“As with so many ‘new trends,’ this one has a fairly distinguished prehistory,” essayist and author Geoff Dyer says. “In 1925, D.H. Lawrence was bemoaning the way that ‘each of us has a complete Kodak idea of himself.’ This new phenomenon of the selfie has already been turned into a work of art, which is also a sort of visual essay: Richard Misrach’s 11.21.11 5.40pm consists of him taking a telephoto shot of a couple on a beach taking a picture of the sea. Then we zoom in closer and closer on each subsequent page until we are able to see the screen of their phone in which is revealed ... a self-portrait.”
Hardey says the popularity of the selfie is “an extension of how we live and learn about each other” and a way of imparting necessary information about who we are.
By way of an example, Hardey says that when her father died suddenly last year, she took refuge in her Instagram feed.
“I couldn’t bear the conversations, but one way to prove to friends that I was OK was to take a picture of myself,” she says. “That revealed something very important to my friends — one, that I was still functioning and, two, I was out doing stuff. An image can convey more than words.”
The idea that young women are self-objectifying by posing semi-pornographically for selfies is, she believes, a dangerous one.
“When we’re talking about what is acceptable for women in terms of constructing an image, we need to be very careful of not heading down into the territory of ‘she was wearing a short skirt, so she was asking to be raped.’ We should avoid that argument because it’s probably an extension of more patriarchal demands,” Hardey says. “Women should be allowed to portray themselves in a way they feel enhanced by. Who didn’t experiment with cutting their hair off and dying it pink when they were younger? This is just a natural progression of experimenting with the changing interfaces of being young and one of these interfaces, yes, is sexual identity.”
A selfie can, in some respects, be a more authentic representation of beauty than other media images.
In an article for Psychology Today published earlier this year, University of Nebraska assistant professor of psychology Sarah Gervais wrote: “Instagram (and other social media) has allowed the public to reclaim photography as a source of empowerment... [it] offers a quiet resistance to the barrage of perfect images that we face each day. Rather than being bombarded with those creations ... we can look through our Instagram feed and see images of real people — with beautiful diversity. Instagram also allows us the opportunity to see below the surface. We capture a glimpse into the makings of people’s daily lives. We get a sense of those things that make the everyday extraordinary.”
The appeal for celebrities like Bieber, Kardashian, etc, is connected to this. The expansion of social networking has enabled them to communicate directly with their fanbase and to build up large, loyal followings among people who believe they are getting a real glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous.