Haters Gonna Hate, But The #Selfie is Here to Stay
Stumbling home from the bar one night, with a guy I had been crushing on for, like, ever, I found myself in an unexpectedly heated debate over Instagram. This object of my affection was schooling me on what he believed were the “unwritten rules of Instagram.” Rules that all the cool kids followed.
It was still the early days of Instagram — think: over-filtered, grainy photos shot on iPhones with half the megapixel capabilities of today’s smartphones — maybe 2011? Or was it 2012? Either way, I was still in university. A 20-something, single and unhinged and ceaselessly looking for validation in the form of an A+ from a professor on my poetry about sex and trees. Or a whistle as I waited for the crosswalk signal. Or a double tap on one of my triple-filtered, thoughtfully-captioned Instagram selfies.
“You can’t post more than once a day,” this crush of mine told me as I mentally recalled the weekend prior where I had blissfully posted 2 ‘grams in the span of 12 hours.
Whatever, I thought. He probably hadn’t noticed.
“Too many filters looks tacky,” he added. To which I responded, “Ohmygod, I know. Totally tacky,” while simultaneously hoping he hadn’t seen that picture I posted of my dog and me with the bokeh heart effects.
“And selfies.” He made a face. “Definitely a no-no.”
Wait, what? I couldn’t help but wonder if my crush had honestly never stalked my Instagram profile as I had his, or if he was purposefully trying to offend me. My Instagram gallery was full of selfies.
While inebriated and also trying to impress a guy who had effectively dissed me (which of course, only made me more attracted to him), I did my best to validate the selfie — I think I pleaded something like “art,” and the fact that despite these “unwritten rules” my selfies always got more “likes” than my nature pics — but I’ll admit, it was late and I was sloppy and therefore probably wasn’t the best spokesperson for the #selfie.
Spoiler Alert: I went home to my apartment alone that night.
Several years later, I’ve had some time to think about it, and I’m still a huge proponent of a well-lit selfie. (And I’m still posting them on Instagram.) But that doesn’t change the fact that, to this day, and even despite their popularity among celebrities and influencers, the selfie still gets a bad rap.
Haters Gonna Hate
I don’t know what it is about the selfie that infuriates so many. But the fact that there are Facebook Groups and Youtube videos and entire blogs dedicated to selfie-hating is enough to make me dig a little deeper.
I would have been quick to write it all off with a hasty "haters gonna hate" mentality because we live in the age of internet trolls, but a simple Google search revealed that maybe there’s more to this story.
A study titled, “The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them,” revealed that while taking, posting, and viewing selfies has become a daily habit for many, “...selfies often evoke criticism and disrespect and are associated with non-authenticity and narcissism.”
“Altogether, participants expressed a distanced attitude toward selfies, with stronger agreement for potential negative consequences (threats to self-esteem, illusionary world) than for positive consequences (e.g., relatedness, independence), and a clear preference (82%) for viewing more usual pictures instead of selfies in social media.”
And while this article published by the Daily Mail, claims that, “There were more than 24 billion selfies posted on Google’s servers last year,” science suggests that perhaps my college crush wasn’t alone in his disdain for the photo genre.
So, why is it then, that whenever I post a selfie, it still garners at least triple the traction as any of my other “artsier” photos? From what I can see, the same rings true for friends and the influencers I follow on social media, as well. What is it about the selfie that apparently evokes so much disdain, but also the most double-taps? Do we actually hate the selfie? Or do we just love to hate it publicly because it’s an easy target in our social-media-driven landscape?
One interpretation of “The Selfie Paradox” study suggested that it “could be that many people actually enjoy taking selfies and profit from it as a way of self-presentation, but downplay this in their reports.”
Does disavowing (in other words, hating on) the selfie make us cool? Or does it just make us petty?
Love Your #Selfie
While I’ve always been one to space my selfies out — you know, sprinkle a couple of landscape shots, or girl-gang pics into the mix — I also thoroughly enjoy the artistry involved in taking, editing, posting and captioning the perfect selfie. To me, a selfie isn’t just merely a vehicle for collecting admiration in the form of “likes,” but it is also like a diary entry. Where my thoughtfully curated Instagram is my diary, my selfie is a way of showing and telling the world: This is who I am today.
My selfie is a picture of myself, through my own eyes, showing the world the parts of me that I feel comfortable showing. While #haters may call this out as narcissistic or inauthentic, I would beg the question: would you share with a stranger or someone you’ve just met, IRL, your most intimate thoughts, feelings, or aspects of your life? Probably not. So why should anyone expect more from a public photo shared online?
I once met a photographer who had a similar opinion of the so-called selfie. He loved to shoot straight on portraits of his subjects. “To me,” he said, “the self-portrait is a visual memoir.” Just like that old saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” this photographer believed that even if the motivation for a selfie was for vanity, so much could be inferred by a self-portrait that it was elevated to art.
I don’t always take selfies, but when I do, I like to have fun with it. Sometimes my motivation is because I want to discuss a specific topic with my followers that I feel is best depicted with self-representation. Other times, it’s simply because I feel beautiful that day and I want to celebrate it. More often than not, the act of taking a selfie has everything to do with my own enjoyment and nothing to do with anything (or anyone) else.
Believe it or not, It can be a totally empowering experience to photograph yourself from your own point-of-view. You have the power and control to direct the experience and capture the exact and precise expression you share (or don’t share) with the world. Similarly to choosing the clothes you wear that evoke your sense of style or personality, taking a selfie is a way of showcasing your unique personality in pixels.
The #Selfie Is Here to Stay
While “The Selfie Paradox” showcased the many contradictions and incongruities in selfie culture, it also ventured to admit that, “In the end it [taking a selfie] might be all about fulfilling basic human needs (here: popularity, self-expression) in a way that feels good for people, does not reveal too much about deeper motivations and allows them to keep a positive self-view and image to others.”
In 2013, the term “selfie” was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary and defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”
So basically, make way, because the selfie is here to stay.
I know better now than to seek validation from the amount of “likes” I get on a carefully executed selfie posted on Instagram (or a whistle while waiting at the crosswalk). Perhaps it’s because I survived the delicate era of my early 20’s and have gained more perspective. Or maybe, as the social media landscape has evolved and changed over the years, so have I.
Regardless of means or reason, when I scroll back through my Instagram gallery, I can see all the different versions of myself(ie): The girl who was legitimately offended by one guy’s opinion of selfies; the girl who survived a bad breakup (and a couple bad haircuts); the girl who found herself blissfully alone in London on her 26th birthday; and this girl, today, who DGAF what you think about her #selfie.