In Defense of the Selfie

In Defense of the Selfie

The “selfie” has been much maligned in popular culture as a product of a narcissistic millennial generation. Indeed, the selfie is most heavily practiced by 20-something, but it’s more of a byproduct of the proliferation of smartphones with dual facing cameras than anything else.

Unlike the “self-portrait,” the selfie is defined by the subject holding the camera(phone) with which the photo is taken. Therefore the orientation is almost always head on, or from a slightly higher vantage point to reduce the appearance of a doublechin.

Initially, the selfie fell into the purview of young women, often posing with pursed lips – the kind of image you might find on dating sites like OKCupid, or more recently, Tinder. But the selfie no longer discriminates between genders. You’re as likely to find selfies of men as often as women.

There is a certain self-consciousness associated with taking a selfie. In the confines of your own home, taking a selfie is easy. But once you are in the public eye, we are suddenly confronted with a sense of humility. It’s easy to take a selfie when friends are around, but infinitely harder to take one by yourself while standing in the middle of an airport. In those instances, one must rely on the stealthfie – “Don’t mind me, I’m just checking my text messages…and uh, holding my phone at an arms length away because I have hyperopia.”

And now a completely unscientific taxonomy of selfies.

1. The ingénue

ab511964f90711e2af2822000ae81103_7

Photo by @msmwuahlover

Arguably the genesis of the selfie. The ingénue uses a high angle with requisite head-tilt combined with pursed lips (aka “duck face”) to create the prototypical 21st century self-portrait.

2. Shirtless male

1002116_572456866130259_708327090_n

Photo by facebook.com/FitnessSelfies

Think “Jersey Shore.” Typified by large pecs, well-defined abs, and perfectly coiffed hair.

3. Old shirtless male

6737363c-585b-49d0-841d-6d7638744e81_geraldo-selfie
I mean, sure, Geraldo looks good for his age. But we don’t need to see this, and we can’t unsee this!

4. Headless selfie

Photo by @laurahenry

Photo by @laurahenry

My body looks good, but I have a butterface (or I’m breaking out).

5. I just worked out

Photo by @luspear

Photo by @luspear

Muscles engorged with blood, body dehydrated of all fluid…you’ve never looked this good.

6. Scandalized politician

A photo off the website Biggovernment.com shows a shirtless U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner

Photo by Anthony Weiner

Tomes could be written about Anthony Weiner’s indiscretions, but he is merely a node on an ever-revolving circle of politicians. Case in point, Congressman Christopher Lee.

Chris-Lee-Gawker-Hardware

Photo by Christopher Lee

7. Moviestar, Rockstar, Athletes, Star for no reason

justin_bieber_abs_celebrity_selfies_instagram_twitter_18i5f9n-18i5far

Photo by Justin Bieber

KourtneyKardashian-Instagram-jpg_173838

Photo by Kourtney Kardashian

amanda_bynes_bra_selfie_01_2013_342x456

Photo by Amanda Bynes

Photo by Lebron James

Photo by Lebron James

We can’t get enough of celebrities.

8. Tourist selfie; Flat Stanley; Up in the Air

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/draket/

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/draket/

George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air dragged a cardboard cutout around the country and took a selfie because his younger sister couldn’t afford a honeymoon. The tourist selfie is added evidence that the subject was there. And also that couple who selfied themselves at all 118 Manhattan subway stops.

10. City Hall - R

Photo by James Doernberg

9. Foot selfie

Photo by @pineappleice

Photo by @pineappleice

The least vainglorious of the selfies with a perspective that more easily shows the surrounding environment.

10. GoPro selfie (aka selfie on a stick)

Photo by Jen Hudak

Photo by Jen Hudak

A short monopod attached to a GoPro gives an extended reach for more extreme angles.

11. Cop selfie

cop

Cops want to look badass too. Don’t deny them this wonderful Tumblr.

12. Drone selfie

Photo by Eric Cheng (echeng.com)

Photo by Eric Cheng (echeng.com)

The rise of the drones will inevitably give way to a new type of selfie taken from several (hundred) feet above you. This arguably breaks the handheld selfie, but man, it sure is cool.

There will always be a component of narcissism associated with the selfie, but I would argue that the nature of the selfie has expanded its definition in the past few years. It previously served as a calling card of sorts – a declaration of a sexual being. But it has morphed into photographic “evidence” and a means of communication: “I am here” and “I am thinking about you.”

This slice of photographic history will inevitably be remembered for Instagram filters and the selfie. Both will surely become anachronisms of these 2010s, and in doing so, will be a historical reminder of how photography evolved. So embrace the selfie! And leave your imprint in history (just try to keep your pants on).

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There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Sophie Carr at 5:12 pm

    Brilliant article Allen – very funny. I saw a guy in the park in London last week (it was hot), taking a selfie lying down sunbathing in the middle of the day. He didn’t seem to show any self-consciousness, but it made me laugh (and feel a bit old). I feel narcissistic taking proper self-portraits, but clearly the Instagram Generation doesn’t have any self-consciousness (or self-awareness, perhaps) whatsoever!

  2. John B Turner at 11:07 pm

    Come on, get real. These are still self-portraits and don’t need a trendy, highly dubious new name. It’s just that the tools are changed to enable self-portraits to be more easily made. We have wonderful small lenses and extreme wide angle views which allow us to get close with hand held miniature cameras. By all means call self-portraits selfies, for shorthand, but don’t pretend they are a different species in the histories of photography. Your selection is a bit coy regarding naked self-portraits that proliferate on the web. Good luck, and thanks for trying – you do have a sense of humour, so your pretensions can be forgiven. It is exciting to see how much the processes of photography have freed up.

  3. Alex at 11:27 pm

    This is funny. I was talking about this in my blog too when I made a photographer’s version of a selfie. In fact, I link this article there.

    http://shutterbugshub.blogspot.com/2013/07/alone-and-playing-with-my-toys.html

    I was fascinated and amused at the same time by the popularity of this “selfie”. You will see girls doing this inside the toilet, post a hundred version of themselves in Facebook, and annoy the world. But it is a fun thing to look at too, when you really think deeply why the person want to show the world their self.

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  6. rachel at 5:46 pm

    selfies have been around long before the days of instagram. i remember taking my dad’s digital camera (a sony that used a floppy disk to save the images) and taking selfies back in 2000 when i was a sophomore in high school… this was before instagram, facebook, and even before myspace mirror pics. this is when every teen/young adult were on rate my face sites or hot or not. lol. or in teen chats. but it definitely took off when myspace rolled around in 2002/2003 with the classic myspace dirty mirror selfie.

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