Last year, Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed “selfie” the 2013 word of the year, defining it as, “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” Selfies are not merely a word of the year; Pew Research Center found that 55% of teens have posted a selfie on a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
However, psychologists have begun to wonder if teenagers are becoming too obsessed with the comments and Likes they receive on their posted photos and are looking into what selfies might mean for teenagers’ self-esteem and self-confidence.
Selfie advocates argue that the photos offer girls in particular the opportunity to view realistic images of their peers as opposed to only seeing professional photographs of models with professionally sculpted hair, make-up, wardrobe and lighting. Supporters of the selfie also insist that the photos allow girls to control their own self image online.
Mary ’16 is confident that selfies are indeed good for teenagers’ self esteem.
“Selfies are a way for me to test how I look and accordingly feel in different outfits,” she said.
According to Teen Vogue, psychologist Jill Weber, Ph.D., said that seeking validation from others is completely normal. In fact, she calls it “a healthy way for teenagers to develop their identity.”
However, Georgia ’16 believes that selfies are bad for teenagers’ self esteem because she said she knows that a lot of the photos she sees in magazines are heavily Photoshopped, and the selfies that some of her friends post are also edited.
“For teenagers who don’t know [that a photo is edited], I can see that it would be a bit demoralizing to see tons of selfies posted by peers because the photos hit more close to home than the photos in magazines,” Georgia said.
Some professionals agree with Rock in thinking that it is dangerous for teens to derive their self-worth from others’ responses to their photos. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist at UCLA, said that teens seeking self-worth do not derive it from simply taking the selfie, but also from posting it on a social networking site and waiting to see how many people comment on or Like it.
“Now that we can interact with hundreds—no, thousands—of people simultaneously, we’ve strengthened the impact that others have on our self-value,” Letamendi said.
“This may mean routine Photoshopping to create a more ‘likeable’ self, or simply choosing photos that seem more like the visual self we want to present,” she added.
Comments and Likes respond to the image at hand but may not accurately portray how people actually feel about the poster.
While Weber believes that seeking validation through comments and Likes is normal, she also believes that when teenagers are perpetually connected to social networks, the addiction to selfies can start to spiral out of control. Girls, in particular, are more inclined to see themselves as meaningful when their peers see them as meaningful, too.