TO #SELFIE OR NOT TO #SELFIE
Are selfies narcissistic, or simply practical? Our editors Pip Usher and Christina Tkacik debate the central question of our time.
Yes, they’re narcissistic.
These days, we’re a society of self. Self-affirmation, for those seeking it. Self-help, for those needing it. And, now, selfies – an image of yours truly, captured in all that pouting, god-I’m-gorgeous glory. They’re a do-it-yourself marketing campaign, the role of publicist served by the only one who really knows (or cares) which filter is most flattering for your skin color.
Some selfies serve a purpose. Fashion bloggers use them as a platform for their style; yoga fanatics snap away to showcase complicated poses to others. And Kim Kardashian’s recent book, Selfish, is the ultimate ode to an age of selfies: the queen of modern celebrity’s autobiographical account is told entirely through a curated selection of her self-portraits over the years. As the selfie’s fame has skyrocketed, it has morphed from an impromptu #YOLO moment to a manufactured business tool that launches stars overnight – and seemingly sells books to boot.
Yet however you dress it up, these selfies are there for one reason alone: to show the world that you’re winning. That new handbag proves you’re winning. The handstand proves you’re winning. All this carefully packaged success seems to point to a disorder in which “people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others” – in other words, the medical definition of narcissism. Real life is messy, filter-free and filled with bad hair days; to pretend otherwise is both a manipulation of the truth and a craven call for validation.
So let’s call a spade a spade. Selfies are fun. They are also a rampaging act of egotism. I’m willing to admit that to myself next time I snap a pic from my best angle – are you?
No, they’re practical.
Selfies aren’t narcissistic – they’re practical. If I happen to be in Paris with my best friend but can’t be bothered to ask some stranger on the street to take our picture, all I need to do is reach out an arm as we both slap on our signature selfie faces (everyone has one). At their best, selfies are sweet and intimate, capturing a shared moment in which the only people present are seen in the frame.
For models, selfies are more than just a convenience – they’re a career changer. Take Cara Delevingne, aka “Eyebrows on Fleek.” The British (former) Burberry model has used her Instagram account, replete with selfies and Rumi quotes, to establish a following of over 18 million. These selfies allowed her to reclaim her widely sought-after image for herself, expressing a side to her personality that doesn’t come across on the catwalk or in fashion shoots. There are bizarre faces and crossed eyes; with the help of app Dubsmash, she often lip-syncs over movies. Such self portraits have no doubt helped Delevingne transition out of the fashion industry – a field she now says made her hate herself and her body, and worsened her outbreaks of psoriasis – and into acting. In a recent interview she said that today, as an actor, “I am the happiest person in the whole world.”
But even for a mere mortal, selfies are no more narcissistic than looking in a mirror, or painting a self-portrait. In fact, there is such a thing as healthy narcissism – a certain faith in oneself that allows a person to get out of bed in the morning and to go to work and eat a healthy breakfast. If I didn’t have at least some confidence I’d still be back in bed, staring at the mold on my ceiling, waiting for it to overtake me.