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?
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?
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?
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.
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.”
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?
*This section was added on June 5, 2017.