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The Sociology of Selfies

So my mom and I were talking about my cousin Jessica, who posts a lot of selfies.

"I think she should go with the pale pink lipstick," I said. 

That's Jessica in the pink lipstick.

She usually posts with red lipstick. The red is too dark.

"I don't understand selfies at all," said my mother.

"It has nothing to do with being bored," I said.

"I wasn't thinking that," my mother responded.


My mother hung up the phone. And I continued the conversation with myself.

Selfies are a social phenomenon, I thought.

I like taking them. But I've never really thought about why.

Is it a sign of being self-obsessed?

Yes - in a way - that's true.  

But that isn't where it ends, I don't think.

Is it a way of pretending to be a celebrity?

Sort of. That too. But again, that's not all.

It's too easy to dismiss selfies as superficial, vain and stupid.

And then it occurred to me.

Selfies are about regarding the self.

They are about taking the self as an object.

About looking at yourself from the outside in, as if you were a third party.

You can study your own emotions.

Are your feelings inscrutable?

Are you feeling intense? Sad? Are you a bit reflective?

Are you just plain happy?

Selfies, for women in particular I think, are about being the subject to your own object.

In much of the world and throughout history, women have been objectified on art, in life, the object of male pleasure.

A selfie lets you, as a woman, take the camera in hand and objectify yourself. Oddly, paradoxically, it is an act of female empowerment. 

More broadly it allows the individual to reframe, own and celebrate their own experience. 

Making their own story all their own.

Our own.


Main photo by Dhinai Chheda via Flickr. Photo of Jessica Garfinkel via Facebook. Photos of myself are by me. All opinions are my own; they don't reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

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