Self(ie)-empowerment or narcissism?

Most of us in our 20’s and older will still remember the days before a camera phone existed, when we used digital cameras to take the MySpace selfies in grubby mirror bathrooms with the flash in full force. However, since the invention of the camera phone, with most people owning smart phones with front-facing cameras, selfies have been revolutionised and become the norm for our generation. However, there are constant complaints from older generations that the selfie is symbolic of society’s cultural deterioration in a world that is oversaturated with social media.

Whilst researching academic papers on the topic of selfies I found articles on selfies being self-empowering, or being a link to happiness. However, for the most part I found studies linking selfies to narcissism. A lot of people view “self-created self-portraits as proof of cultural—or at least generational— narcissism and moral decline.” (Rutledge, 2013)

Is it fair to say that people who post selfies to social media are self obsessed? It’s commonly said that as the ‘Selfie Generation’ we are shallow and narcissistic, and for the most part there seems to be a bias and moral panic against millenials when it comes to selfies.

Is the selfie even a new concept? In the Victorian era, richer families would have portraits painted of themselves. Vanity is not exclusive to our generation, despite the constant implication that the selfie is a clear link to narcissism. Some might say that there is nothing new about the statement the selfie makes, the only thing that has changed is the technology. It’s natural for us to assert our existence in some form. The selfie is simply a byproduct of the technological and social media driven world we live in.

Kim K is often labelled the queen of the selfie, and her nude selfie is often referred to when discussing the moral panic surrounding the ‘selfie’.

When you're like I have nothing to wear LOL

A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

Kim Kardashian’s photo caused huge controversy, a lot of people arguing that it was vulgar, others accusing her of using feminism to justify the photo and market her personal brand. However, many people also defended her, insisting women have the right to be empowered by the their sexuality.

It seems unfair for anyone but the individual to decide what liberates them. If posting a nude selfie is liberating for an individual then it shouldn’t be up to anyone else to oppose that or say there is something un-feminist about it. Whilst not any single nude image can be empowering for all women, “feminism is not about telling other women how to use their bodies or whether or not a woman can profit from her body.” (Meyer, 2016)

The selfie is a democratic representation of ourselves, another aspect of freedom of speech through technology. Social media and the selfie is an opportunity for diversity and individuality to flourish.

Vivian Fu, an Asian American who takes self-portraitures believes “people are using the selfie as a means of claiming ownership of their bodies, identities and lives, and also as a means of exploring and celebrating themselves.” (Frank, 2015)

Fu’s self-portraitures often include nude or semi-nude photos of herself, sometimes with her partner.

“Stereotypes of Asian women are prevalent within the American consciousness, and I’m sure that most people are aware of what those stereotypes are,” Fu says. “I think that the problem I had with these ideas is that they denied me agency of my life, my choices, and identity. What has been so wonderful about growing up with the Internet is that I had a space where I had control over the narrative that was being created.” (Frank, 2015)

In this sense, a selfie can be empowering and encourage diversity. Social media, as Fu recognises, is a space where anyone has the authority to post what he or she believes, and create their own narrative. So whilst a lot of the time, photos posted to social media might be vain, there are also people who can share their voice and empower others to do the same. Some people use seflies as a counter-narrative, “By offering different aspects through images, we are sharing more of ourselves, becoming more authentic and transparent.” (Rutledge, 2013)

 

References:

Rutledge, P., 2013. #Selfies: Narcissism or Self-Exploration?. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-media/201304/selfies-narcissism-or-self-exploration&gt; [Accessed 12 Mar. 2017].

Frank, P., 2015. Vivian Fu’s Raw Self-Portraits Challenge The ‘Asian Sidekick’ Stereotype. [online] Huffington Post Australia. Available at: <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/vivian-fu-nude-self-portraits-shatter-stereotypes-about-asian-women_us_55c91d07e4b0923c12bdef45&gt; [Accessed 12 Mar. 2017].

Meyer, H., 2016. Are nude selfies and free the nipple ’empowering’?. [online] ABC News. Available at: <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-11/kim-kardashian-nude-selfies-and-empowerment/7310348&gt; [Accessed 13 Mar. 2017].

Vivian Fu, http://vivianfu.com/

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