If you have a personal Facebook account, you surely will have have encountered the culmination in this seemingly most popular modern social media trend in existence currently – the selfie. When Barrack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime minister Helle Thornig Schmidt posed for a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, you knew selfies had hit the big time. Award ceremonies are awash with star studded selfies going viral on social networks and everyone is having a go.
In my younger days, if you had a pound spare, you could bundle into a photo booth in a shop foyer in the town centre with a couple of your best friends and take a strip of photos where you were all pulling funny faces and had each others fingers up your noses and someone’s cheek squashed against the front while you did bunny ears behind each others backs. Today, my mobile phone has a button to switch my view so I can take photos of myself when out running on the sea front in the pouring rain, and my iMac has a built in camera that lets me do it here in my office in an instant….
The selfie has recently been used to raise a huge amount of money for charity recently, the ‘no make-up selfie’ campaign instigated by charity Cancer Research raised over £2m according to a number of media sources such as this one from the Independent newspaper, and the hashtag #nomakeupselfie filled twitter feeds around the world as thousands of women joined in posting selfies and making donations to the charity.
Even the Independent newspaper though, whilst lauding the money raised, highlighted the debate about narcissism vs cancer awareness that the campaign seemed to stimulate: You see, not everyone was delighted with the Cancer Research selfie campaign. Cancer survivor Jenni Murray is one of a number of women who felt that the way celebrities used this campaign was not useful to cancer sufferers and survivors.
Lots of the celebrities who joined in the campaign have been criticised for appearing to use the no make-up selfie as further self-promotion and not really offering up a proper ‘warts and all’ account of who they really are, instead making sure they were groomed, with the right lighting, with hair done in a particular way, etc.
Jenni Murray offered up an account here in the Daily Mail of what cancer sufferers have to endure with their appearance as a result of cancer; ranging from severe weight loss, hair loss, mastectomy and also talks about how cancer sufferers attempt to dress and conceal aspects of their illness. When the reality of the illness was highlighted, some felt the cancer research campaign may not have represented sufferers in the best way. Murray felt that perhaps raising money in a less self-obsessed fashion would be preferable.
This campaign was just a recent culmination for the selfie phenomenon though. A culmination which also saw BBC have a ‘selfie day’ as part of their Who Do We Think We Are project. More people took selfless that supposedly were portraying a scene representative of the life they lead, though also containing a real sense of how they’d like to portray themselves to the world – making many question how genuine a representation they all are.
I have seen a couple of Facebook profiles that have virtually nothing else other than selfies in a wide variety of places and situations. For some it seems to smack of seeking out approval, for others it seems to be a way to garner ‘likes’ but for others might it be a more sinister issue?
Is there a potential dark side to this trend of taking pictures of oneself? It is being suggested by a number of media stories and psychologists that the selfie could cause narcissism, addiction, mental illness and even suicide!?
Danny Bowman, diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder says he became so obsessed with trying to take the “right” selfie, that he ended up taking about 200 pictures a day in a desperate attempt to get the perfect image of himself to post online.
He sadly attempted to commit suicide by taking an overdose of drugs as a result of feeling that he was unable to get the perfect selfie.
In this article at the Huffington Post about potential dangers of selfies. Dr. David Veal, a physician involved in caring for Bowman, says selfies may cause mental illness, including body dysmorphic disorder, which has “an extremely high suicide rate.”
This article at the Daily Mirror states that Danny Bowman has not taken a selfie for seven months, and with both of his parents in the mental health profession, he is in good hands and making improvements.
In this article for Psychology Today, doctor Pamela Rutledge says that taking selfies can be detrimental to a person’s mental health and that indulging in them is indicative of narcissism, low self esteem, attention seeking behavior and self-indulgence.
The vast majority of people hearing any suggestion that selfies might possibly cause a variety of troubling mental health issues are unlikely to see them as anything more than harmless fun, especially as our society seems to be so obsessed with the self-reflective nature of modern technology and gadgets.
Though some believe it would be unwise to dismiss the seriousness of it.
Go and explore PubMed or PlosONE and see that it has been proven by multiple studies that ongoing interaction with other types of social media is undoubtedly linked to narcissism, depression, low self esteem, addiction and a host of other negative effects. The evidence suggests that Facebook use has been linked to depression while Twitter use has been linked to low self esteem and narcissism. If selfies, in particular, are proven in the future to be a cause of negative mental health issues, it would most likely come as no surprise to experts in the fields of psychology and medicine and therapists such as myself and my colleagues are likely to encounter more of these types of issues in our therapy rooms.
I guess time will tell.
I wanted to take a moment out and write a note of thanks for all those who took the time out in the past couple of days to share their thoughts on this issue by email and on Facebook and Twitter. Two people emailed me to share what they believed to be the irony of the BBC reporting on research suggesting “The more women are exposed to “selfies” and other photos on social media, the more they compare themselves negatively, according to a study” yet they conducted a huge campaign to get everyone sharing selfies (the campaing is linked in my article) – Further story reported by the BBC is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26952394