THE EVOLUTION OF SELFIE CULTURE
Selfies have been around since the first humans drew themselves on cave walls, developing into portraits, digital photos and front-facing camera snaps as the years went on. The term ‘Selfie’ first appeared on Flikr in 2004, but didn’t really reach public consciousness until almost a decade later in late 2012-2013 (it was even added to the Oxford dictionary in 2013), and now we as a culture are all about the selfies, using them as a way to show our ‘face of the day’, or to have fun with friends.
Selfies started off as simple self-portraits, but have been evolving over the years, especially with new technology in recent times. I wanted to delve into the evolution of selfies and selfie culture to see how (or if) they’ve changed since the dawn of the internet.
MYSPACE + FACEBOOK
The creation of social media site MySpace in 2003 also created arguably the first type of ‘internet selfie’ – the MySpace pic. The stereotypical MySpace selfie was taken at a high angle and the contrast increased in an attempt to hide any perceived flaws. They were typically low in quality due to the low-res photos taken on phones and early digital cameras. The high-angle nature of MySpace selfies became somewhat of a meme, with even advertisers using it in camera adverts.
In 2009, Facebook took over as the most popular social media site and the design encouraged higher quality pictures and friendlier angles, with the site seemingly more about sharing images of and with friends rather than Selfies.
FRONT-FACING CAMERAS + MIRROR SELFIES
It was 2003 when the first front-facing camera on a mobile phone launched, but the 2010 iPhone brought it to the forefront of selfie culture, leading to a wave of selfies across the internet as people explored this new technology. It made it easier to take the photos, as you could see the framing as you took the photo and before the invention, selfies were more likely to be taken in front of a mirror.
Mirror selfies are still popular, as the back-facing camera is better quality and it’s easier to get a full-body shot in that way, but the ease of a front-facing camera for pictures of just the face means they are more favoured. Mirror selfies are often used as part of the body-positive movement, or to show clothing (or lack of clothing) choices.
Perhaps the site that pushed selfie culture into the mainstream, Instagram’s use of filters created a whole generation of selfie-lovers. These photo editing capabilities meant everyone could make themselves look the best they could be and invited as many pictures as possible to be posted. The ‘likes’ received on each picture make the user feel good about themselves, leading to more selfie-taking, and so on. The #selfie hashtag is used 1000 times every ten seconds [2016 data].
There has been concerns about the links between Instagram selfies and body image problems and/or narcissism in young people and teens, with plastic surgery and eating disorder numbers rising since the site’s popularity. I believe personally that this stems from users uploading the ‘best’ of their day and followers comparing themselves to what they see, as well as apps like FaceTune which allows users to edit their photos to change features. Any social media account will not give you the full picture of someone’s life: all we see is the best of it. In recent times, however, there has been a number of users or articles that showcase the ‘truth’ behind Instagram pictures, with captions describing what the person photographed was actually feeling or doing at the time which has allowed impressionable followers to realise that what they see on Instagram may not be the truth.
Possibly the most recent development of selfies is Snapchat, especially with the addition of fun filters (called Lenses) in the latter half of 2015. The Lenses allows users to mask their ‘true’ appearance with filters such as dog ears, rainbow vomit and makeup looks. The true magic of these Lenses is the fact they almost erased the embarrassment and perceived narcissism of selfies entirely.
Selfies were becoming ridiculed as signs of vanity and people were becoming less confident about posting them, but with the silliness of Snapchat filters, that melted away. Selfies were seen as fun again, as long as you looked like a puppy or had a funny-shaped head. These Lenses also did what Instagram filters and FaceTune did – it masked the true image and hid any ‘flaws’ with dog ears or oversized eyes.
PRESENT DAY + THE FUTURE OF SELFIES
Nowadays you’re more likely to see a casual (read: posed) picture of a beautiful person against a pretty backdrop that their friend just ‘happened to take’ on Instagram, a flurry of filters on Snapchat, and selfies being turned into memes on Facebook. Selfies have evolved so much already, and I believe they will continue to evolve just like they have done since the dawn of human life, especially with the development of new technologies and apps. I do think they’ll stick around – they’ve proved very resilient so far and have always been about displays of confidence and recording current events in one’s life – but that they and the attitudes towards them will change, just like they always have done.
Displays of confidence shouldn’t be discouraged in this age of Media, where everyone is constantly being told they aren’t good enough in one way or another. So, next time you see a Selfie, give it a like.
P.S. Would this make a good YouTube video? I’d love to know your thoughts about whether it would, and whether I should make one or not!