Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Cult of the Selfie

A few years ago, no one had even heard of the word. But now thanks to the proliferation of mobile phone cameras and digital cameras and social networking sites, there are few people who haven't heard of the word 'selfie', or haven't shot one, especially in urban areas. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary saw it fit to include the word in its latest edition, released in late August this year.

India, with one of the highest mobile phone densities in the world, has seen a surfeit of selfies. No day goes by without at least one friend among our burgeoning list of Facebook friends putting up a selfie of himself or herself.

The obsession with the selfie can sometimes cause more serious harm too.

In a freak accident that took place at the Hong Kong Marathon this year, a woman participant stopped to take a picture of herself before the race began. Her hands must have been sweaty or something. Or maybe she was just nervous with anticipation. She dropped her phone and bent down to pick it up. Meanwhile, the race began.

Those standing behind her failed to notice her bent figure and sought to take off, Usain Bolt style, only to end up tripping over her. No marks for guessing what happened after that. Those standing behind these people tripped over them. Confusion ensued and more than a few people were seriously injured.

As Mumbai gears up for its Marathon in January 2014, organisers are wondering whether they ought to put a stop to the shooting of selfies, and if yes, how they could go about doing so.

There’s no getting away from the selfie. It is everywhere. Particularly on Facebook, where it thrives.

It's easy to identify a selfie. Unlike photos shot by others, which require us to look ahead at a central spot, which is the lens on the camera held by the photographer, selfies give themselves away by the telltale sign of the arm, or even the arm's length distance at which they are held. Some selfies are shot in front of the mirror, and that is another dead giveaway. As is the dilated look in the eyes. 

In the past, selfies were often hazy images, caused by gazing at the camera lens and having no idea what the image on the screen looked like. Multiple takes and tries were often required to get the perfect selfie, that could then be uploaded on FB for the oohs and aahs to follow. Today cameras mounted on the front of mobile phones have addressed this issue to an extent.

A selfie demands complete attention from the self-shooter, encouraging him or her to temporarily block out the rest of the world completely. It also seems to invite people to display 'cutesy' behaviour like sticking their tongues out at the camera, grinning coyly or crazily as the mood takes them, pouting at the camera, whether they have Angelina Jolie's lips or not.

In order to get the best selfie, one must try to make it look artless, never mind if it looks a little flawed. Nature is flawed. Only artifice is perfect. Unfortunately selfies have become associated with unnecessary posing and posturing, stemming from insecurity and narcissism. Who doesn’t like to see the Like Register going Ka-ching?

But beyond a point, and I am only speaking of myself, this vain self-shooting begins to get more than a little tiresome. Especially for the hapless folk that have to think of newer ways of expressing appreciation.

Chronic selfie shooters would do well to remember that the camera was originally born as a tool to freeze a moment forever. To be able to retain a piece of an experience, a sight, and store it unmarred in one’s memory bank forever. 

A selfie, in contrast, is ephemeral. It will be followed by numerous selfies, with different hairstyles, costumes, locations (including the bathroom). 

The tradition of the selfie goes back a long way. Even the venerable but irreverent Vincent Van Gogh painted 30 self-portraits of himself between the years 1886 and 1889. Painter Rembrandt painted a whopping 90 self-portraits throughout his career. Both would have been so thrilled to have been alive today.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve never shot a selfie of myself. I have a fear of being photographed. If you want to know more about that, read about it HERE.

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)


  1. So the early 'selfie' were paintings and hence only the talented could afford to make them. So we can say mobiles have brought 'selfies' within the reach of the common and the not-so-talented humans! :)
    Enjoyed reading this :)

  2. Wow, Shail, now that's a new perspective. I hadn't thought about selfies becoming more accessible. Interesting take! :)

  3. I'm giggling away to glory. Love the post, Cynthia. The 'cult' in the title, the 'dilated pupil' in the mirror, the way you describe most of them wiht pouts and arms-length, all - just so delightfully funny. :)

  4. Enjoyed this piece...I am a selfie girl...I love to click myself and have often :)

  5. I always wonder how much more lousy I will look if I do a selfie :D
    I guess I will never do it :)
    A nice read, and of course, a different topic :)

  6. Hi Cynthia,

    Nice post. I didn't even know or had even heard about the word 'selfie'. learnt it from your post only. Talking about taking selfies, and you are afraid of being photographed? Even I used to fear being photographed, but it's nothing. Once I went to a picnic with friends and I asked them to snap my photos a lot. I enjoyed and then I shared them (at that time I had to scan them since digital cameras weren't here like today). I enjoyed sharing/emailing them to my friends.

    After this incident, I lost the fear I had in getting photographed and developed confidence. Now, I had a similar fear starting a blog and writing posts. Now, I don't have that fear as well. :)

  7. haha :D I am sorry that I am laughing but the concept of a selfie has forever amused me. The theory of "god helps those who helps themselves" has been applied in no way better than this :D :D




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