Selfie Versus Self


By Samantha Spoto

Photo courtesy of Shawn Ahmed.

The recent phenomenon of the selfie has sparked great debate. A substantial amount of the population detests the widening trend. While selfie dissenters assert a slew of criticisms, a prominent argument of theirs places a single label on selfie-takers: Narcissist.

To those who loathe the selfie craze, the mere act of snapping and sharing a personal photo exclusively serves to emphasize individuals’ excessive interest in themselves and their physical appearance.

In a recent Ohio State University study, researchers found that men who posted selfies displayed higher levels of narcissism compared to those who refrained from partaking often in the trend.

Not everyone, however, views the selfie trend solely as a display of conceit and vanity. Some believe that the well-practiced process of taking and sending a selfie impacts one’s development and perception of self. Depending on particular factors, selfies may contribute to both positive and negative constructions of one’s identity.

One’s positive or negative perceptions of self may be directly contingent on the response their photo receives. As Peter Kaufman, Sociology Professor at SUNY New Paltz, assesses to BTR, the way one decides to angle their snapshot, the filter they select, and the caption they attach to the image all aid in the individual’s attempt to garner a positive reception.

In 1959, distinguished sociologist Erving Goffman devised with the theory of “impression management,” which suggests that people overtly act in a certain manner to elicit a specific response in return. Arguably, people practice patterns of “impression management” today by posting selfies with such an intention.

If the individual receives enthusiastic praise from their onlookers, their confidence and estimation of themselves may become bolstered. As Dr. Terri Apter explained in a UK Telegraph article from 2014, selfie-takers might quantify how interesting they are according to how many favorites or re-tweets their posts receive.

“It is a terrifying thought that young people measure their self-worth in terms of ‘likes’ on their selfies, but it is a 21st century reality,” she said.

Kaufman explains to BTR that impression management considerably affects one’s perception of self, particularly if individuals consistently alter their identity to garner complimentary feedback.

“In Goffman’s theory, if you are ‘out of face’ and you do not get the response you had hoped for, then you will probably work to correct your face so that you can be in line with the expectations of those with whom you are trying to impress,” he says.

Kaufman continues that those who regularly feel “out of face” will be affected by their photo feedback online.

“If you feel you must always broadcast yourself, and always present yourself in new and imaginative and attractive ways, then I would think that would eventually have an adverse effect,” says Kaufman. “It’s a lot to live up to and I can’t think that this craving for attention and legitimation from others is ultimately healthy.”

One’s positive perception of self, however, may be at stake if the photo amasses an unfavorable and different reply from the one the individual desired and anticipated to receive. As Apter stated, a lack of likes or comments may lead photo posters to harbor negative thoughts of themselves.

Kaufman also suggests that the impact of a photo on one’s self-regard may vary based on gender. He notes that there is a general devaluation of females in society; a woman’s body is often objectified and commodified. For instance, if a woman posts what society deems a provocative photo, she may be met with sexist remarks that ultimately affect her self-image.

The situation, Kaufman continues, is not the same for males, who don’t experience the “manifestation of the social processes that contribute to the downward spiral of many girls’ self esteem.”

It is not the act of taking the selfie per se that impacts a woman’s identity in this situation. Reactions that impact them work more in conjunction with the present–and oftentimes negative–social treatment of women, suggests Kaufman.

Whether the selfie is solely an act of narcissism or a trend that lends itself to the formation of one’s identity will continue to be an ongoing debate.

“It seems pretty harmless to take a selfie every now and then,” admits Kaufman. “It’s a phenomenon that grows out of our technological ability to do so–and our tech ability to share it widely.”

Kaufman determines that the selfie practice crosses the line of narcissism when people constantly post these photos to social media day after day. As for selfies (and their respective feedback) contributing to our self-perceptions, Kaufman assesses that, “in the short term they may be positive but I would worry that they fuel this feeling of ‘never-good-enough.’”