You’ve probably seen the articles. They shout about the “selfie epidemic” and claim Millennials are a narcissistic generation because we love to take pictures of ourselves. Time magazine featured a girl taking a selfie on the cover with giant letters screaming “The Me Me Me Generation.” But since when does appreciating the way you look mean you’re vain?
First of all, I’d like to point out that selfies have been around for a lot longer than middle-aged journalists seem to think. Selfies have been around pretty much as long as cameras have and even before that you had artists painting self-portraits and aristocrats paying to have elaborate portraits done of themselves. Hey baby-boomer, you’re telling me you never turned around the old point-and-shoot to try to get a picture of yourself? Selfies aren’t a new invention, they’re just more visible now than ever before, with the rise of social media. Sure, your parents could take selfies, but they would could really just stick them in a photo album. So, yes, it makes sense that selfies are on the rise, as they’re much more easily taken and shared with others.
Here’s the other thing about whining that young adults these days are selfish: young adults have always been selfish, but they grow out of it. When journalists bemoaning the rise of selfies and selfishness quote statistics about how people in their 20s are more likely to have narcissistic tendencies, they fail to look at the statistics when their own generation was in their 20s. They seem to believe they were selfless and perfect as teenagers and young adults. But according to a 2010 study, “When it comes to the development of narcissism, the effect of age and age-graded roles are far more important than the effect of generation.” Groundbreaking news, folks, kids tend to be more selfish than adults.
“But there are people out there who post multiple selfies a day,” you may still be screaming, “there are youths who are obsessed with selfies!” OK, yes, there are some people who have either low self-esteem or a personality disorder with one of the symptoms being excessive selfies. There are people out there that equate self-worth with a like on Instagram. This is a sad and true fact, but it is by no means the norm. Let’s not make people with abnormal personalities the face of a generation.
The thing about selfies is that the subject of the photo is in complete control of what their audience sees. When you post a selfie, you get to decide exactly how you look and how people will see you. This kind of power isn’t something we have often. People can take pictures of us at our least flattering, and it can be hard to see that captured moment as just that, a moment when we were less beautiful. A selfie is often the result of taking the time to find the moment and angle where you are beautiful, and you know it.
I post a selfie when I’m feeling good about myself, and I’d like to share that with my friends. I post a selfie when I get a haircut or when I dye my hair. I post a selfie when I’m at a famous monument and would like to look back at photographic proof that yes, I was in front of the Eiffel Tower and I looked adorable. I post selfies to share my life with my friends across an ocean, and like all of theirs in return. I post selfies because I like the way I look and I’m not ashamed to let others know.
It took me a long time to get to the level of self-confidence where I actually like how I look in photos. I actually still often don’t like photos of myself, and have to frequently remind myself that just because I was caught in bad lighting making a goofy face doesn’t mean I’m ugly. But I’m working on it, and so should you. Learning to love yourself can be achieved in many ways, and one of those ways may be selfies.
And always remember, old folks have been complaining about younger generations since ancient Greece.
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint —Hesoid, 700 BCE”