Selfies, Social Media, Curation of Self, Family and Digital Embodiment
Why do people take selfies and post them on social media ? How does it enable curation of self? How do selfies affect family life and mental health? How does it relate to the concept of Digital Embodiment ?
This article was originally written for the Technology And Society Course at IIIT-B under Professor Bidisha.
The recent trend of promoting oneself through the use of online social networking sites has contributed to the emergence of a new and apparently self-presenting and self-promoting phenomenon: posting “selfies” to various sites, such as Facebook and Instagram. A selfie has recently been defined as, “a self-portrait photograph of oneself, taken with a camera or a camera phone held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, which is usually shared through social media” (Sorokowski et al., 2015).
Selfies and Social Media
According to my understanding, social media satisfies two basic needs, the need to belong and the need for self-curation. By posting selfies on social media, people with low self-esteem try to feel better about themselves as well as establish their individualism and self-importance. The social comparison theory explains how people compare themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in specific situations, and to learn how to define self (Festinger, 1954). Social media is one of the most common platforms on which social comparison takes place, because it allows people to easily showcase themselves and get feedback from as well as interact with others. People use social media platforms to build their own self-concepts in the form of social comparison and self-evaluation. In the process of the comparison and evaluation in social media, people are generally sensitive to others’ feedback including postings and comments and they do subjectively interpret that information based on their own feelings, states of mind, and points of view. (Youngsoo Shin et al., 2017)
Curation of self using selfies
The word curation implies that different aesthetic objects are put together to deliberately create a story. The internet allows us to display our own collections of aesthetic forms in ways that was not possible earlier. Posting photos carefully to maintain a certain image and tell a story count as curation. But there’s far more to the curation of the self than just selfies. People are creating collections using different kinds of images to express their social selves. They post them over multiple media: different platforms engender different kinds of collections. (Erin B Taylor., 2014) Each medium provides different tools for self-expression, and different ways of connecting to audiences. Through them, people engage in self-curation and build traditions. In the age of the Internet, we are the authentic original. But this does not mean that our online representations are somehow inauthentic. Material culture theory states that our personal identities are created out of a fusion of ourselves (the subject) and the things we use (the objects). Similarly, it makes little sense to claim that our physical selves are the authentic original and our online selves are simply partial mirrors. (Erin B Taylor., 2014) Rather, subject and object create the whole.
Selfies and its effect on family life
The Daily Mirror recently told the story of teenager Danny Bowman, an aspiring model who attempted suicide because he wasn’t satisfied with the quality of his selfies. Bowman had an unhealthy addiction to peer approval via myriad selfie posts. He suffered from body dysmorphia, low self esteem and other mental health issues. He was so invested in creating a digital self, he struggled to build real relationships. His relationship with his family members also took a toll. This is one incident that was reported but there are many such cases in the world. One needs to practice selfie control because often people who click a lot of selfies are driven by insecurity to construct a desirable persona and they are vulnerable to the negative side of self potraiture. Selfies can be fun and give people a burst of satisfaction in the moment, but it is important that people have authentic identities in real time and with real people.
Embodiment is about how the body maps onto frameworks of meaning. There is a misconception that, when we “go digital,” the body becomes irrelevant. Digital embodiment is the extension of ourselves and bodies with technology. It’s how technology intersects with our physical/cultural/social embodiment “Embodiment involves the immersion of bodies and emotions in digital spaces as well as the ways in which bodies and emotions are represented in and shaped by digital spaces” (Wohlwend & Lewis, 2011). Selfies often create an identity online and there is a sharp gap between the digital and real life personas. Since, we can make selfies better by editing, the digital embodiment of self is very different from actual self.
By authoring oneself online through selfie production, a person also has the opportunity to shape the medium itself because what becomes part of their personal assemblages can differ from the tropes and conventions that came before (Ounstend, 2014a). In selfie production one can be coy, vulnerable and proud. They may show their pain, their humour their activism, or their eroticism, but the distinction from the past is that selfie producers will make the image themselves and “how you should look” in a selfie will evolve less and less from outside influences and more from inner rhizomes and gratifications from their social networks. Selfie producers show others how they see themselves to be and these images will fly in the face of convention and the controlled demographic ‘ideal’ of gendered form in visual culture history. Through these self portraits, people can take on the role of both photographer and subject. The people take the power of portrayal back. They actively decide how much of themselves they will reveal to the world, and in which ways.
- Sorokowski, Piotr & Sorokowska, Agnieszka & Oleszkiewicz, Anna & Frackowiak, Tomasz & Huk, A & Pisanski, Katarzyna. (2015). Selfie posting behaviors are associated with narcissism among men. Personality and Individual Differences. 85. 10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.004. Retrieved from : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276365274_Selfie_posting_behaviors_are_associated_with_narcissism_among_men
- Festinger, L. (1954). A Theory of Social Comparison Processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117–140. Retrieved from : https://doi.org/10.1177/001872675400700202
- Shin, Youngsoo & Kim, Minji & Im, Chaerin & Chul Chong, Sang. (2017). Selfie and self: The effect of selfies on self-esteem and social sensitivity. Personality and Individual Differences. 111. 139–145. 10.1016/j.paid.2017.02.004. Retrieved from:https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313513255_Selfie_and_self_The_effect_of_selfies_on_self-esteem_and_social_sensitivity
- Erin B Taylor, Curation of self in the age of internet. Retrieved from: https://erinbtaylor.com/entry/the-curation-of-the-self-in-the-age-of-the-internet
- Wohlwend, Karen & Lewis, Cynthia. (2011). Critical literacy, critical engagement, and digital technology: Convergence and embodiment in glocal spheres. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262972853_Critical_literacy_critical_engagement_and_digital_technology_Convergence_and_embodiment_in_glocal_spheres
- Routh, Patricia. (2016). A poststructuralist review of selfies: Moving beyond heteronormative visual rhetoric. for(e)dialogue. 1. 4–14. 10.29311/for(e)dialogue.v1i1.528. Retrieved from : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326884993_A_poststructuralist_review_of_selfies_Moving_beyond_heteronormative_visual_rhetoric