Is A Selfie Automatically Shameless?

Do you look down on people who take selfies? (Go on, be honest.) Do you think that people who take selfies are necessarily vain or silly or classless or brassy? Are all selfies automatically shameless?

Girl taking selfie at Castel Sant'Angelo

Like this girl in the photo — how do you feel about her?

Would you feel the same way about her if another person was taking her photo?

Why or — perhaps more likely — why not?

What is so shameless about a selfie?

Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

Oh, I admit it.

I have silently judged people taking selfies before, especially if they’re being loud or making silly poses or faces.

And I’ve quite a few times made the unconscious assumption that a girl holding out her arm and smiling at her phone is somehow more vain than a girl smiling at a friend’s camera.

I think I was forced to — first of all acknowledge, then — challenge those assumptions when I saw a Facebook friend ranting about how he didn’t want to see the same people’s faces perpetually flooding his feed. I mean, I have friends who keep posting photos of themselves, and sure, it can get annoying, especially if you’ve had a trying day, and you open Facebook and — oh my God, another selfie.

But the thing is: there’s this nifty little Facebook feature called “Unfollow” and another, slightly more drastic feature called “Unfriend.”

And so, on one hand, you have people who are always taking and posting photos of themselves, and yeah, perhaps they could reasonably be supposed to be vain. But on the other hand, there’s this guy who is in a situation he has the tools to extract himself out of. Does he use them? No. He can’t be bothered to make a few clicks but he will happily rant and expect others to change their posting habits for his viewing pleasure.

Sorry, but I think that’s even worse than vanity.

And so — because the point isn’t about my friend but what he led me to realize — I began to consciously try to not be a d*ck about selfies.

Add to that the experience of a few solo travels and one day I just had a thought.

Isn’t a person taking a selfie just someone who doesn’t have anyone to take a decent photo of him or her?

Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

More than once, on solo trips, I’ve wished I could just hire a photographer to travel with me so I won’t have to worry about documenting the trip. I mean obviously I wouldn’t; for one, I could barely afford to pay my own travel expenses without having to shoulder someone else’s. But I wish I could.

Of course, I could go on a trip and not document it at all. Or document it without having to have my mug in there. But pictures help me remember. Pictures help me process events that I am, while they’re happening, too involved to examine. And, yes, pictures help me tell the story of my trip to others. And I would like to be in at least some of my photos because, otherwise, I might as well just have lifted them off the internet. I was there. I was there. It’s the “I” and the “there” of the trip — combined — that make it what it is.

It’s also quite possible, instead of holding out my arm and snapping my own photo, to ask other people to take it for me. That works in theory — and there will almost always be someone around who will oblige — but that idea isn’t always ideal because:

  • Some people just can’t take a decent photo. On my first visit to Nice, I had only one picture at the Promenade des Anglais, graciously taken by a very lovely couple, and it was blurred. Blurred. And I didn’t notice it was blurred till I got home. Do you know how much it would cost to go back to Nice to have a proper photo?! (Lol.)
  • This is probably just me but I can’t pose. I can’t pose to save my life, at least not for other people. The one time I did have professional photos taken — for an event, not during travel — the photographer was always telling me to unstiffen my jaw. How?? I have no idea how to make my face look natural. I’m always self-conscious when people take photos of me, even when it’s my sister or a friend behind the camera. Consequently, I tend not to look my best (such as it is!) in my photos when they’re taken by someone else.
  • Speaking of which, I don’t think anybody looks their best all the time, in all their photos. Even those shoots with supermodels involve lots and lots of photos that end up in the [figurative] reject pile. What’s nice about selfies is that you can take as many as photos as you want till you have something you’re happy with. If other people are taking your photo, you could hardly tell them to take your picture again, and again, and again, and again. (I had a friend who did that, with her boyfriend taking her photo, and no one was surprised when they broke up.)

So: sometimes the most reasonable remaining thing to do is to just take a selfie.

Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

Did you know that people often take selfies but don’t actually post them?*

Well, I’m sure you know that, actually, if you’d bothered to think about it. But I think we’re so often inundated by those selfies of people who take and post — and take and post, and take and post, and take and post, and take and post, and take and OMG stop it — that our brain has become programmed to assume that a selfie being taken is a selfie soon to be posted. And so when we see a girl taking a selfie, our brain brings back the memory of all those selfies in our feeds, and we almost can’t help it: we automatically groan or roll our eyes.

And the poor girl gets judged because of something she hasn’t done yet.

Not taking the selfie but posting it.

(And adding to the clutter of our already cluttered lives.)

For what it’s worth, I appear in roughly 12% of my Instagram posts and less than half of that actually show my face. That’s why I’m comfortable defending selfies: I’m not guilty. (Well, maybe just a little bit guilty, like 12%. 😛 ) And I’m not so much defending selfies as proposing that we take a more objective look at both the selfies themselves and the reasons why we feel the way we feel about them.

In a recent study, researchers from Brigham Young University concluded that selfie-takers can be categorized into three groups: communicators, autobiographers, and self-publicists. (You can read the study here and the Harper’s Bazaar layman’s summary of it here.) Basically, communicators post selfies to send a message to or open a dialogue with others; this could be in relation to an advocacy, for example. Autobiographers use selfies to capture significant moments or memories. Self-publicists are the ones we think about when we think about selfies. And of course, we might take selfies for a combination of purposes: “The motivation to take and share selfies is a complex balance of preservation, communication, and entertainment for most individuals who engage in the practice.”

Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

What brought on this post? I saw in the news earlier that Priyanka Chopra was criticized for taking a selfie at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Now, I’m not a Jew, I’m not a German, my family was not affected in any way by the Holocaust, so I would never presume to tell anyone how to feel or not feel about those selfies. Also I honestly don’t know anything about Priyanka Chopra, other than she’s an actress, and I haven’t watched anything with her in it, so I have no feelings about her one way or the other.

I saw the photos she posted that caused the stir. One said “Holocaust memorial #Berlin” and the other said “X and I being tourists. There is such an eerie silence here.” She was not smiling. She was not doing anything I would consider inappropriate — except, apparently, taking a selfie.

So my question is this — and it is an actual question, not a rhetorical question, because I honestly don’t know — are all photos banned at the Holocaust Memorial?

I have friends who have been there, and they have photos there, and they weren’t acting inappropriately in any way, but the photos weren’t selfies and were instead taken by another person. Are those photos of my friends okay?

Is it poor taste for anyone to have a photo taken at the Holocaust Memorial? Should photography just be banned there, then? Or is it poor taste only when said photo is a selfie? And if it’s the latter — why?

What do our attitudes say about us?

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*This section was added on June 5, 2017.



14 thoughts on “Is A Selfie Automatically Shameless?”

    • I didn’t really see why it was offensive either. Perhaps if she was doing something frivolous…but she wasn’t.

  • Lovely post. For a selfie to be automatically tagged as shameless is totally not fair (this is coming from a vain human being who posts a lot of selfies on her social media, hah!) People online can be very horrible when they overreact at times like with what happened to Priyanka based on what you said.Maybe if the Jews gave a bad reaction to her selfie then we can say it’s THAT BAD. 🙂 Maybe people were thinking that it could hve been better if she took a shot of the place (without human element) Or Maybe she just wants to say that “i was here,” hence the selfie.

    Is there a limit? I guess so. everything should. Like of it’s endangering one’s life or say in a funeral of a person and taking a selfie (all smile) in front of the coffin. Or if something horrible/devastating event happened and the person decides to snap a smiling face, then that’s awful.

    As for your friend, that’s one of the reasons why I gave up my personal FB because I also experienced what you mentioned there. haha! Kasuya yung makakakita ng same face every.single.day that even yung trip nila ata sa toilet e nagseselfie! NAKAKALOKA! so I realised that if I have that then maybe the people on my timeline can get fed up too. Unlike if they follow my blog’s social media, then it’s on them. Like “you follow me, then expect selfies” haha ~

    Sadly, we live na kasi in a very showbiz world where people post on social media first before actually doing something. Im not an exception to this. My personal take on this lang is if i dont wanna see your posts, i unfollow or mute. hehe. same with all the negative stuff around me. And yes, you can always choose naman how, when and where to waste your time.

    Bottomline, selfies became a thing because we as people are narcissists. The term was coined nalang later pero it has been going on before pa. Way, way back pa kaya nga there are self portraits in the old times dba? 😀

    • Yes! From Leonardo da Vinci to Van Gogh to Botticelli, a lot of the most respected artists have done “selfies.”

      And you know, there have actually been studies that show that narcissism is not the only motivation for why people take selfies. (I’ll try to add that to this post.) And of course, there’s a difference between *taking* selfies and *posting* them.

      Tapos syempre, like you, if you’re a beauty blogger, di na man pwedeng hindi ka mag-selfie dba?

  • You’re right-–people view selfies negatively. When I used to travel by myself, before cellphones, it took guts to ask random people to take a picture of me. I’m actually thankful selfies have evolved.
    But what I can’t stand is when people post their selfies on Facebook almost everyday. Also they don’t stop at one or two pictures. They post 12 or more selfie pictures and often they are all the same (parehong pose lahat!). Smh…

    • Parehong pose, parehong angle. Haha! Yun talaga, when I get to the point na I’ve had enough of seeing their faces, nag-u-unfollow na talaga ako. 😀

      • I always say to myself, I already know what you look like after one or two pictures. Seriously must you post a dozen of the same picture? Ugh! And when they travel, they take only pics of themselves and not the place. Nakakainis. Lol!

      • Haha! Yes! Nag-mini survey nga ako sa friends ko sa mga things that annoy them about travel bloggers (for a post I’m developing) and that always comes up. 😀 One friend said something like, “We would appreciate the place more if we actually saw it, and not just your face.” 😀

    • Hi, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      That may be true — if we disregard for the moment those selfies that are shared to promote advocacies such as a positive body image or to encourage people to vote — but then again we do a lot of things that are mostly for ourselves. Watching a movie, engaging in hobbies, eating at a nice restaurant. Even our blogs are mostly for ourselves, in the sense that the world will be just fine if our blogs don’t exist. Are we selfish when we do those things then and should we be shamed for them?

  • Multiple questions here. Sometimes I see photos that people have taken that look great but impersonal. That person went to great time and expense to be there but is missing from the picture. I treasure the pictures I have from travelling with my family because they spark memories of special days, things said, and of course that loved one. Yes some people seem vain but I don’t think about it for too long. Yes, some places pictures seem tacky but it is more the antics than the photos themselves.
    Lots of great people in the world but sometimes the clowns, and bullies sully the moment, but that is the way it is.

    • I agree with everything you said. I wanted to get people thinking with this post, so thanks for a very well thought out comment.

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