Remember the story of Narcissus? He’s the main character in a Greek myth about a man so entranced by his own good looks that he pines away while staring at his reflection in a pool. The story makes me wonder: If smartphone screens were pools of water, would people be drowning every day? Has the selfie phenomenon brought a tidal wave of our own reflection at which we can’t stop staring?
As easy as it would be to hate everything about the selfie movement, I don’t think it’s all bad. I’m sitting smack dab on the selfie fence. I’ve snapped a few pictures while using the backward-facing camera on my smartphone, but most of those shots have been “ussies” which are pictures of yourself next to someone else. The “ussie” is the selfie’s less indulgent first cousin, and it’s about capturing a moment of friendship.
But I feel awkward about selfies because it seems like I’m desperately writing the words “Look at me!” on my forehead and then sharing that image with the world. But maybe that’s a hang-up unique to my generation. Today’s generation of girls are growing up with a “Why not look at me?” philosophy.
So for research purposes, I took a few selfies today. Then I looked at the shots, paying attention to what went through my mind:
“Wow, I had no idea my left eyebrow is so weird. I shouldn’t have smiled so much. It makes my upper lip practically disappear, and there’s nothing pretty about that much gum tissue. I should shoot this again and this time lower my left eyebrow and decrease the smile by like 20 percent. And I’m going to raise the camera and shoot the picture from above so my neck looks skinnier.”
So then I shot more selfies, most of which prominently feature my own thumb in the corner of the frame. Finally, I captured one that was not completely awful. Hurray! Selfie success. The process reminded me of a cartoon I saw online not long ago that says: “Behind every good selfie are approximately 36 nearly identical pictures that didn’t make the cut.”
Part of the reason we often avoid someone else’s camera is because we have no idea how the shot will look. But selfies offer us control. We can change the angle, expression and our hair until everything is just right – or as right as it can be.
So maybe for some, the selfie is a shot of confidence – useful to glance at on those days when we beat ourselves up about our looks. It’s a visual reminder that we’re not as unattractive as negative feelings sometimes convince us we are.
On the other hand, selfies are notorious for being overshared on social media, silently asking for electronic “likes” and “hearts.” What’s with all the selfie sharing? Humans have a basic need to be seen and recognized – at home, work, school, etc. A recent article in Forbes magazine points out that “when people are recognized and feel appreciated, they repeat the behavior that was recognized.” Hence, the selfie overpopulation problem.
Part of me admires those bold selfie shooters who look so comfortable in their own skin. The other part of me thinks a restriction on the number of selfies shared on social media makes perfect sense. Two selfies per month seems like more than enough, doesn’t it? No one is going to forget what your face looks like within the next two weeks.
Those who insist on flooding us with an endless string of selfies should know that they’re starting to look a whole lot like Narcissus – lost in admiration and dangerously close to drowning in a pool of their own reflection.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.
Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography