Today, I took a selfie. I was feeling pretty cute and confident. I liked my outfit, my hair, and my skin. So I took a selfie for posterity’s sake and posted it to social media. As the likes poured in, my self-confidence grew.
I know what you’re thinking. Wow, what a vapid, self-absorbed idiot, posting photos of herself for attention. And I get where you’re coming from, which is why I feel guilty about posting it.
But, why do I feel guilty? Especially when I rarely post selfies and despise most photos of myself? After all, I’m not like other girls…
BZZZZZ. That’s my former pick-me self talking.
Would it make it better to you if I told you I suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, depression, and overall low self-confidence? That years of abuse by an intimate partner that left me battered inside and out, chronic illnesses that caused fluctuating weight, hair loss, and breakouts, and general socialization that women are ugly unless they’re gorgeous, all contributed to my feeling pretty hideous 360 to 362ish days out of the year? So I’ve earned a right to take a selfie when I feel good about myself, right?
Right, and it shouldn’t matter. Anyone can take a selfie for whatever reason they’d like. Let’s face it, humans are obsessed with the human form. Just look at all of art history. These days, we can capture images of ourselves easily and cheaply. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But it’s a sign of narcissism! wails the media. Not necessarily so. Research has shown that narcissism is only slightly correlated with selfie-posting(and one of the most reported-on studies saying that social media causes narcissism only surveyed 74 people), and the associations are stronger with men than in women. (Gasp!) Like any aspect of human experience, there are nuances to any link between selfie-taking and narcissism. Yet without having conducted research, I suspect that the opposite holds truer: taking selfies indicates sociality, not antisociality. A desire for connection, not admiration.
Why It’s Okay to Count Your Instagram Likes
I’m growing weary of these admittedly intelligent articles talking about how harmful social media addiction is…
Narcissists demand that others sate their appetite for self-aggrandizement. They care very little about what others do unless it directly serves their hunger for power. Seeing a like on their new profile picture does very little for narcissists because it has no real-world effect. I know, because I have been subject to narcissistic abuse.
My abuser regularly used social media, but not for posting selfies. He would leave passive-aggressive or niggling comments on my or my friends’ posts, all designed to engineer feelings of discontent, breed drama or jealousy, or otherwise triangulate people. He read more than he posted, and then he used what he’d learned cyberstalking to harass me and others in real life. The common wisdom that narcissists are only interested in themselves is false, as my research on narcissists’ perception of media has shown. They are very interested in other people insofar as they can get valuable intel and manipulate them. They lurk on social media more than they post things for attention. My ex-abuser is likely reading this post, desperate for a way to regain control of me. (He won’t get it.)
So what could posting selfies do for them? Nothing. Maybe satisfy their need to be admired for a moment, but all the selfies in the world can’t supply them what they need.
Taking selfies is not immoral nor is it a sign of narcissism. However, lots of other behavior, such as cyberstalking or excessive commenting, might be. Meanwhile, the selfies that permeate the Internet are largely expressions of love: selfies with people or animals you love, at places you love, or after a significant moment. When I asked friends why they posted selfies, the common theme was “to share my experiences with people I care about.” Or “just to be silly,” one commenter offered. It’s all about the experience, the context, the goal of connection: and those are not narcissistic traits. Sometimes, you don’t even look that good in a selfie.
For me today, my significant moment was that I felt cute. Not only cute, but happy in a new job and city. I wanted to share it with my friends because they know that I’ve struggled and I had an accomplishment to share with them. For one day, I felt like I’d defied my socialization, my past of bullying and abuse, even societal notions of beauty. I am all about the selfie as a means to connect with people whom I may not see anytime soon. I am all about the selfie as a means of contextualizing yourself in a place or moment that means a lot to you. I am all about the selfie as an outlet for self-love.
And that’s the thing: narcissists do not love themselves, or anyone. So if you love taking selfies, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. It likely means you’re capable of humanity’s greatest capacity, love.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.