Who’s that girl? – What are we trying to communicate with the humble selfie?

Who’s that girl? – What are we trying to communicate with the humble selfie?


The selfie. Love them or loathe them, they’re an almost unavoidable aspect of modern life. Different from the traditional portrait photograph (where we’re posing for someone, or possibly being posed by them), the selfie is an image controlled entirely by the image’s subject. What message then is the photographer, the selfie-taker, trying to communicate?

imageHope all the Facebook likes justified this…

Let’s first compare the selfie to another, first-person medium – the first-person documentary. Both mediums feature the creator as a primary subject. Both mediums are edited and controlled by the creator. Therefore it is reasonable to suggest that the selfie is (in some cases at least) merely a static form of first-person documentary. It has been proposed that first-person documentary is undertaken so that the audience may witness the world the filmmaker belongs to, and integrate this reality into their own. Which leads to the question; are selfies also an attempt to integrate audiences into the creator’s reality?

GRRIQND9P2T6D1M0-rszw640A soon to be painful reality

Possibly. The fact that 55% of 18-34 year olds have posted a selfie online would suggest that they are indeed using their image to communicate something to an audience. Whether they’re taken after finishing a marathon or before going out, the situation the selfie is taken communicates (and indirectly documents) the selfie-taker’s reality.

There’s also the possibility that selfies are used to create a sense of control. Selfies can be used to create and present an ideal self-image, therefore providing a sensation of control the selfie-taker may lack. The selfie-taker can control the image, control their identity, and then share their newly tailored identity through social media. This ‘shareability’ of selfies is also integral to the medium as it allows for friends, family and sometimes strangers, to express approval or disapproval about your likeness. The public nature of being online means that many people are unlikely to publish a selfie which they have not carefully created.

Photoshop-Retouched-Portrait-of-Women-Before-and-After-670x504All my selfies are natural. I totally just woke up with high colour saturation and back-lighting this morning

It’s arguable then to say that perhaps selfies should not be viewed as documenting an individual’s reality, but rather documenting how they would ideally like their reality to be. Take for example these photoshopped selfies posted by celebrities (or by your average citizen). They take the already tightly-controlled medium to another level, suggesting they are unhappy with the way the camera documents their life.

This explanation for selfies is but one however. When we consider the millions of diverse selfies accessible online, it is just as likely that there are many reasons for their creation.