By VICTORIA HILLS ’14
Co-Editor in Chief
The word was selected because of its skyrocketing popularity over the past year—“selfie” saw an astounding 17,000 percent increase in use over 2012. Some claim that this increase in usage is a good omen. Rachel Simmons of Slate wrote the article “Selfies Are Good For Girls,” calling the photos “tiny bursts of pride.” But even if selfies do boost self-confidence, they do so only in the shallowest and vainest of ways.
“Selfie” needs no definition. Who hasn’t taken one? Who hasn’t demanded a friend retake an “ugly” selfie? An estimated 10 percent of smartphone owners have downloaded the app Snapchat, which enables users to communicate exclusively through selfies. If there was a time when we felt like attention-seekers for posting a selfie to social media, it’s fast receding into the distance.
Simmons argues that selfies are valuable because a girl who posts a selfie is a girl who’s pleased with herself. I like the way I look, that girl is saying, and she’s sharing the photo because she thinks others will feel the same.
But the sad truth of selfies, and the problem with “selfie” being the word of the year, is that they don’t boost self-confidence. That girl’s selfie subtext comes with an asterisk: I like the way I look*
*In this lighting.
*With my head tilted like this.
*While I’m sucking in my belly.
*Under the X-Pro II filter.
Selfies encourage obsession with physical appearance. Pleasure generated by a rockin’ selfie is fleeting. “Ugh, don’t post that one, I look hideous” is often said alongside a squealed “We look so cute in that one!”
Yes, self-confidence, especially for females, especially in this culture, is a rare and valuable commodity. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too picky. If a girl is happy with her looks, even momentarily, why can’t we just rejoice and move on?
Selfies celebrate looks. They glorify good hair days and cute outfits. They rarely incorporate any intellect; puns and clever captions are infrequent. We should be ashamed of a culture that has elevated “selfie” to a monstrous popularity, because selfies teach males and females alike that you have to look good if you want to show yourself to the world.
Merriam-Webster, Oxford’s competitor, gave us a second option for a word of the year. “Science” experienced a 176 percent increase in look-ups over 2012. Could there be a chasm between any two words greater than the one between selfie and science? Selfies are a vapid exercise in shoving a not-quite-honest representation of your own face down others’ throats. Science is a powerful and empowering means of understanding the world, ourselves and each other.
We’re not about to see social media become a hotbed of cool facts about polar bears and gravity on Mars. But we could—and should—spend less time reflecting on and documenting our own faces and more time cultivating a hardy respect for the people we are, and not whoever we look like under our favorite Instagram filters.
Read the counterpoint on why “selfie” was an excellent choice for Word of the Year here.