The Merits Of The Selfie

It was a chilly night in late November when I stopped in front of a bodega with see-through glass at its entrance. I stared at my reflection, at my unwashed hair, at the pimple that had been calling my forehead home for almost two weeks; I stared at life right in the eyes. Then I did the unthinkable. I took out my iPhone 5, opened the camera app, brought the phone up to my chest region, and took a selfie.

The selfie, which was declared “word of 2013” by the Oxford English Dictionary, is, in my humble opinion, a good thing. Ezra Koenig, lead singer of Vampire Weekend and perfect human declared himself  “pro-selfie” and called out all the “haters.” And while many have labeled the self-portrait photograph (which is often taken from an aerial view to avoid double chin and other stigmatized facial distortions) a symbol of our generation’s narcissism, it pains me to believe that something so harmless, something so personal, could be taken as anything less than an art form.

Although the origin of selfie culture is hard to trace back, Wikipedia cites the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, whose name many may recognize from the highly inaccurate but undeniably enjoyable animation film, as one of the first teenagers to take a selfie in 1914. Was the photograph an expression of angst, a possible attack on her father who had grounded her after finding empty Smirnoff bottles in her bedroom? Or perhaps the photo was something sweet, maybe even a little risqué, a token of love for a male companion? None of us will ever know what Anastasia did with her selfie, but she started something huge.

According to Teen Vogue, 91% of teenagers have posted a selfie online and over 31 million Instagram photos have been hashtagged with “selfie.”

But does this overwhelming popularity make the trend good? After all we’ve had politicians take them.

“Selfies allow you to be the producer, director, curator and actor in your own story,” Pamela Rutledge, professor at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology said in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News.

While psychologists like Rutledge argue that, in moderation, the selfie is just another form of expression, one that can boost self-esteem and keep people in charge of their own image, dissenters—looking at you mom and dad—highlight the over sexualized nature the photos often take on. This criticism seems particularly directed towards teenage girls, who make up the majority of selfie-takers. (Selfie-rs?)

I don’t know about that. I’m not a teenage girl and my judgment on teenage girl sexuality would not only be unwarranted, but really ignorant. Nevertheless, I spoke to a teenage girl on the subject because it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Girls have always been portrayed in an overly sexualized manner. I think the difference with the selfie is that it’s in our control. We can assert our own sexuality and that’s empowering,” Gallatin sophomore Gaby Del-Valle said.

Even though the selfie has started to appeal to an older audience, my mom swears that it’s people like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus who give the selfie (or onesie as she misguidedly calls it in a thick Venezuelan accent) a bad name; I do understand that. Rihanna uploads Instagram photos of her smoking massive marijuana cigarettes and Miley; well we know what Miley does.

But is it fair to consistently blame the degradation of something that has such a large cult following to celebrity vulgarity? People will always post pictures of what they want. Justin Bieber, for example, may like showing off his abs and his grills, but I prefer a more subdued selfie, in bed with oolong perhaps. I think it’s nice that we can all exist independently of one another.

Whatever you think of the selfie doesn’t really matter though. It’s happening and either you get on board, snap a photo or two, add a filter, or just maintain an unaffected cool—either way no one really cares.

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