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What’s the Point of a Selfie/Self-Portrait?

So far the research has been focused on the difference between the selfie and the self-portrait, but I want to go back to Tifentale’s article  and highlight a few things that now tie together a little more. Tifentales responds that the selfie

“is the product of a networked camera… the very raison d’etre of a selfie is to be shared in social media, it is not made for makers’ own personal consumption and contemplation’ “Thus performing the self is at once a private and individual and also a communal and public activity”

Pg 15 Lynn Berger notes

“before the craze of …the selfie…”the practice and experience of everyday photography have become more important than the pictures themselves”.

So is it the practice of the selfie, the social engagement it denotes, the camaraderie (camera-derie?) that is more important than the actual content of the image.  SelfieCity research highlights that women take more selfies than men (in moscow 4.6 times more). Is this the reflection of female social interaction and desire to be involved, included and feel supported by those around them? It is certainly not representative of the entire user population, but the statistics are significant and thought provoking as to the quantity of images out there of women, expressing themselves through the medium of selfie.  Some have regarded this as a backlash on the media sexualisation of the female and the relentless publicity of chasing the perfect body, lifestyle, job, personality etc – instead women are turning around and saying, ‘this is me, LOOK, this is what is normal. This is me looking natural’

Queue the Dove no make-up selfie campaign celebrating natural beauty.

Does the selfie allow women to regain control over the representation of their gender on the internet? Does it really allow them to rid themselves of stereotypes? What is it with teenagers pouting and posing provocatively in front of mirrors that appears to be so liberating about the selfie? Are they not simply conforming to another form of peer pressure that asks them to portray themselves according to a certain set of aesthetic rules?

There is no doubt that the selfie is a great form of self expression. It is noteworthy that the average age of the selfie-maker in SelfieCity is 23.7 years of age, showing that it is an important form of social establishment and identity. It is a way of displaying ‘you’ how you want to be seen, you control your identity (within certain boundaries).The act of the selfie says ‘i’m here, i’m part of this group, we represent ourselves like this’. This is closely followed by peer review, Likes and Comments that then cement that identity and location of one’s self within the world in relation to others, both real and digital.

As Chevrier noted before the selfie-explosion in the early 90’s

“Every self-portrait, even the simplest and least staged, is the portrait of another”

Through talking to students (16-21 mainly) they don’t ‘think’ about the selfie too much, it’s not really planned, it’s more reactionary to the situation – validating what Rutledge says about the importance of ‘what’s going on’. Hair is arranged usually, lip gloss applied maybe, arm raised to improve the angle is perhaps the most consideration it takes; and these have all become second nature, an automatic response to ‘let’s take a selfie’. There is no thought about lighting, about message, nuance and semiotics in the picture, even simple composition goes out the window as long as the main subjects are generally in view. And they don’t really care, because it is a fleeting moment – it’s not something they are going to stick on the wall, or exhibit. It is simply a social record, not an artistic expression. It’s a rather lovely thing, to not be so worried about one’s self-image online and so blissfully confident that it is an expression of friendship that won’t be used for any other purpose, ever, by anyone else…

SO do we really understand how we control our online image? Do we realise that in 20 years we may not know or  speak to the same people and that’s not to mention the revenge photo culture that has raised it’s ugly head already. Young women dressed posing in a sexual, provocative way time and again; social media accounts are private, but there are ways around it and we already know employers check them before hiring. What happens when that scantily clad 16 year old is 21+ and looking for a top job in a legal firm and these pictures turn up because her mates have tagged her and their accounts are not as secure as hers? Who is accountable? Is this even likely? Yes, it has already happened, people have been sacked because of social media comments and photos. Who is responsible for educating young people on their self-image online?

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