Clearly, we are fans of getting your best face out there, and who better to take a stunning, heart-dropping, people-envy-me photograph than ourselves? We are in the throes of Selfie Nation, with everyone from bloggers to celebrities (hi, Miley!) to the general public tossing up countless impromptu head shots, one stunning shot after another. We admit it: We may have posted more than our fair share of selfies to show just how cute our lipstick and hair is that day. Some things just have to be documented. (We even wrote up some Selfie 101 tips to make the photos that much better.)
But, as we were thinking about it, could all that navel-gazing cause some harm? Narcissus drowned because he was so enchanted with his own reflection. Are we setting ourselves up for some sort of personal crisis with all these photos? We decided to put down the phone to do a little investigating.
The general consensus is that it depends on why you’re taking them. “It think it's context-dependent,” says Dr. Josie Howard, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist with a practice in adult psychiatry and a member of the Simple Skincare Advisory Board. “It depends on how you use it. If you're using it as a tool to document feeling good about yourself and you’re just taking mementos of living a great life, that’s fine.” What about if you’re just trying to make sure that the photos of you on the Internet are, you know, actually good ones? “It can be empowering. Some women use it as a way to control how their image is portrayed in social media, which is completely fine.” There’s an added bonus in Dr. Howard’s opinion as well: “It may reset the industry standard of beauty to something more realistic.” We say amen to that.
So, when does all of this shutterbugging become a problem? When you’re so busy controlling your image that you miss the moment entirely. “Those seeking reassurance and approval through selfies consistently take themselves out of social interaction,” Dr. Howard says. “The concern lies when people who are using it to create a personae that will be approved of, i.e., how many Facebook or social media clicks, 'likes,' and approvals they get. Facebook and other types of social media create a feedback loop, and some people take more to feed their self-esteem, which can become more important than simply documenting the experience.”
Jess Weiner, Global Self-Esteem Ambassador for Dove, a social messaging strategist, and CEO of Talk to Jess, has seen a considerable rise in self-esteem issues with the pressure to constantly be camera-ready. “I have seen a remarkable shift is self-esteem issues with the rise of the selfies," she says. "The pressure to be camera-ready can elevate self-esteem issues, with the pressure of commenting on posts and with the rise of social media. It has a more competitive aspect, and that can really put the pressure on.”
Weiner, who is participating in Dove's latest Camera-Shy campaign, goes on to explain. “Our research reports that 77% women would consider themselves ‘camera-shy,’ and 63% of women destroyed a photo they didn't like.” Is this perhaps a generational issue? Perhaps, says Weiner. “Millennials have a greater comfort with documenting these moments, a little more comfortable than those from other generations who grew up in years where it wasn’t always about yourself and your own beauty.” She adds, “There's a lot of self-editing going on. Many women and girls who are shy use selfies to portray themselves as a different character. It can be dangerous if you're spending too much time judging yourself on your beauty and focusing on judgment of others, not just capturing a moment in time.”
So, if you’re doing a little more than documenting the moments of your life, and obsessing about your image seems to be taking over your life, what can you do to put things into perspective? “Make sure the focus is on the internal as much as the external,” says Weiner. “If all the images are fabricated to a degree, they’re not really showing life as it really is. Not all moments are perfect and model-ready. Enjoy your beauty, take that selfie, but be present for those memories while you're taking the photo.”
What if it’s not you, but a friend who seems to be a bit obsessed with selfies? “Social anxiety can be the cause," says Dr. Howard. "They may be feeling uncomfortable. Reach out, bring them back to the present moment. If you’re at a social function, it would be lovely to include that person in the situation, make them feel less anxious about how they’re being portrayed and involve them in the moment.”
So, while we’re all for snapping the best Facebook profile photo and Instagramming your heart out, we’re adding this tiny PSA: Make sure that you’re enjoying the moment you’re photographing. The photos and the comments may fade, but that one moment in time is meant to last forever —and awesome memories require no Photoshopping.