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The Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Selfies In Our Narcissistic World

Hidden Nuggets Series #57 – “Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing?” – Isaiah 44:10

taking selfiesEarlier this year I stumbled across this news report that blew my mind. A student broke the leg off a valuable early 19th century replica sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan, Italy. He didn’t accidentally bump into the Drunken Satyr sculpture (like my kids might do), which depicts a follower of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, passed out in a drunken state. It wasn’t quite that simple.

The reason the leg broke off was because the student was sitting on it…to taking selfies.

What is the world coming to?

We Live in a Selfie World

There is no denying it. We live in a taking selfies world. The preponderance of people flipping the image-capturing system of their camera 180 degrees to take a picture of themselves by themselves is growing with epic proportions.

Humanity has always exhibited a desire to leave depictions for posterity, even dating back to the ancients who used pictographs on cave walls. The invention of the camera made recording history exponentially easier and we set out to pose for pictures at national landmarks, with family members, side by side with celebrities, and of course freezing for individual self-portraits.

I’ve never been fond of self-portraits. Pictures of me with a group are fine. Me doing some activity or at a touristy point of interest are fine.

But sit me down for the dreaded yearbook picture or snap a photo “just because” and I get an uneasy feeling. It took me forever to get comfortable with the fact that my head shots would be plastered all over Twitter and Facebook, mostly in promotion of this blog. And it’s not because I think I’m ugly. Listen, I’m not Brad Pitt but I’m no Quasimodo either.

Are Selfies Narcissistic Behavior or Self-Expression?

Herein lies the big debate – is taking selfies contributing to humanity’s fascination with itself or are they a means of self-expression, a way to discover who we are and share that with others?

While I agree both sides may have merit, I lean 70/30 to the contributing-to-our-narcissistic-behavior camp. It’s simply how I see the world. We are way too caught up in ourselves and what others think of us.

I know my viewpoint has its underpinnings in my worldview and my faith in God. God’s words as found in the Bible speak of a definite displeasure with those who continuously display selfish tendencies. Time and time again He instructs us to “humble yourselves” (James 4:10), to avoid “selfish ambitions” (Galatians 5:20) and to “look out…for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

Am I following any of those ideals when I turn my camera lens inward? The instant that hand movement occurs the moment becomes about me not what is going on around me. I’m placing myself into that moment when perhaps the moment was meant to exist by itself, with me serving only as an observer.

Is a sunset more visually valuable with me in it?

(For a more detailed look at the selfie craze and the narcissistic vs. self-expression debate, check out Elizabeth Day’s piece in the The Guardian, How Selfies Became a World Phenomenon.)

Rules for Taking Selfies

For the time being, selfies are here to stay. If you find yourself with a hankering to pose, follow these simple rules. I’ll admit some selfies are innocent enough…others not so much.

Take selfies if…

astronaut selfie 1. They are not about you. Ironically enough this can happen in the right circumstances. Perhaps the most famous and breathtaking selfie came from Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide. This spectacular image outside the international space station captures the vacuum of space, the sun, earth, fellow astronaut Sunita Williams and parts of the space station’s robotic arm (the last two both visible in the reflection of the visor). The best part is that you don’t see Aki’s face as the visor shields it. So, yes astronauts can take selfies.

2. They enhance a moment with a personal friend or family member. This is about creating memories that bond people together. One my best selfie moments ever involved our entire family as we were getting ready for a 5k run. It’s a headshot of all six of us, three across the top of the screen and three on the bottom. We all got a good laugh at it, along with my wife’s private listing of family and friends on Facebook.

3. You are trying to be an encouragement to someone. Perhaps you’ve been away from someone for some time, like the child off at college or the soldier serving on the front lines. In this way selfies could be used to connect with those away from home.

4. Only 1% of them are shared. Ok…that’s a bit of a random number. The point is most people want to connect with you in a deeper way. They can’t do that by only viewing endless selfies in their Facebook feed.

Avoid selfies if…

1. It takes hours and hundreds of snapshots just to get the right one. Selfies can be addicting. Spending hours per day taking selfies is cause for concern. Seek some help and put the iPhone away.

2. You are the POTUS or government official at any level. Some people think this is really cool – that it shows our elected leaders are just like the rest of us out here in the masses.

I’m a contrarian in that I don’t want them to be “just one of the guys.” They are representing us and should display a heightened sense of decorum and respect for their position. A government official posing for a selfie seems shallow and beneath the dignity of the office they hold.

3. They contain any sexual or provocatively oriented material. If you don’t think this is happening a quick browse of Twitter or Instagram will change your mind. (Parents I’m talking to you…check out your kid’s feed.) Why teens and adults and men and women alike insist on taking their clothes off and posing in sexually provocative ways is another topic altogether.

Do you really want your semi or fully naked body slapped all over the Internet for all time? Because don’t think that once you put your image out there it is not being screen shot, copied and reused as someone’s property before you can take it down off your site. You never know where an image ends up.

Oh that reminds me…I hope the employer you are interviewing with doesn’t do some social media research and look you up. Good luck getting that job.

Oh that reminds me again…there are whackos all over the Internet that prey on young people, especially girls. You are opening up a potential can of worms by posting your explicit pictures.

4. It’s just to get a thumbs up vote, attract a following and draw attention to yourself. I have many blogger friends online. But those relationships can only advance so far. They only deepen when personal contact is made. More than likely the people who like you online today will be gone tomorrow.

We want you in the real world forming relationships. That’s where true, lasting friendships are found.

