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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
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
Think “Jersey Shore.” Typified by large pecs, well-defined abs, and perfectly coiffed hair.
3. Old shirtless male
4. Headless selfie
My body looks good, but I have a butterface (or I’m breaking out).
5. I just worked out
Muscles engorged with blood, body dehydrated of all fluid…you’ve never looked this good.
6. Scandalized politician
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.
7. Moviestar, Rockstar, Athletes, Star for no reason
We can’t get enough of celebrities.
8. Tourist selfie; Flat Stanley; Up in the Air
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.
9. Foot selfie
The least vainglorious of the selfies with a perspective that more easily shows the surrounding environment.
10. GoPro selfie (aka selfie on a stick)
A short monopod attached to a GoPro gives an extended reach for more extreme angles.
11. Cop selfie
Cops want to look badass too. Don’t deny them this wonderful Tumblr.
12. Drone selfie
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).