The selfie explosion has in many ways defined this past semester — on and off campus.
As San Diego State University senior Elisse Miller shares in The Daily Aztec, SDSU’s student newspaper, “Living in the 21st century certainly has its benefits — a robot-voiced entity named Siri can tell me how to get to the nearest gas station, I can have a full, up-to-the-minute conversation with my friend who’s studying in a different country thanks to iMessage and this thing called the Internet can answer virtually any question that I’ll ever have. However, none of these feats of technology delight me quite like witnessing the capturing of a selfie.”
In This Story:
- Iowa Western Community College
- John Brown University
- San Diego State University
- Texas State University
- University of Alabama
- University of Guelph
- University of Virginia
Iowa Western Community College’s Winnie Cupertino, left, takes a ‘selfie’ photo with teammate Tyann Thomas.
In recent months, there have been a ton of selfies to witness. Funeral selfies. Serenity selfies. Stair-fall selfies. Welfies (workout selfies). Trelfies (travel selfies). Drelfies (drunk selfies). Duckelfies (duck-face selfie). Uglies (ugly selfies). The list goes on and on — and on.
Collectively, they have quickly become an omnipresent part of our culture, even recently granted rock star status by an acclaimed dictionary, a respected art museum and some world leaders at a global event.
Related: Show us your selfies with Your Take
“So widespread is this phenomenon that it’s hard to imagine a time when this word wasn’t on the tip of every web-savvy twenty-something’s tongue,” Stacey Aspinall confirms in The Ontarion student newspaper at Canada’s University of Guelph.
“Indeed, there’s been a recent succession of articles … debating the merits of selfies, and opinions are divided on whether they’re an empowering form of self-expression, or a harmful trend that is evidence of attention-seeking, narcissistic behavior.”
Amid this debate, a rising number of undergrads are offering their own takes through student media on the selfie’s significance and its value and harm within the collegiate universe.
A read-through of their related pieces reveals a few basic truths: Most students seem to like selfies.They consider them harmless, fun time-killers on par with a scroll through the Facebook newsfeed. And in a few cases they even consider them informal acts of subversion, striking a pose against the societal pressure of perfection.
“Every ad with a Photoshopped, overly-thin model within the pages of US Weekly or People is asserting that you are not normal, that you are not beautiful, that you are not worthy,” University of Alabama junior Beth Lindly writes in The Crimson White. “… It’s easy to deem selfie culture as one of self-indulgence and arrogance, but I think it’s far more than that. Selfies can help people move past ‘I’m not good enough,’ and that alone is invaluable to our society. While one’s self-esteem should not be 100 percent dependent on Instagram ‘likes’ and the attention one gets from a selfie, it’s a good place to start being OK with your appearance. We do need to take grander steps to make us OK with ourselves, but as of right now, selfies are one of our best bets.”
In students’ eyes, this selfie esteem boost can also be a catalyst to feeling better about the many challenges of the college experience.
As SDSU’s Miller contends, “I’m a firm believer that if I look good, I can conquer anything. And if a quick snapshot helps me forget about massive student debt or the lack of a job waiting for me after graduation, who’s to say that’s so wrong?”
Students also promote selfies’ potential to lessen the isolation of campus life by connecting students with family back home or friends scattered at other schools.
According to Ashley Spinks, a University of Virginia student and a columnist for The Cavalier Daily, “Selfies can help us keep in touch with friends in a very personal way. My best friend from high school goes to college 13 hours away from me. And although I stalk her Facebook and Twitter religiously, it is easy to feel disconnected from her life. Receiving a Snapchat or seeing a selfie she took before a party is far more comforting than reading an empty status update. Selfies can portray so much more than words — allegedly, a thousand words’ worth of meaning. It’s a cliché for a reason.”
Students do seem to be in general agreement that there must be limits on rampant selfie expressionism — for the sake of Facebook friends and Twitter and Instagram followers.
“[S]tudents need to know how frequent is too frequent when it comes to posting selfies,” warns Imani McGarrell, a Texas State University sophomore and a columnist for The University Star. “Unless there are special circumstances, generally no more than one selfie a week is a good idea. Not knowing when enough is enough can turn students into that person who takes so many selfies others have to unfollow them to maintain sanity.”
For his part, John Brown University student Jon Skinner has had enough. Skinner is one of the few student journalists I came across who has publicly expressed his displeasure at the current wave of selfie insanity. He sees selfies as an extension of “our supremely self-absorbed and materialistic society that no matter how exciting the activity, how exotic the locale, how beautiful the landscape, the instinct is to photograph ourselves.”
The headline of his related column in The Threefold Advocate, JBU’s student newspaper, summarizes his basic premise: “Selfies breed selfishness.”
As Skinner writes, “The selfie is an inherently selfish construct, with its basic concept being that you are more important than your surroundings. Whether literal or metaphorical, the way the selfie treats the subject’s relationship to its setting is telling. Where you are becomes a vague background, in contrast to a normal portrait that takes into account the subject’s environment. Instead of caring about where you are at and photographing yourself in that context, the selfie involves elevating the self above all else.”
McGarrell’s response: “Personally, I say who cares? They are called selfies for crying out loud. They are a form of self-expression just like nail polish or earrings. … The bottom line is that selfies are just pictures — nothing more and nothing less.”
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