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Modern Musings: Selfies - just a bit of harmless fun?

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Selfies are part of the online furniture these days. Initially the domain of the famous, people the world over are now doing it - hooked on the attention and visibility they're delivered in a matter of seconds. But what's behind the phenomenon, and is it all just a bit of harmless fun?

Celebs like Rihana are notorious for posting selfies to Instagram. Photo / Instagram
Celebs like Rihana are notorious for posting selfies to Instagram. Photo / Instagram

Rebecca on selfies:

So. Selfies. Teenaged girls are vomiting if they can't post at least 20 a day, trumpets The Sun.

And we all know celebrities are churning them out like they're going out of fashion, which they're clearly not. Even presidents' daughters are joining the tilt-headed, scrunched-face fray - as are your friends, or their daughters, right this minute, all over your feeds.

The Obama girls were caught taking a selfie. Photo / Instagram
The Obama girls were caught taking a selfie. Photo / Instagram

But what are they? Like, actually? They're "a high school popularity contest on digital steroids", says American writer John Paul Titlow, quite rightly.

Indeed - however you personally feel about them, the selfie is an undeniable display of unapologetic vanity, juvenile gratification, and empty cultural calories.

It's reached such endemic proportions there is now actual stratification within the "genre" itself. Gym ones, for example. And make-up free ones.

(Which, incidentally, both seem to have the same purpose of making us all feel shit, because 1. we're not currently at the gym, and haven't been for quite a while, and 2. they still look amazing without makeup, whoever could have guessed.)

Fitness model, Kali Burns, is always snapping selfies at the gym. Photo / Instagram
Fitness model, Kali Burns, is always snapping selfies at the gym. Photo / Instagram

So, what's the damage? Is there any?

Well, if young women need anything, it's probably not a trend that encourages them to spend hours every week scrutinising their own faces and bodies on a screen, then hungrily checking in for positive validation. (And if I have to explain why they don't need that, I give up.)

What's more, it's ignorant to think that the vast majority of young women taking selfies aren't taking them with a hetero male gaze. You know, the one that informs the society they live in, and the porn culture that's seeped into every facet of pop culture they absorb on the daily. That much is obvious by looking at the selfies themselves: back arched, mouth parted, eyes inviting.

Of course, these images might be for their female peers too, but those female peers aren't viewing them (wholly) through their own eyes either. In other words: There's a standard here, and girls didn't set it. The selfie is simply an extension of that sad fact.

On a more philosophical note, teenagers always have - and always will be - head-dizzyingly self-absorbed. And desperate for their peers' approval. At least this way, girls can see images of other girls like them: an assortment of sizes, ethnicities, and body shapes that prove everyone's worth photographing, even if it is 100,000 times in the making, plus filter, plus more-or-less total waste of time.

Anyway, good or bad, selfies have become one of the cultural markers of our age. Just let's remember that they're a byproduct of cultural forces, and therefore a symptom - not the cause - of whatever negativity we ascribe to them.

Charl on selfies:

The literary world forced us all to take a good hard look at ourselves the other day as it allowed 'selfie' into the Oxford Dictionary (along with 'twerk', 'vom' 'unlike' and 'onmishambles', which seems to want to tell a small story in itself.)

It's hardly a surprise. The explosion of social media (particularly Instagram over the last 12 months) going cam-in-hand with the explosion of smart phone technology has left us with apparently little better to do than ignore our dinner conversations and compulsively thumb through photo after photo of other people's faces.

#Selfies are part of our every day.

In fact, according to a new poll commissioned by Samsung, selfies account for 30 per cent of all photos taken by people under 25.

There's something deeply insecure about routinely posting pics of oneself (twisted to look as attractive as possible; always taken from the 'good' side) and inviting the entire world to approve of it.

It's quite literally begging the question "Do you 'like' me?"

What surprised me is that according to the same survey, the majority of selfie-ers were men. I was sure that our culture was tougher on guys posting up pics of themselves than it was of girls. Just look at guyswithfries.com.

Actor Chris Pratt snaps a gym selfie. Photo / Instagram
Actor Chris Pratt snaps a gym selfie. Photo / Instagram

And yet, after generations of not being able to openly indulge insecurities about our physical appearance due to social norms, us gents now seem to be filling our boots.

Not that I relate exactly; I'm not sure what the abstract validation of strangers would actually do to build my confidence. Or what not being 'liked' would do to shake it.

After all, how many 'likes' do you need to constitute confidence? What happens if all the 'likes' stop coming one day? Do we start changing our physical appearance simply to appease strangers that are only ever going to glance at us for a second, and then scroll on past?

Suppose there's nothing stopping me finding out for myself.

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