the nerve to talk to her in person. We’ve all seen your gym, flexin’ selfie. We get that you can lift more than we weigh, but it would still be much more attractive if you started up a conversation with us rather than show off your muscles in your cut-off Midnight Madness t-shirt.
Now seeing how much I dislike selfies, it is pretty obvious that I have a strong hatred towards Snapchat. If you don’t know what Snapchat is, it is an app where you can send pictures to friends that are displayed on their phone screen for 10 seconds, and after that the picture disappears. If I wanted to see someone’s face 17 hours out of the day, I would just go hang out with them, or skype them, or be completely okay accepting the fact that being that attached to another person’s “silly” face is a little obsessive.
Now that I have spent awhile hating on selfies, I will encourage you to take mocking selfies. This is something I do often. I take selfies that make fun of other people who take selfies. There are the classic white girl selfies; the skinny jeans, boots, scarf, cardigan, giving the peace sign in the floor length mirror. My favorite selfie I ever took was at a friend’s wedding as her and her husband were cutting the cake in the background. If you’re going to take selfies, please do it with a hilarious background, a ridiculously funny outfit, or with a complete stranger staring behind you.
Whether you’re a selfie fanatic, or a selfie hater, remember that your perspective on the issue is really the only thing that matters. If you’re going to take a selfie, embrace it; smile big, wear your best outfit, and do your best to impress that crush of yours. If you’re going to be a selfie hater, stand true to your ground; refuse to get that Snapchat app, never hold up your iPhone to the mirror in a public restroom, and take the best seflie mockeries that you possibly can.