My theories about how painful my neighbor's camel-toe must be are much more important than snapping a photo of my face. Don't you agree?
Chances are, you know someone (and it might be you) that takes photos of their self and shares them with friends and followers on a way too regular basis. There seems to be two distinct camps when it comes to selfies: those who take them all the time, and those who don't understand why anyone would ever bother.
As someone who always cringed with discomfort and felt a not-so-secret pity when I happened upon a profile with too many selfies, I decided there had to be something of substance to the serial selfiest. It couldn't possibly be entirely superficial. These people can't possibly all be narcissists. After all, even the most vain person on earth must know—on some level—that sharing photos of oneself taken in the driver's seat of their car several times a week isn't really all that interesting. No one can be stupid enough to think that people earnestly give a shit about what they look like while bored at work or stuck in traffic. In fact, knowing some of these people personally made it all the more perplexing—many of them are intelligent, well-grounded people who don't seem to need validation based on how many people click on a thumbs up, heart, or star where they've posted their photo.
"So what the hell is up with all the selfies?" my passively judgmental self often said to herself. There was only one way to find out. In an attempt to understand serial selfiests, I decided to force myself to take and post selfies on Facebook and Instagram for 10 days. As a somewhat frequent (daily, sometimes more, sometimes less) poster, I thought this would be kind of easy. What I did not expect is just how much I would learn while taking the time to shoot, caption, and post photos of myself for 10 straight days.
Here are the daily notes that I took:
Day 1: Knot in my stomach as I posted my first selfie to Instagram first (I have fewer followers) and then Facebook. People I never ever ever correspond with liked and commented. 6pm on a Monday night—about 10% of my Facebook friends liked it. Really? That many people are paying attention? That's kind of neat.
Day 2: Safer selfie of my husband and me. About the same amount of likes. No knot in my stomach because it's easier to post a photo of the two of us than one of just myself. And I was myself in the comment.
Day 3: My son asks if I would be offended if he unfollowed/blocked for the duration of this project after I tell him I'm doing a selfie experiment. I'm not offended, but I post another "safe" selfie that includes a friend of mine right after we ran seven miles in really cold weather. Selfie that shows an accomplishment and an enthusiastic friend does not make me feel nauseous upon posting at all!
Day 4: One of my friends asks if I'm "posting all these selfies now because your ex husband is dating a pretty girl." Uhm, no. What shitty timing on my part. (Go ex husband!) I happened to be at a bed and breakfast and I took my very first mirror selfie. I failed at feigning genuinity (as a selfiest) and posted a sarcastic blurb to go along with it. Second highest amount of Facebook likes—about 7% of my friends. Why? Because it's a full body shot? Because I said something more authentic than I did in the other ones? It was slightly more interesting? Or was it just the time of day? (2pm on a Friday?)
Day 5: Another friend messages me "so are you a selfie person now?" and I don't want anyone to think I suddenly need validation via social media to boost my self esteem. Or that I feel like my life is so damn interesting that I have to stop what I'm doing and share it with as many people as possible. So I blow my cover and tell the friend about the selfie experiment. I opt for another "safe selfie" with my son's girlfriend and it gets the lowest amount of likes. Is it timing? Or because there's a teenager in my photo? Or because I don't look like I'm trying at all?
Day 6: A pointless selfie stating that I had just worked out, had breakfast, and took a shower, and that I am now sitting in bed doing nothing (paraphrased). I got the knot in my stomach again. I still don't understand the point of this, or why so many people do this and how on earth anyone believes that taking a selfie and coming up with something cute/witty/informative to pair it with will make a difference in anyone's world, including their own.
I'm now plotting time/place for the next few selfies. Is this how it goes for serial selfiers? Or do they just "feel" the selfie and seize the moment? This one annoys me so much, that I want to unfriend myself, but I'm excited that I managed to keep this up for six days without totally hating myself.
Day 7: A very safe, silly pet selfie. Except everyone knows I'm not a cat person. (My husband and kids are.) People asked about the cat, and nearly set me up for sounding like an asshole because I am not gushing with love and adoration for the animal. So there's that.
Day 8: A selfie I took like four days before. Because it was getting late. I made the "mistake" of posting as my real self, and with the selfie came sarcastic banter. Pretty much blew my cover and made it all make sense to the people who are actually my friends. I hate my selfie-ing self a tad bit less now.
Day 9: Bathroom selfie. Well, sort of. I attempted a mirror selfie at work but I didn't have a lot of time to spare and honestly it just looked clinical and sad. So I posed next to a photo of an old advertisement that hangs in the bathroom. Friends are now making fun of me.
Day 10: Lunchtime work selfie. I'm so glad to be done, that I don't even care what anyone has to say.
While this experiment did not convert me from anti to serial selfiest, it certainly gave me a fresh perspective on the "why" of so many damn selfies. And it made me understand them and accept them, rather than thinking people who frequently selfie have some sort of deep-rooted psychological problem. It's not narcissism. The selfie is a simple means of communication. A light tap on the shoulders of all the people in your little social media bubble—a close-up peek into your life that shows your immediate circle how you're doing today.
Is it any different from me posting a witty blurb about something I found amusing? Or my attempts to stir up thought-provoking banter about something senseless and irrelevant? (I recently asked my followers what kind of old lady hairstyle I should have in 40 years . . . ) The selfie is different only in one way: the consistent subject of . . . self. I like my face, but it has never been the most significant part of who I am. Posting daily photos of my face felt like a flimsy, weak attempt at showing the real me, especially when I found myself doing multiple retakes.
I don't walk in and out of a room over and over in order to make my entrance look just right. I don't dim the lights or turn to the left or right in order to hide a blemish when I'm having a conversation with my best friend. Planning and executing a selfie felt much too contrived and fake for me. I'm sure the serial selfiests have it down to a science, but my 10-day stint did not make me an expert.
Will I do it again? Probably. But not often. After all, my thought-provoking questions about things like the color of the house dress I plan to wear when I'm old and saggy, and my theories about how painful my neighbor's camel-toe must be, are much more important than snapping a photo of my face. Don't you agree?