Selfies: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Me, myself and I.
Selfies are everywhere – from our timelines to our tourist attractions. In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries even named it the word of the year and if anything their prevalence has only increased since then. But are selfies simply a sign of the times or a symptom of something more sinister?

While some may argue they are simply capturing a moment, or at worst irritating, experts are warning that excessive snapping could have a lasting impact on our mental wellbeing.

In 2014, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) actually confirmed that taking selfies is a mental disorder, going as far as to term the condition ‘selfitis’. The APA defined it as: “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy”, and has categorised it into three levels: borderline, acute, and chronic.

The breakdown of these levels is as follows:

  • Borderline selfitis: taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day but not posting them on social media
  • Acute selfitis: taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each of the photos on social media
  • Chronic selfitis: Uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s self  round the clock and posting the photos on social media more than six times a day

And where selfies go filters follow but at what cost does the quest for a flawless finish come?

It seems altered images depicting doe eyes, razor sharp cheekbones and luminous skin can then lead to a sense of dissatisfaction or even disconnect with our mirror image.

Cosmetic doctor, Dr Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle refers to it as Snapchat dysmorphia and describes how patients now, rather than bringing in pictures of celebrities they want to look like, bring in edited pictures of themselves for the surgery goals.

Research by Swansea University has even claimed that people who repeatedly post photos and videos of themselves online showed a 25% increase in narcissistic traits.

Professor Phil Reed from the Department of Psychology at Swansea University led the study of 74 individuals aged 18-34. Commenting on the links between narcissism (a personality characteristic that can involve grandiose exhibitionism, beliefs relating to entitlement, and exploiting others) and selfies he said:

“There have been suggestions of links between narcissism and the use of visual postings on social media, such as Facebook, but, until this study, it was not known if narcissists use this form of social media more, or whether using such platforms is associated with the subsequent growth in narcissism.

“The results of this study suggest that both occur, but show that posting selfies can increase narcissism.

“Taking our sample as representative of the population, which there is no reason to doubt, this means that about 20% of people may be at risk of developing such narcissistic traits associated with their excessive visual social media use.

“That the predominant usage of social media for the participants was visual, mainly through Facebook, suggests the growth of this personality problem could be seen increasingly more often, unless we recognise the dangers in this form of communication.”

On a physical level skincare specialists urge caution of prolonged smart phone using believing that the high-energy visible light (HEV) they emit could damage skin’s DNA leading to dullness, pigmentation and more rapid ageing.

In her article, In Defence of the Selfie blogger, Stephanie Totty wrote:

“I’ve always held the camera, whether it was my DSLR or my iPhone; our memories have been seen through my eyes. Because of that, very rarely am I actually in the photo. Everything I was capturing was seen through my eyes, but it was like I wasn’t a part of the story.

Until the selfie was born, and with it, the ability for me to easily take my own photo. And what’s more, the ability to take my own photo WITH my kids. Now, I can document our lives together — me and my kids and even my husband, together as a family.

“Sometimes the selfies are silly. Sometimes the selfies are sweet. Sometimes the selfies are vain.

“But regardless of what the selfies are, they are always me. They are small reminders for me 20 years from now that: Yes, you were there too. And look at you — you loved your life. You loved your kids. You loved your family. You loved your career. You didn’t take any of this for granted. You were present. You tried to make it all count.

“So, in defense of my selfies – well, no. I don’t feel the need to defend my selfies. My selfies are a constant reminder to me (and to my loved ones) that I’m not just seeing our life together, but that I’m part of it, too.”

So with such a large part of our lives now lived online do we need to accept and embrace selfies as part of a modern culture or is it time to put down our phones and start living in the (unfiltered) moment?

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