The expression #selfie has become an overnight phenomenon, with song lyrics like “let me take a selfie” serving to reinforce our inherent egotistical need for both self and social approval. But the #selfie cult that has exploded in recent months is not only creating a surge in vanity, it is potentially dangerous to the health of everybody that buys in to it.
Our fascination with selfies has seen an increase in the amount of time spent on smart phones, reduced intimacy in personal and social relationships and an increase in narcissistic delusions. In Psychology Today, Pamela Rutledge claimed that “selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence”. In short, selfie taking has created an online environment of social comparison that results in us placing enormous pressure on ourselves to achieve unfeasible aesthetic goals.
As if selfies weren’t enough – the #gymselfie evolution has recently spread like wildfire. These images may have started out as motivational tools whereby one can review their own progress by creating a visual representation of the hours spent lifting weights and blitzing fat. But type #gymselfie into twitter, Facebook or Instagram and hour by hour you will see thousands of fitness enthusiasts uploading an image of themselves before, during or post workout. This allows us to question, is the contemporary gym selfie really a tool to monitor progress or does it reflect a deep seated need for social approval and comments from total strangers to say “wow – you look freakin’ awesome”?
Do the 1000’s of gym selfies on Instagram really provide motivation to change your diet, get to the gym and stick to the regime this time? Or do they increase self anxiety, body image disorders and a craving for social acceptance based on appearance?
The answer – plausibly – is both! Selfies allow self-expression; a portrayal of how someone feels in the exact moment that they took the photo. It allows individuals to play with and modify their self image by editing the reality using a variety of photography apps. They allow individuals to feel like a model. But they also open us up to social and self evaluation, whether that be praise or criticism. They allow us to be vulnerable. Ultimately the ability of gym selfies to motivate us to be fitter or degrade our self esteem comes down to an individual’s predisposition and what drives them to take selfies in the first place.