Nowadays, the photos you most often see of sports stars, celebs, and even the President of the Free World are as likely to be a product of their own index fingers as a lengthy portrait-and-Photoshop session. Facebook and Instagram feeds are littered with #selfie tags of friends and strangers, sometimes in various states of undress (or at funerals). And, as evidenced by the fact the word “selfie” has been named the 2013 word of the year by the Oxford Dictionaries, like it or loathe it, the informal self-portrait cluttering your Instagram feed seems to be here for the long haul.
Part of the reason for its popularity is that those smiling, slightly off-center images of your giddy grin may actually enhance your self-esteem. Research from the University of Indiana found that the way we project ourselves on social media can actually make us feel better about ourselves, precisely because we’re the ones in charge. The study didn’t focus specifically on selfies—rather on how we project ourselves on social media—but found that when we can control our image, we feel better about what we see than we would if we simply looked in a mirror. “Because we have the time to choose how we present ourselves online, our presentations are a bit ‘better,’ ” explains co-author Amy Gonzales, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Indiana University.
At first glance, that makes sense: After all, when you’re the photographer and star of a selfie session, no one’s saying that you can’t take 10 or 20 shots in order to get the perfect image. There’s no film wasted, no one rolling his eyes because you want to take just one or two more, and a quick click of the delete button makes it impossible for anyone to see the outtakes. And once you’ve finally found a perfect pic, you have a fun, flattering photo to share with your friends—and your “friends”—without any of them knowing how hard it was to produce. But as anyone who’s eagerly refreshed her phone in the quest for Instagram hearts and Facebook likes knows, it’s rarely that simple.
Protect Your Self(ie)-Esteem
Before you snap a shot, check in and ask why you’re taking this particular photo, suggests Ellen Kenner, Ph.D., a psychologist in Rhode Island. “If you love the way you look one day, or are in a playful mood and want to capture it for yourself as a memory, or share it with friends and family, there is something fun and self-valuing in that,” she says, and your friends and family will enjoy seeing you genuinely happy or excited. The problem, she explains, occurs when you’re waiting for feedback from others. If you spend the next 20 minutes furiously clicking refresh, or wishing specific people commented, then it could be a sign that you’re overly dependent on external feedback to determine your inner happiness. “All the selfies in the world won’t replace genuine self-esteem,” reminds Kenner.
“A lot of energy goes into a selfie, especially if you’re the type of person in the habit of taking them all the time,” warns Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D., a psychologist in Tampa. “An occasional selfie is part of being on social media, but more than a few may signify an underlying confidence issue.”
Selfie-taking can be harmless fun. But if you’re spending over an hour a day related to your selfie-behavior (including the two-minute checks to see if anyone responded, because they add up quickly), warns New York psychologist Alice Boyes, Ph.D., or if you find yourself seeking out situations (or outfits) because they might look good on Instagram and garner an outpouring of feedback, then it could be a good sign to dial back a bit.
Live First, Shoot Later
That’s especially true if your selfie-taking is habitual rather than a way to chronicle meaningful moments, like visiting a historical site or showing off your new pixie cut.
Spend too much time pulling a duck face at the lens or putting every hair in place and not only are you wasting time, you’re also missing out on the spontaneity and imperfections that are part of making memories. Windswept hair, spiky eyebrows, a funny facial expression … part of the reason candids are so much fun is that they’re less than perfect. The windswept hair? A reminder of what you accomplished on that six-hour hike. And the spiky eyebrows can instantly bring back the feeling of just getting out of a pool on a hot August day.
If you do find yourself frequently taking selfies just because, try to at least tone down the pre-shoot prep, just to see how it feels. Post the first (or, okay, the second) picture you take, then turn off your notifications so you won’t be compelled to count the “likes” as they roll in—or lament if they don’t. That way, you’re minimizing your focus on the attention you receive from the photo, and making it more about how you feel in the moment.
Ready to step up your less-is-more approach? Try limiting your sharing—at least for a bit. Instead of immediately posting, keep them on your phone to look at later, or just send them to a best friend or significant other. The more you take away the “insta” part of Instagram posting, the more meaning it will have when you do choose to share this glimpse into your world. Says Kulaga, “Like the saying goes, it’s all about creating a life that feels good on the inside, not a life that only looks good on the outside.”
When we think back to the biggest pop culture happenings from the past year, we're not surprised that "selfie" snagged the spot of Word of the Year. From Beyoncé's new haircut to the Pope's epic Instagram debut, these self portraits made headlines and completely dominated our social media feeds. Click through our gallery to recap and reminisce on the the most famous—and infamous—selfies of 2013.
In a move that was almost as shocking as the release of her secret album, Beyoncé caused a stir in the pop culture universe when she debuted her blonde pixie cut this summer on Instagram, garnering over 447k likes, 24.1k comments, and tons and tons of media attention. Other stars stopped the presses this year by chopping off their hair, but this image of Mrs. Carter elicited the biggest reaction of all.
One half of the most talked about celebrity couple of the year, Kim Kardashian was in the spotlight (even more than normal) this year during her pregnancy and after giving birth to daughter North West. How much weight she gained, her uncomfortable maternity outfits, her choice for her baby's name, and whether or not she has waxed baby Nori's eyebrows (seriously, guys?), have all been tabloid fodder. In an interview on the Tonight Show in October, she explained how this swimsuit selfie was her giving the middle finger to everyone who called her fat during her pregnancy.