The Taking Selfies Conclusion

I guess you alone will have to answer the big question – Why am I taking selfies in the first place? Do you simply find it fun or is there a real or imagined psychological need they are filling?

My challenge is to turn the camera lens so it’s pointing away from your face more often. Photograph others and the world around you. Choose to connect in the real world, not by posting endless selfies on Instagram. What’s that getting you but a bunch of thumbs up votes and a lot of false hope for abiding relationships?

Questions: Do you think taking selfies demonstrate narcissistic behavior, self-expression or something in between? How many selfies do you take a day? What other rules (for good or bad) can you add to my list?

Statue image credit at Time

Space selfie image credit at Mirror.co.uk

Next Post: My Parents Were Frugal But Sometimes I’m Not

Prior Post: Pushing Through An Identity Crisis: 31 Straight Days of Writing

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  1. I almost never take selfies. I find it’s kind of awkwar holding the camera that way and feel I always look weird in those types of photos. I think due to the popularity of social media and camera phones, selfies have been become pretty much ubquitious. I even find that word annoying. Selfie. Ugh.

  2. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    Amazing. The rule of selfies is really good. I hope everyone reads it. I actually share your article on facebook just to let my friends know what selfie can do to them and how it should be done the right way. Thanks for the article, which I think one of the articles I like.

  3. Ms. LoL of lastingonlittle.com says

    It’s interesting to me that people can be so down on people who take selfies and yet view self-portraits as art. It can’t be a matter of time and energy, as I’ve seen some amazing speed painters that take far less time than some other well thought-out selfies. Personally, I don’t take them and have little interest in them, but it really seems a bit like “old man shakes fist at cloud,” to me. lol

  4. I like pics of nature, so selfies don’t really interest me. I do see a ton of them on Facebook all of the time though. I even recently saw a girl with a long stick-like thing. Curious as to what she was doing, I watched her for a little bit and it turns out her phone was attached to the end and she was taking selfies. I guess that the pics were better because she could get a better angle.

  5. Selfies drive me crazy. I’ll do them with my wife, but see no purpose of doing them by myself. I think it might be a mixture of narcissism and self-expression. The danger comes when I see people feel like their self-worth is based on whether or not they can get a perfect selfie (hence the “hours and hundreds of snapshots.”)

    My wife’s little sister was always begging us to like hers on Instagram because she needed to reach a certain number, and it always made me sad for her.

  6. I think when Obama took a selfie at Mandela’s funeral ….well, what can I say?

  7. Selfies are DEFINITELY narcissistic. I deleted my Facebook over a year ago for a variety of reasons – one being I was tired of seeing the same people post selfies over and over and over. I can understand someone posting a selfie every once in awhile. But some of the women I were friends with would literally post 5 selfies a day. It comes off looking like insecure and desperate. Selfies bother me a lot more than they should!

  8. I’m not a fan of being in pictures either, and this whole selfie thing has puzzled me. I only take selfies with my cats or my boyfriend, because that’s really the only way we’ll ever have photos together! I don’t share them, though. I think it’s mostly narcissistic and just silly. I have read stories about people taking selfies in precarious spots, only to fall to their death because they weren’t paying attention. Extreme example, but selfies just aren’t worth it!

    • I heard on the radio the other day that some man on a motorcycle was hit by a car in Vegas. While he is lying broken and battered on the road who shows up to help but Mike Tyson. He stayed with the man until the ambulance crew came. But before the man was loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the hospital he managed to get a picture (I heard it was a selfie) with Iron Mike. I found that hilarious and interesting on so many levels.

  9. I loathe selfies, and will unfollow people on FB if they post them all the time. It is narcissistic in my opinion. I totally agree with your list, because yes there is a time and a place, but more often then not it’s people at the gym taking a pic of themselves in a mirror, or sitting in a car (and act like someone else is taking the pic…we know it’s you dumb ass). BTW, go to this website for a good laugh! http://www.dailyhiit.com/hiit-blog/hiit-life/selfie-addiction-top-16-worst-types-selfies/

  10. I believe the teen years have always been the more narcissistic age; but I think that’s just a normal phase on the way to adulthood. A good argument could be made for the rise in our cultural narcissism being due to the increase of ‘enablers’ like technology and wealth.

    • “… the teen years have always been the more narcissistic age…I’d agree Chaz. I was pretty full of myself then. But I didn’t have the technology to promote myself like kids do today. So many teens have grown up with the technology and they are used to using it…so it’s helped them more easily carry that self-absorbing behavior into their 20s.

  11. I’ve always hated being in pictures and selfies are the absolute worst in my opinion so I take them as little as possible. The most recent attempt was to send a picture of a pair of glasses I was considering to my BFF for her opinion. But it turned out horribly and Mr PoP had to take the picture. I think my BFF said it best then when she said, “I consider the inability to take a good selfie to be a sign of great character.”

  12. I have an in-law who posts daily selfies on FB. All it is is vanity. She’d definitely do well to ready your list here. I hate having my picture taken … Period. For our wedding, I hired a photojournalist because I knew I’d look annoyed during posed shots. I just wanted the memories – not memories of standing around for two hours, taking pictures in weird combinations of people. But now that I have young girls, I’m starting to appreciate the selfie – those are just about the only pictures of me with the girls. When I have them with me and folks take pictures, I’m never in them!!!


  1. […] not doing it. But I’m taking matters in my own hands. If I need to, I’ll take selfies (sorry, Brian) every day for this 31 days. I’ll leave behind the smiles and love and joy. The life. The […]

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