“Selfies, more than just self portraits?”


What’s the deal with selfies? More often than not, selfies are taken and posted online by young girls and women, and worryingly, these young girls and women are in increasingly submissive and/or sexualised poses.

Thank you porn.

Here is a conversation I had with Chrissie Russell, a freelance journalist around this topic. The resulting published online newspaper article is here.

What motivation do you think lies behind the trend for posting self taken snaps on the internet? Is it narcissism gone mad or are the takers catering to an increasingly voyeuristic society?

I suspect that the motivation for celebrities is money. I cannot be certain of course but I would guess that these women (and it is mostly women) are being encouraged to engage in this behaviour by less than scrupulous management (of both genders) who know that these snaps will create publicity of one kind or another. And as the saying goes there is no such thing as bad publicity or to quote Wilde “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” – which , for many “celebrities” in the public eye, probably rings dangerously true. Another question might be – WHY do these picture make money? What has created the market?

Often the pics in question are provocative, underwear shots, what do you feel might be behind this?

The trend is being nudged I feel by the huge growth in the porn industry and the trend towards more and more provocative and submissive poses. In recent years you will have noticed that the portrayal of women in the media has taken a worrying direction. More and more we see adverts and music videos where women are sexualised and objectified. And the availability of porn to minors has been the subject of much recent discussion.

The normalisation of porn is, I feel, at the root of provocative style selfies. They are designed to titillate. Photographs of celebrities always have been, but the style, the poses have changed. And we, as mere mortals, tend to emulate what celebrities do. We always have done! Particularly the vulnerable amongst us, like teens, or adults who are uncertain of themselves for whatever reason. Celebrities, be they singers, models, porn “stars”  act as role models for society, and society tends to obediently do what it’s told. And interestingly and importantly, society usually doesn’t notice that it’s being told what to do.

And so I don’t believe that society has become more voyeuristic, I think we have always been very curious about eachother and use information about eachother to learn about ourselves as well as eachother.

What has changed is what we are being sold. We are bombarded on a daily basis with images like this, and gradually, this is seeping into “normal” life, creating demand. Some teenagers I work with send each other selfies as a way of feeling normal, of boosting their own self esteem or body confidence. Many will shy away from doing it themselves but will be happy to look, (un) happy to compare themselves, and happy to share images too. As the female body ideal becomes more and more unattainable, people like to see selfies in the hope of seeing something ‘normal’ to which they can relate.

But of course that rarely happens, they can be digitally adjusted too. And most will digitally adjust there selfies now before they post them. Reality is not good enough. We are not judging ourselves as good enough. 

Another trend you may be aware of are the pro-ana sites (pro – anorexia sites) where disordered eaters post photos of themselves as competition, in the guise of encouragement, to fellow addicts.

Moving away from eatings disorders and other pathologies however and into the realm or normal adolescence, a quick trawl through Facebook profile pics reveals that many teenagers and young women pose for selfies and for photographs taken by others differently now. The body positions and facial expressions are often borrowed from various publications (as they have been for years), but now those publications include online porn. And women in all visual media are increasingly looking submissive and sexualised. Many women and girls believe this is how men want to see them, that this is the only way to attract men. And of course they think that, because that is what they (and men) are being told.

Both genders are being done a great disservice here.

I recently observed a little girl spanking her own stretched out bum while posing for a holiday snap on a beach. Scary.

Is there an element of control there (these are often famous people who have their image shared with no input, could this be their way of controlling what goes out there?)

That is an interesting theory and one I hadn’t considered. It’s possible of course that this is a way of controlling the pics that circulate. The illusion of power is a strange one – how much power does a woman have if she is posing in a way designed to attract certain types of attention? This for me is a woman who actually feels powerless. The idea of empowerment has been hijacked also by the porn industry. I have heard young women who work as “glamour models” and in the porn and sex industry speak about feeling empowered through their work. This again smacks of a line fed by wealthy management whose goal is to have power over thier commodities – the men and women who work for them in the porn industry.

