Beauty Redefined Blog

Selfies and Self-Objectification: A Not-So-Pretty Picture

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Selfies aren’t inherently evil. And taking 55 pictures of your own face at slightly different angles and with varying expressions is not fundamentally wrong. BUT (you knew that was coming) … when we put this female-driven phenomenon in the context of the culture in which we live, selfies aren’t just a trivial trend or a form of self-expression. 

Photo by Michelle Phan

Photo by Michelle Phan

Rather, they are a clear reflection of exactly what girls and women have been taught to be their entire lives: images to be looked at. Carefully posed, styled, and edited images of otherwise dynamic human beings for others to gaze upon and comment on. Selfies are not just images you take of yourself for yourself; they are images you take of yourself for others to see. Selfies weren’t a thing until social media made it possible to receive validation in an easy, public way online. And what have girls and women been taught from Day 1 brings them the most value? Looking good. Not being smart or funny or kind or talented — mostly just looking hot. Thus, the validation females have been taught to seek is the approval of others regarding their appearances. 

Today, we’re coining a new term:

Selfie-objectification. Noun: to present oneself as an object, especially of sight or other physical sense, through a photograph that one takes of oneself, for posting online, which process manifests itself in three steps (see below).

Snapping photos of ourselves to document what we look like in certain moments, looks, or angles is a new form of self-objectification that we call “selfie-objectification.” There are three stages of selfie-objectification: 1) capturing photos of oneself to admire and scrutinize 2) ranking and editing those photos to generate an acceptable final image, and 3) sharing those photos online for others to validate. In our doctoral studies (Kite, 2013 & Kite, 2013), almost 3/4 of women described themselves in self-objectifying terms, meaning they viewed themselves from an outsider’s perspective. Self-objectification diminishes our capabilities, happiness, and self-worth because we have to live and do and be and also constantly monitor and imagine what we look like while living and doing and beingIf you’re an avid selfie-taker, we ask you to consider the effects of these 3 stages of selfie-objectification in your life.  

Stage 1: Capturing and Scrutinizing

Image from Fashion Stylist Institute

Image from Fashion Stylist Institute

Selfies are a unique phenomenon because they work as a more permanent form of a mirror. The images that are captured don’t just disappear in a glance — they fill phone memories, computer albums, and social media feeds. They aren’t captured and forgotten; they are captured and analyzed over and over again by the photographer herself, looking at her face and body and imagining how other people perceive her. With selfies providing a way for people to scrutinize and evaluate their own faces at any given moment, as well as more opportunities to compare their looks to all the other female forms that fill our social media feeds, it’s no surprise to us what brand new research shows: “Selfie Trend Increases Demand for Facial Plastic Surgery.”* This annual poll of members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) revealed that 1/3 of surgeons surveyed saw an increase in requests for procedures due to patients being more self-aware of looks in social media. The report attributes a 10 percent increase in rhinoplasty (nose jobs) from 2012-’13 as well as a 7 percent increase in hair transplants and a 6 percent increase in eyelid surgery to social media’s influence.
“Social platforms … which are solely image based, force patients to hold a microscope up to their own image and often look at it with a more self-critical eye than ever before,” says Edward Farrior, MD, President of the AAFPRS. “These images are often the first impressions young people put out there to prospective friends, romantic interests and employers and our patients want to put their best face forward.”
What is most frightening to us is the idea of putting “their best face forward,” which really means, “changing their faces to fit ideals they’ve been trained to perceive as ‘the best.'” It reminds us of Self editor Lucy Danziger saying the magazine Photoshopped the crap out of Kelly Clarkson’s entire body “in order to make her look her personal best.” This is not about an individual’s “best” — this is about the beauty industry’s best-selling ideals. When people experience body shame, they often resort to extremes in order to cope with those feelings of inadequacy by hiding or fix parts of ourselves they feel ashamed of (which often stems from comparisons to mediated ideals, including social media). One of the ways many women cope with this shame is through “fixing” their faces and bodies with cosmetic surgery — and 81% of people who underwent cosmetic procedures in 2013 were female. This is a dangerous, expensive, painful, and ineffective way to reduce body shame or improve one’s body image. More on that here.