In a radio interview, Fox News host Geraldo Rivera explains that after a few drinks (tequila), he decided it was a great idea to tweet this photo—and then when his 18-year-old daughter texted him the next morning to take it down, he realized maybe it wasn't so smart. But he deleted it too late. A few months later, Duquesne University took him off a panel discussion for the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination that he was supposed to be on, citing his inappropriate actions as being unaligned with the Catholic university's values. The lesson we can all learn from Rivera's mistake? Tweeting under the influence is bad. Very bad.
One of the more disturbing selfie trends that sprung up this year involved taking selfies at funerals. But it became even more surprising when President Obama seemed to be joining in. This shot of Obama, Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg gained lots of attention. The First Lady looking miserable in the background was also a big point of discussion.
Proof of the selfie's power, Rihanna's photo with a slow loris perched on her shoulder in a Thai night club led to the arrest of two men for animal trafficking. These adorable primates are an endangered and protected species, and possessing one is illegal without a permit. It was because of Rihanna's fame and huge following on Instagram that authorities were able to find out about the illegal activity and track down the culprits who were using the animals for tourist photo opps.
This year, Japanese photographer and writer Keisuke Jinushi taught us an important lesson: Just because you're single doesn't mean you have to throw away your dreams of taking cute couple photos. In a series of Instagram photos, Jinushi takes selfies that make it seem like his girlfriend is feeding him fries, a drink, and wiping ketchup off his face. But really, the arm coming into the shot is his own. He explains that taking photos alone while traveling makes you look lonely, so his solution is to take what he calls "hitori date photos," or "one-man-date photos."
By far the most epic selfie of the year, Twitter user FabioMRagona posted this picture in August of Pope Francis posing with a group of young Italians visiting Rome on a pilgrimage. Between the Pope's tweeting and his selfie-taking, we think it's safe to say he's the most tech-savvy man to ever grace the Vatican.
Besides being the year of the selfie, it's safe to say 2013 was also the year of Miley Cyrus (or at least the summer). Girl's got a knack for selfies, but this one of her dressed as Lil' Kim for Halloween seemed to be one of the most talked about. And although her tongue is surprisingly inside her mouth this time, the amount of skin showing is still on par with her new norm.
In a selfie move that caused many people to wonder, "Was that supposed to be a text?" Mariah Carey tweeted this racy chest shot with a happy birthday message to husband Nick Cannon. The thousands of replies and retweets though are the best, with most of them encouraging Cannon to hurry home and pointing out how lucky he is. Not that this pop diva's husband needs to be told that.
First, he had the most-viewed video ever on YouTube. Then, he was the most-followed person on Twitter (until Katy Perry surpassed him this November), and now he's set another record: the most-liked photo on Instagram, which happens to be of him and "Uncle Will." Bieber's Instagram selfies are plentiful, especially the ones of him shirtless showing off his newest tattoos. Some days, he posts four selfies in a row, and each gets over 800k likes. But most can bring in 1 million or more. You'd think people would get sick of seeing his face an arms-length away, right? Nope. Not the true Beliebers.
If you don't remember that time Amanda Bynes had a psychotic break and tweeted all about it, let this photo jog your memory. Among a series of bizarre tweets about Drake and her vagina, her love of plastic surgery, and her absurd weight loss goals, Bynes also posted a series of selfie after selfie, noting that she'd like the paparazzi to stop using ugly photos of her and instead use these newer, better-looking ones.
Who knew selfies could be dangerous? Fox Sun Sports reporter Kelly Nash shared her near-death selfie experience with the world when she posted a photo of herself at Fenway Park almost getting nailed right in the head with a baseball. During batting practice before the game, she decided to take advantage of a good selfie opp at the famous stadium, and noticed as she snapped away that a baseball had whizzed right past her head mid-photo. "Most dangerous selfie ever," she says in the caption. We'd say it's definitely up there. (Geraldo Rivera's could be considered most dangerous, too.)
As evidenced by the emphasis on social media during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, 2013 was the year that supermodels blew up on Instagram. Miranda Kerr was a big player, as was British model Cara Delevingne, Doutzen Kroes, and all of their fellow Angels. In these techier times, models aren't just required to look good on the runway and in professional shoots. The cell phone selfie is just as key in making these beauties household names—which we love, since we get to see them in their more realistic daily lives, not just all glammed up.
Taking advantage of a good selfie opp that most people will never have, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano got a solid shot while just floating out in the middle of space. You can even see Earth reflected in his helmet. The best part? No need to agonize over nailing the perfect facial expression!
Winning for most controversial selfie of the year, this woman poses to snap a shot of herself with a man about to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. A New York Post photographer caught her in the act, and the Post ran this woman's photo on its Dec. 4 cover. Some may argue that there is a time and place for selfies. Others may say selfies are never OK. But we think it's safe to say this is a serious selfie no-no all around.
Meet Benny Winfield Jr., self-proclaimed Leader of the Selfie Movement. (Note: His Instagram username is also mrpimpgoodgame. So there's that.) His feed is nothing but selfies, all featuring the same smirk and taken from the same angle. In a very Derek Zoolander-esque move, he calls his signature look "Something to Remember." He also admits that his insta-fame was a total accident—he was just trying to be funny, and in the process, became a huge hit.
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