The Trouble with Selfies
The Trouble with Selfies
♫ You’re so vain, you probably think this picture is about you… ♫ If you haven’t either seen or been in a selfie this past week, you may be in the minority. Selfie: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smart phone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. As a facial plastic surgeon, I am aware of the interest in facial surgery procedures by some selfie takers who notice an unwanted feature. A number of my patients have pulled out their smart phones to show me their selfie and the feature they want improved. Note that the preferred angle and direction of the camera lens will typically make the nose appear larger and the chin smaller. The ‘duck lips’ speak for themselves!
By some accounts, millions of selfies are taken daily, all over the world and posted on the web for the viewing pleasure of millions of others. The president of the United States does it. Even the Pope. So what’s up? Is this a good thing? What’s the matter with taking a few good pics of yourself at your favorite hangout, or a ball game, or in front of the Grand Canyon, or anywhere else and sharing this special moment with friends? Probably nothing. But there’s more to it. What we do is take pictures of ourselves and post them online for other people to see, like and comment on. When we see cool people on Facebook and Instagram, we have a tendency to think, “wow, what a cool person or exciting life”. Then we may want post selfies of our life, showing others that we are cool, too. We want people to think highly of us. We want to matter. Yes, we really do care what other people think about us. And photographic studies have shown that we have an image of ourselves that tends to be younger and more attractive than we actually are. So posting that ‘perfect selfie’ becomes the goal. But are we guilty of TMS (Too Much Selfie-ing) and posting way too many GPOYs (the Gratuitous Picture of Yourself)?
One of the reasons people, especially young people, post photos of themselves is to collect ‘likes’, those digital badges of admiration from others. But what happens when those ‘likes’ are not coming in fast enough? Some mental health professionals say this is a concern for teens who are still developing their identity because posting that perfect picture of you can lead to negative thoughts when you don’t get he positive feedback you had hoped for. And it’s not just young people. Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found in 2013 that college-aged and middle-aged adults who scored higher for certain narcissistic traits posted more frequently on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. This is mainly women, right? Not so fast. Researchers from Ohio State University said men who share lots of selfies may be displaying very negative traits such as a lack of empathy. And men who Photoshop their pictures before sharing them show signs of narcissism and self-objectification, the study found. Narcissism? Narcissism is more than just vanity. It is a real psychological flaw, with narcissists feeling more intelligent, attractive and better than others, according to a study published in the journal Personality & Individual Differences. Narcissists seem to be interpersonally inept. While first impressions are good, in time their preoccupation with themselves leads becomes weary.
Are some people born narcissistic? A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences puts the blame on parents. In a nutshell, parents who worship their kids, telling them they are entitled and more special than other kids, often breed narcissistic children and young adults. Parents on the other hand who are warm and loving but without child worshipping produced healthier kids.
There’s more: Dr David Veale, a London psychiatrist recently told The Sunday Mirror: “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites”. Body dysmorphic disorder? This is getting serious. Sufferers of BDD can spend hours trying to take pictures that do not show any defects or flaws in their appearance, which they are very aware of but which might be unnoticeable to others. And they may seek cosmetic surgery to ‘correct’ an imagined flaw. And what about ‘selfie addiction’ where a person cannot seemingly stop posting photos? Overuse of selfies (or any form of social media) may mean we are using short-term gratification at the expense of more important goals. Feel down? Lonely? Bored at work? Post a selfie.
A recent study found that the selfie phenomenon may be damaging to real world relationships, and the more ‘virtual sharing’ online leads to a decrease in real interactions with real people. Some selfies have sexual overtones, user approved of course, and are designed to elicit a strong approach. Selfies also confirm what we already know: society is obsessed with appearance, the more attractive and hotter the better. Posting photos over and over may be similar to creating one’s own reality TV show. Selfies allow us to be the producer, director, and actor in our own story. Yep, stardom awaits, with the false belief that one’s online friends cannot wait for the next close-up of pursed lips and the disenchanted countenance. But the irony is that those guilty of sending yet another GPOY are less likable not more lovable. So does this mean selfies are done? Am I guilty of TMS? Not necessarily. Posting affirming selfies can be empowering and even help demonstrate that the ‘normal’ face is one of immense diversity and beauty has no geographical or age barriers. A healthy selfie poster does this spontaneously, without excessive posing and editing and without becoming consumed with positive feedback. Selfies are here to stay, but as today’s selfie generation matures, so hopefully the next generation of selfies will mature as well!