“But first, let me take a selfie.” -The Chainsmokers, “#Selfie”
The whole act of taking a selfie is a product of our personality. From the angle to the tilt of one’s head, all give way to each person’s flavor in that moment. The selfie phenomenon was one bred in our generation (that is to say, the millennial generation) and has developed into a form social identification and etiquette.
In a This American Life piece titled “Status Update”, Ira Glass interviews three teenage girls to explain the intricate social etiquette of Instagram. They decode Instagram comments and their alternate meanings for the older generations. It’s probably so common than most millennials do not even realize they’re doing this, and girls especially will be able to relate.
Let me set up a scenario for you. When one girl comments on your selfie “Omggg goals!! *heart eyes emoji*” on the latest selfie you posted, you probably know exactly what they’re saying without even realizing it. It’s a polite formality that I can best relate to (for older generations possibly reading this) getting a birthday card in the mail from a relative. You might reply to that comment with a “Omg no that’s you!” or “ilysm ty *heart emoji* *heart emoji* *heart emoji*” or some variation thereof. This would be the responding phone call or letter back to said relative that mailed you a birthday card. This is the modern way of exchanging pleasantries with the development of social media.
But if this is what the comments mean, this instant form of gratification mixed with informal social etiquette, then what are the pictures we take saying?
Last semester I took an English class that focused on the millennial sense of identity and everything seemed to boil down to social media outlets and how they play a role in our lives. There was discussion about the ‘standard selfie’, duck-face, dog filter, forty-five-degree angle tilt, et cetera. But if what I think are my most benign selfies are later revealed to be so revealing, can there really be the assumption that there are selfies out there so “typical” that they overpower any personality exuded by the taker?
While discussing sense of identity, one of the in-class activities was to show three of our favorite selfies to the class and then have them described to us. The student who was analyzing my selfies was able to pick up rather acute aspects of my personality. They deduced that based off of my selfies I am “funny, friendly, and easy-going”, and, if I was pressed to describe myself, I think I would use those three words. In three images they were able to vaguely sum up my entire personality. In the article I’ve included pictures of my instagram feed and also a selfie I took via snapchat recently so that you may see for yourself.
However, while this description is accurate, it does not portray my love for squishy-faced dogs, nor the fact that the only reason I work out regularly is to fight off serial killer attacks (this is also why I never wear heels unless they’re stilettos, because stilettos can be used as weapons in a pinch). This got me thinking about how much and who exactly we portray in our selfies. If we think of selfies as bits to a jigsaw puzzle, you wouldn’t be able to see the whole picture in one piece. Collect enough, though, and patterns start to emerge, and from those patterns a person is formed. According to this student, each of my three selfies portrayed a separate piece of my personality, creating a whole idea once put together. Going off of this reasoning, the more selfies I would have brought in, the more defined my identity would have become, almost like taking a picture in 420p and upping the resolution to 1080p.
Selfies do a lot of things while getting flak from older generations, mostly because they don’t understand how to use the front facing camera on their iPhones. In essence they are still similar to any other picture in the case that they are meant to memorialize a moment. Selfie by a notable monument? Memorialization of the fact that you were there (and to show others what you’re doing). Selfie out with friends? Memorialization of that time y’all got froyo (and to show others what you’re doing, and how close your friendship is). Just you in your room? Memorialization of that time your skin was really clear and the lighting was WORKING IT (and to show others that you are good looking). Everything has meaning, and all meaning has a double meaning. It’s very meta and humans are very intentional creatures whether we’re conscious of it or not. So in that way, selfies are almost archaic in nature.
And with all of that said, follow me on Instagram @julesupreme for more modern conformity!
*Thumbnail thanks to Sydney Cooney. All other photos in this article are property of the author, Julia Lockhart.