Stage 2: Ranking, Editing, and Selecting a Winner

maybe its instagram filter beauty redefinedAfter our selfie-ographer has examined and evaluated her photos, she selects the perfect shot for public viewing. If she’s like at least 50% of social  media users**, she’ll Photoshop or edit her image before posting. About half of people who edit their own photos will do this in order to “enhance their looks” by removing blemishes, changing skin tones or color, or making themselves look thinner (or in recent Kardashian-related incidents — curvier). We NEVER get to see female reality in mainstream media, and those unreal ideals result in the pressure we feel to alter our images to look more like the normalized cartoonish “perfection” we see everywhere else, and creates a whole new world of un-reality in social media. JUST in case this needs to be stated outright: Please don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s photos. You don’t know the effort that has gone into that shot behind the scenes or in post-production. Self-comparisons in social media contribute to depression and anxiety among girls and women, and when we’re aware that we’re comparing our unfiltered lives to shots of others’ glamorized lives, we can consciously cool it. Please cool it. For your health. 

Stage 3: Sharing and Monitoring

After posting the winning shot, she’s likely to carefully monitor the “likes” and comments each photo receives and compare those tiny symbols of validation to others’ photos. The more likes and the nicer the comments, the better she feels about herself, or rather, the part of herself she’s been trained to prioritize: her appearance. But what happens when the number of likes isn’t to her liking? Or the comments are critical, or there are no comments? What happens to her self-worth then? When that self-worth is largely based on others’ perceptions of her appearance, and others don’t seem to be appreciating her appearance, her entire self-worth suffers. 

This brings us to the biggest issue we have with people touting selfies as tools for empowerment. They’re not. You’re confusing “empowerment” with “feeling beautiful” or “feeling like other people think I look good.” Empowerment has to be so much more dynamic and all-encompassing than that. “Power” can not be minimized to something that is gained and wielded through appearance or beauty. “Power” from beauty is cheap. It is fleeting and can be consumed and discarded at any moment. Your power isn’t just in your beauty; it’s in who you are and what you do.

One of our sticky note designs, available for purchase by clicking the image!

One of our sticky note designs, available for purchase by clicking the image!

Dove’s latest marketing video, aptly named “Selfie,” asks girls and women to “redefine beauty” by taking selfies and realizing how beautiful they are. One of the take-away messages at the end of the video is a girl saying, “I was looking through my selfies last night and I realized I am beautiful. I’m pretty cute.” Looking through your selfies to remind yourself of your value is the perfect illustration we’d use to describe selfie-objectification. We’ve written a whole post on the subject hereOf course we want people to feel good about themselves, and even to feel beautiful, but what we really want people to know is: regardless of what you look like, or what you think you look like, you can feel good about yourself because you are not your appearance. Positive body image is the cornerstone of our work, and it is founded in the life-changing understanding that your body is an instrument to be used and not just an object to be adorned and looked at. In a world that teaches us we are our bodies, and that our carefully selected images of ourselves are a great tool for validation and empowerment, we want to YELL that THIS IS NOT TRUE! Taking the perfect selfie, loving your selfies, admiring your selfies are NOT strategies for empowerment, but merely strategies for short-lived, surface-oriented endorsements from others from which we’ve been primed to base our selfie-worth. (Had enough of that word yet? We have.) 

Here’s what we want you to take away from this post:

Self-objectification is a serious threat to our capacities to achieve all we can achieve. And selfies, as a product of our appearance-obsesssed culture, can be viewed as one more tool we use to self-objectify without even realizing it because of how normal and prevalent the phenomenon has become. If we’re serious about empowerment and positive body image (which we at Beauty Redefined very much are), then we have to critically consider the ways we view and represent ourselves and the ways we seek validation and empowerment. If you are using selfies as a means for looking at yourself from an outsider’s perspective, scrutinizing and evaluating your appearance, and seeking approval from others in order to improve your self-worth, then we recommend reconsidering the role of selfies in your own life. One of the best ways find out how much you depend on social media for validation is to go on a media fast. Take just a few days and cut out all media. It’ll rock your world — in a good way.

