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In the ‘selfie’ world, are we showing our best side?

Image credit: Her Campus
Image credit: Her Campus
Image credit: Her Campus

Did you take a ‘selfie’ today? Understood as a “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website,” the word ‘selfie’ was dubbed the word of the year in 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries. 

Not a day goes by without some else’s selfie appearing on my Facebook newsfeed. As so many selfies are deleted in the process of finding the best one to upload, it’s impossible to find the exact number of selfies taken each year, but estimates range in millions per day. Twenty-four billion selfies were uploaded to Google in one year, according to the Daily Mail.

The quest for taking impressive images of oneself is actually leading to terrible consequences. Daredevils, motivated by the potential for more ‘likes’ on their pages, are risking their lives to take photos of themselves in dangerous situations or precarious positions – and some are paying the price of failure with their lives.

Critics worry that we have created a culture of self-obsession and narcissism, where the most important thing to many young people is themselves. Websites like Instagram are the venues for us to bombard others of ourselves and let other people know how well we are doing. The Internet lets us transmit photographs and conversations to every corner of the globe, all in a matter of seconds. “Welcome to the age of digital narcissism, a world of endless ostentation opportunities and unlimited bragging possibilities,” wrote Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, only two years ago.

It’s easy to conclude that this is the work of a generation of self-obsessed people. It’s true that many self-obsessed people do exist online. The so-called ‘Rich Kids of Instagram‘ delight in plastering pictures of their wealth and the pleasures it brings on social media, whether it is bathing by the pool or flying in Daddy’s private jet. On a lower level, we all know someone in our list of Facebook friends who delights in nothing more producing than selfie after selfie.

But the desire to upload more pictures of ourselves is not always motivated by our enormous egos. A study released in August reported that the mental wellbeing of adolescent girls is becoming worse. A number of factors contribute to the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, but one factor should be familiar to us all: social media. Overuse of social media can have harmful effects on our sleeping patterns, concentration and memory, but it can also have effects on our self-esteem, how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive our friends and peers.

The online world exists all day, every day. New articles and pictures are added all the time. We are surrounded by stories and depictions of the lives of other people to the point that it is almost inescapable. The endless stream of pictures of people whom we perceive to be better in some way than ourselves creates pressure for us to imitate their behaviour. It’s not the kind of inspiration that our parents would like, thinking of role models and icons, but an ugly world of competition, where the penalty for coming in at last place is social exclusion.

Antalia Terblanche, a YoungMinds blogger, quotes an anonymous response from a ChildLine survey that make this crystal clear:

I hate myself. When I look at other girls online posting photos of themselves it makes me feel really worthless and ugly. I’m struggling to cope with these feelings and stay in my bedroom most of the time. I’m always worrying about what other people are thinking of me. I feel so down.

Social media enables us to determine not only how many people appreciate your pictures, but who as well. We have the ability to look at just what our friends and rivals are doing and whether they have shown their appreciation for our own efforts. Further to this is a quest for perfection. June Eric Udorie hits the nail on the head:

It’s becoming more and more obvious how the pressures of social media disproportionately affect teenage girls. I can see it all around me. Pressure to be perfect. To look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect body, have the perfect group of friends, the perfect amount of likes on Instagram. Perfect, perfect, perfect. And if you don’t meet these ridiculously high standards, then the self-loathing and bullying begins.

When so many windows into the lives of others are on show, sometimes it would be better for there to be some more curtains drawn. Many users of social media, particularly among our generation, are finding ways of taking a break from social media. There are many downloadable tools and apps that can control our access to Facebook and Twitter; alternatively, you can just switch your computer off for a bit. Maybe a little ‘detox’ now and then will help everyone?