The Huffington Post recently asked, “Are selfies ruining your relationship?” and everyone who ever held a phone up to their face and gave a good set of duck lips just rolled their eyes in disbelief. Still, the prevailing public opinion seems to be that selfies –those smartphone or webcam-snapped self-portaits that are so ubiquitous on social media – are simply an exercise in vanity. The Huffington Post says the selfie is “undeniably self-absorbed,” and “a manifestation of society’s obsession with looks and its ever-narcissistic embrace.” They probably never said that to Frida Kahlo and her endless parade of self-portraits. But I’d argue that there’s a power in selfies that goes far beyond vanity.
If you’re under the age of 30 you probably know exactly what degree of head tilt makes your cheekbones pop, and have since the MySpace days. A lot of the time you snap a selfie because you look hot and want the world (or just Instagram) to know, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people will think all this is because you’re a horrible self-obsessed Millennial, but I think maybe you’re just a person who is comfortable with him-or-herself and their appearance.
The act of taking a selfie, as is inherent in the name, is a documentation of self, an assertion of existence, an announcement that you are unafraid to take up space in the world. To young girls especially, who are socially conditioned to be nice, quiet, and compliant, that’s an important exercise. Saying to yourself, “Damn, I look good today,” and taking a picture to record it is a self-affirming expression of confidence in a world that is constantly barraging us with images of an unattainable standard of beauty. It’s the photographic equivalent of that old life-coach trick where you look into the mirror and tell your reflection you are beautiful. A little cheesy, yes, and 1,123 times less private (depending on your number of social followers), but still true.
The Huffington Post supports its argument that selfies are destroying our relationships with a recent study that found “increased frequency of sharing self-portraits is related to a decrease in intimacy with others” and that sharing “excessive” amounts of photographs makes people less likeable. I think the key word here is “excessive” – of course no one likes the guy uploading 20 near-identical mirror pics every day (or even worse, the guy who uploads a picture of every meal before he eats it). That’s just annoying, and also why the ‘unfollow’ button exists. But the occasional well-timed self snap can be a wonderful thing for a relationship. When my boyfriend sends me an out-of-the-blue picture of himself holding a tiny kitten, it makes my day, and just might become the background on my phone. It’s a way for him to say “thinking of you, and how much you would love this tiny kitten” while also reminding me that he’s even better looking in the right feline company.
If selfies actually are destroying your relationship, I’m not sure what to tell you. If you’re dating someone whose social media presence is nothing but a constant stream of narcissism, that sounds incredibly irritating. But if someone’s selfie habits are becoming an issue in your love life, I would wager the “my boyfriend holding a kitten” selfie that is my phone background that there are a lot more problems between the two of you than there are Instagram filters. It’s not selfies that are ruining your relationship, it’s you two. Maybe it’s time to call it off and celebrate by sharing with the world a picture of you sipping a beer – cause nothing says “newly single and loving it” quite like Instagramming yourself getting drunk.
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