Please understand: For many people, the occasional selfie is not a desperate cry for approval or even a misdirected means for empowerment. By all means, show your social media friends that new haircut, or your awesome fuchsia lipstick. It’s OK to desire validation for how you present yourself to the world. We are not going to pretend like our bodies are invisible or that anything beauty-related should be shunned. Absolutely not. However, we live in a world that prizes beauty for females above all else, and all beauty-related choices must be critically viewed through that lens. If you recognize that you’re basing much of your self-worth or personal feelings of empowerment on what others think of your appearance, or even spending too much precious time, money or energy on beauty-related matters (including selfies), then you’ve got a great opportunity to make changes that yield actual empowerment. We hope you’ll join us in the fight against self-objectification by taking a critical look at the role of selfies in our lives. Women are more than just bodies. See more. Be more. THAT is Beauty Redefined.  

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

* Source: http://www.aafprs.org/media/press_release/20140311.html
** Source: http://renfrewcenter.com/news/afraid-be-your-selfie-survey-reveals-most-people-photoshop-their-images

 

  1. sranganee
    sranganee03-13-2014

    There was a time in my life when I would take these endless selfies, always from a specific angle (the “good side” of my face) — and that period coincided precisely with a time when I would always seek to be seen from that angle: ie. I would always sit on one side of the bus so that the “good side” of my face would be visible to strangers; I’d aim to be on the right side of my friends/boyfriend while walking around, so they only caught the good side…it was such a bizarre way to live, when I think about it, always so self-conscious, always turning myself into an image!!

    I’ve come to realize that people don’t care about my face nearly as much as I do! Hah It’s been liberating to take my eyes off myself every now and then (although I would be lying if I said I now breeze through life without ever self-objectifying!).

  2. La
    La03-13-2014

    This is so true.
    Good article, I think I knew these things deep down but I was in denial. Makes me stop focusing in myself and work out what causes I want to attach myself to. What world I want my future daughter to live in and what has been so hard for me living in a image driven world. Value, which is where happiness lies and where others truly learn to respect and admire you is so much deeper and it’s ring stifled by all the rest. I don’t wanna be apart of what’s been my undoing and my self criticism for so long. Thankyou

  3. Lauren
    Lauren03-13-2014

    Another great article, thanks for all you do.

  4. Shadi
    Shadi10-17-2014

    Ok, this article is complete BS. Firstly my decision to take a picture whether it is to quench the thirst of my vanity or to get people to notice how beautiful i am or whatever the damn reason is it is my choice to do thus and shouldn’t be judged by people saying that i’m following a pattern of women’s number one goal is looking good.When most girls take selfies it is when they are really dolled up for maybe a party their birthday or just cause they had abad day and didn’t feel so self confident so they want to take a picture and post it online to feel better and some may find that pathetic but i find it really nice that if i am in bad place say someone rejected me or made fun of me i can post a picture online and the people i love can tell me that i’m pretty or like it and it can make me feel better. Without this a lot of girls wouldn’t be as happy as they are now. That is not a need for validation among peers most women now know their place in the world as almost entirely equal counterparts to men and yes their are women who do what this article says but that is a minority. its not about looking good, some celebrities now started the trend of #nomakeup selfies improving the confidence of girls without having to wear pounds of makeup, though the minor disadvantages of taking selfies are there the positive outcomes for girls and yes boys too are more prevalent and for you to grace us selfie takers with your pity is not needed.

  5. Brims
    Brims11-06-2014

    I find it totally biased, culturally conditioned to statethat this is a female-driven phenomenon.

    Slefies and self-objectification run rampant in both sexes, men and women, especially among bodybuilders.

    • soulis
      soulis11-16-2014

      What? No one here dared to lie as much as you did. Selfies are a women-driven phenomenon period. If you cannot see this then you are in denial.

  6. YemiLibretti
    YemiLibretti12-16-2014

    I love your blog. It is so necessary. Thank you!

  7. Hoyar
    Hoyar10-24-2016

    Bodybuilders are desperate for validation and compliments on Istagram

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