The troubling thing for me is that women are told it’s “empowering” to market themselves as sexual objects. Then there a feeling of conflict when after a while, they may realise they feel more abused than empowered. This is informed by my experience working with women in various parts of the sex industry as well as women who do not.

Given so many of the pics are celebs in beach clubs, looking fab, enjoying the high life – are they just rubbing our faces in the fact that their life is better than joe public’s?

If this is the motivation for some I would guess that these people are in the minority. My instinct is that it’s more about keeping up the appearance of the good life, showing the good side, not exposing the normal, dull, boring , possibly even difficult or painful reality. They are selling us the dream, as is their job.

And selfies are another tool in the sales technique toolbox.

For us mere mortals, it’s pretty much the same thing.  Who puts up an unflattering selfie? Unless of course it’s to illustrate the huge hangover following the BEST night EVER with the BFFs!!

Are there certain psychological profile traits that you would associate with the ‘selfie’ obsessive?

Yes. People who are secure, self confident and self assured, who love themselves, accept themselves and are secure that their relationships are based on real feelings, trust and safety , are not serial selfie candidates.

There are many among us who need constant feedback, approval and admiration and the selfie is a way to meet these needs. This may be a phase, or it may be a more persistent behaviour that has an underlying pathology that requires action like psychotherapy, treatment for addiction and so on. If someone is engaging in a lot of selfies it may be worth checking with them – why? or what need is this meeting for you? and importantly – is it working?

Do you think selfies are a generational thing?

Yes. For several reasons.

1. It is only now we have the technology to create selfies and have them instantly available to everybody we know (and don’t know).

2. Older people are less (and always have been less) concerned with their appearance and the appearance of others.

3. It is only recently that porn and its associated normalised behaviours has become so prevalent. So older generations would just find the idea of pouting into a camera in a bikini in a physically challenging pose, probably in stilettos of questionable stability,  utterly laughable.

And probably offensive.

Nor do guys seem to be as prolific in posting pics – might there be a gender gap there too?

Yes certainly. (I’m sure there’s an algorithm designed to test that one).There is a huge difference in how men and women are used in advertising and portrayed by the media in general. A google search of “if men posed like women” will show this is with a clarity that is initially hilarious but soon dissolves into an uneasy awareness of gender differences in our society. Here’s one  example.

Guys are not encouraged to appear submissive and take sexy shots of themselves. That for now, remains largely, although not exclusively, in the female arena.

In videos, ads etc. men are shown as being clothed and in charge. ‘Page 3′ still exists in a society that regards itself as modern and progressive.

It is however my experience that sadly, more and more young men are gravely concerned about their appearance as mens’ magazines take hold and the fashion for looking (not necessarily BEING) fit tightens it’s grip. But for now, the war on womens’ self esteem remains fully waged.


Is there a danger that selfie takers could be missing the moment? That they’re so caught up in documenting where they are and how they look, they’re not actually enjoying that poolside or gala event?

Yes. It struck me at a recent gig in Cork how many phones were in the air recording the event. But were the people enjoying the gig itself? It must take away from being present. We cannot  simultaneously give two things our full attention. People are constantly photographing things, recording things. And that can be great fun – I’ve done it! But it might mean that our experience is suffering because of it. We need to pull out from behind the camera to fully take in an image. Our eyes have a much wider lens than any iPhone.

Selfies are nearly always positive (great body, great location, great outfit) instead of getting jealous, how important is it to remember that, just like Tweets and Facebook updates, we’re only seeing one side of that person’s life?

Very important yes, and good point. Selfies are, as I alluded to earlier, a mere snapshot, an advert chosen by the seller. They are not the whole picture and must not be trusted as representations of anything other than just that.

I’ve always preferred ‘the candid shot’, and most people will agree that they are almost always more beautiful.

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