The Oxford Dictionaries recently declared “selfie” as the word of the year. For uninitiated, selfie is a self-portrait, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”, as Oxford defines it. Do a quick search for the word on any of the social media platforms (Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram) and you will know why the decision at Oxford was “unanimous this year, with little if any argument”.
The desire to see our own face in an image is not new; it is as old as the arts of painting or photography themselves. Even the legendary painter Vincent van Gogh had drawn several self-portraits, way back in 19th century. The Russian teen grand-duchess, Anastasia, had taken special efforts to click a “selfie” to send it to a friend of hers: it was in 1913, in the age of box cameras.
But the rise of selfie as a cultural phenomenon is purely attributable to the smartphones and social media. And with the increase in front-facing camera phones, people don’t even have to use mirrors or bend their hands awkwardly any more. A friend told me that she takes selfies almost everyday. “I love selfies. My phone is full of them. And the best of my pictures are taken by myself,” she said. When I asked her why selfies fascinate her so much, her answer was: “To look at myself differently…with my own eyes but differently.”
Further reading: The Social Psychology of the Selfie