Whether we like it or not, nowadays, scrolling through one’s social media account is no different from scrolling through a gallery of heavily edited self-portraits. It’s fine to take a photo of yourself and share it once in a while when you’re feeling confident, but it is another issue when you feel the need to constantly self-check and broadcast it to everyone. As common as this behavior is becoming in the 21st century, society should not turn a blind eye to millennials’ compulsive selfie-taking habit. It needs to be treated as what it is: a new generation addiction disorder called selfitis.
The term “selfitis’ was first coined in 2014 in a article claiming it was a classified mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. It was a hoax, but it inspired empirical researches on the topic. In 2017, two psychologists – Balakrishnan and Griffiths – published a study analyzing what “selfitis’ is and its behavior scale (Balakrishnan, Griffiths 2017). According to the Oxford Dictionary, a selfie refers to “a self-portrait photography of oneself (or oneself with other people), 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”. Evidently, this is how the technology gave rise to the selfie culture.
The concept of a self-portrait dated as a far back as 1839. Films were expensive, so only when digital cameras and camera phones came along did selfie-taking became more widespread. In 2010 when the iPhone 4 featuring the front-facing camera was first introduced, it triggered the beginning of the current selfie culture (Day 2013).
In America today, 77% of the population owns a smartphone according to Pew Research Center. Big smartphone brands such as Samsung even has a built-in “Beauty Face’ mode for the front camera which airbrushes and slims down your face as well as enlarges your eyes (Shamsian 2016). This indirectly dictates beauty standards and suggests that enhancement is necessary. As the percentage of people owning smartphones rises, the need for an instant worldwide connection also increases.
Platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram keep on expanding and haven’t stopped since. According to a study in 2018 conducted by Salomon and Brown, taking and posting selfies can be associated with negative self-image. Essentially, the more selfies one has, the more they are aware of their appearance and that exposes them to a greater risk of developing a negative body image (Salomon, Brown 2018).
Furthermore, before the selfies are uploaded, most of them get extensively edited. In 2017, statistics from a survey by TruePic suggest amongst the 82% of Americans who have shared a photo online, nearly two-thirds (64%) admit to editing a photo prior to posting (Poll 2017). One of the most popular application amongst the internet nowadays is Facetune – a four-dollar photo-editing tool that allows users to have instant plastic surgery on any facial features (Rousseau 2017). At first glance it seems quite harmless, but it is actually promoting unrealistic beauty standards. When people compare themselves to pictures online, their self-esteem gets lowered and consequently, they feel the need to tweak their photos. Then they publish those photos online to fish for affirmation from people who would restart that never-ending cycle.
Additionally, a lot of companies are coming out with physical tools to feed into this selfie craze. Modern products like selfie-sticks, remote control robots that track your face at any angle within eight meters “so your arm will never ruin that flawless shot” (Murray), or phone cases with built-in lights for selfies were never a demand in the past, yet more and more ridiculous products are hitting the market.
With both technology and social media working in favor of amplifying the negative side of the selfie culture, it is no surprise that even worse outcomes could occur. Take the case of the 19-year-old Danny Bowman for example. Danny started taking and posting selfies at the age of 15. After getting rejected at a model agency in 2011, his selfie habit turned into a serious addiction. He was snapping over 200 photos a day, he didn’t leave his house for six months, during which time he lost 30 pounds and dropped out of school all to achieve the “perfect” selfie, and when that failed, he became extremely depressed and attempted suicide by overdosing.
Luckily, after his mother found him and rushed him to the hospital, he began an intensive treatment for his addiction disorder along with OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Molloy 2014). Through this case, we can see that obsessive selfie-taking can very much lead to severe measures. Although suicide might be an extreme case, getting plastic surgery is becoming more and more of a norm amongst millennials. Take the Kardashians for example, they are considered to be one of the most influential people of our generations and their claim to fame is their fake bottoms, fake lips and botox-filled face.
As people get more aware of their physical “flaws’, these cosmetic procedures are also conveniently getting more affordable. Although the risk of dying in any surgical procedure is between 1 in 250,000 and 1 in 500,000 (Coleman 2008), the negative impacts is much more than physical. The more people mindlessly chasing unrealistic, skin-deep beauty standards and are willing to go under the knife just to look like the next pretty girl is only going to intellectually damage society as a whole.
On the contrary of experiencing low self-esteem, some studies present a link between selfies and narcissistic traits (Buffardi and Campbell 2008). One of the studies was on the connection between narcissistic traits and selfie taking behaviour amongst college students. The researchers were analyzing the students’ number of selfies per day, their poses, their editing process as well as the frequency of them untagging themselves from group selfies. Result shows “that majority of the selfie taking college students had narcissistic symptoms” (Sukhdeep and Preksha 2018).
Humanity have experienced the concept of self-hatred since the beginning of time, the only difference now is that society has evolved to make our loathing more convenient with different tools such as modern technologies and social medias. The solution to this serious predicament is unknown, but the first step would be to accept reality as it is instead of viewing it as lightly as most people are currently. Through these current advancements, obsessive selfie-taking behaviors are also persistently accumulating amongst teenagers as well as millennials and is slowly becoming more and more of a serious problem.