Often I find myself opening my camera roll, only to be met with nine photos of myself in the same outfit, making the same face, just waiting to be shared on social media. If I’m in public, I quickly close the application, hoping no one sees. But if I’m alone, I laugh at myself, thinking, “I should probably delete all those before anyone finds out.”
It’s a natural reaction—being embarrassed by the narcissism those tiny photos that take up space in your camera roll seem to reveal. It shouldn’t be. Because when those photos were captured, it probably wasn’t out of wanting to express our ego, rather at the time we were feeling confident, perhaps powerful, and wanted to document it. Which is ultimately positive self-expression.
Even though selfies began receiving more attention with the rise of front-facing cameras and photo-sharing applications like Instagram and Snapchat, humanity’s desire to document our own faces through cameras we’re holding began when we first had cameras to hold.
One of my favorite selfies is one taken by the photographer Vivian Maier—a street photographer for 40 years between the 1950s and 1990s, whose works weren’t discovered until 2009, after she died. Maier took many selfies, or “self portraits,” as professionals call them, just because she could. In my favorite, she stands in the bathroom in front of a mirror, holding a large light and a heavy camera. She even looks away from the camera, like so many of us do.
Selfies aren’t just for sharing the perfect look, either. They’re also a way for women and girls to own and flaunt their flaws, and have become a tool for empowerment.
According to neuroscientist James Kilner, there’s a scientific explanation for our love of selfies, specifically filtered ones.
We have an image of ourselves that tends to be younger and more attractive than we actually are…This might in part explain our obsession with selfies. For the first time we are able to take and retake pictures of ourselves until we can produce an image that come closer to matching our perception of what we think we look like.
Those shots we didn’t share are almost as important as the ones we did. Why do we decide one is better than countless others? To find out why we choose to share what we do, we took a peek inside some selfie rolls, and asked people to tell us why one photo just isn’t enough.
“Considering I’m asking other people expose themselves, I figured I should go first. Here I am before a holiday party, waiting for my ride. It took me a while to get the perfect photo, but like Kim Kardashian once said, ‘I was feeling my look.’ And yes, I put filters on the final product, which I picked because my head was at the appropriate angle.”
“I always straighten my hair but on this particular day I didn’t and was pleasantly surprised to learn I look okay with my natural waves. I also liked how I did my makeup that day. Naturally, I decided to capture the moment and take a selfie. I took five photos to get ‘The Shot.’ Why did I choose the one I did? I guess because it looks natural and doesn’t seem like I’m trying too hard, which the first one does especially.”
“I was about to sit down and watch Kinky Boots on Broadway, and I thought it genuinely conveyed my excitement. Plus, it was the most in-focus of the three I shot – the lighting in there was *terrible.*”
“I came home [from the West Indies] for my cousin’s wedding and we all went out and I put on a dress and did (aka washed) my hair for the first time in months. I looked unnaturally tan to the point of dirty and my hair had bleached out a lot and I looked nothing like myself. Couple that with a fancy dress, and it was just a lot of ‘Whoa who even am I right now?’ I took these shots and sent them to my friend to a) show off this awesome dress (it’s a rental, I’m not that fancy) and b) how unlike myself I was looking.”
“I chose this one because it was the first time I was going out for a business dinner since I had my baby and I felt like glamming it up—been a while since I had done it up to go out. I felt it was timely and represents what I look like and feel like today—grownup, proud to be a working mom and still sexy!”
“I chose the bottom right hand one cause I liked my smile, and Instagrammed it!”
“I chose that one because I loved my smile (paid extra attention to it because I was wearing bright lipstick), the lighting (I was in a weirdly lit room), and my hair framed my face the right way.”
“I liked the angle of my face.”
“It was a day that I was wearing my letters on campus so I was extra cute and couldn’t miss a good photo op. I think ‘selfie-ing’ is like texting, you have an opportunity to think about what you want to do/say/or how you want to present yourself. So you take multiple just the same way you’d rewrite a text over and over so that you look/sound the best. Putting your best foot forward.”
“I had just gone through a really bad breakup and was at a particularly low point in my life. In really cheesy How Stella Got Her Groove Back-style films, women always get their haircut to transform and reinvigorate themselves, so I felt like doing the same. Of course this haircut was basically the same trim I’d been getting for years, but given the circumstances it felt like it was a lot more.
I must have sat in front of my full length mirror for 15 minutes trying to get the right angle to showcase my haircut, my eyes, and my bone structure. I guess this is selfie is what I felt best encapsulated all three. I wanted to post it on social media and get a few likes and show my ex, if he was lurking out there on the interwebs, I was looking fresh.”
“Surprisingly, I actually don’t take that many to get the perfect one. Usually if I can’t get it in like, three snaps, I bail on the endeavor altogether.”
Lead photo screencapped via SelfieCity