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The Phenomenon of the Selfie

The Phenomenon of the SelfieBack in 2005-2006, when MySpace emerged on the social networking scene, I’d be in the backyard snapping photos of myself for my profile picture.

“Lauren, you can point the camera to the outside world, you know.” Oh right, that. My mom did have a point or two, but it was the era of the selfie.

Whether those MySpace shots captured melodramatic teenage angst or glamour fun or autumn joy (yes, I did take a picture of myself in a pile of leaves), the selfie surely made its presence known.

And now it’s 2014 and the selfie is fully integrated into mainstream culture. It can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s referenced in the news, in the political world. It was the highlight of the Oscars via Ellen Degeneres. It’s emphasized on American Idol. (Viewers at home can take a selfie with their favorite contestant, Ryan Seacrest exclaims.)

So, what is it? Why has the selfie become such a phenomenon? Perhaps it serves as a vehicle for connection in the digital age — maybe it allows individuals to witness an intimate moment in time. Since connecting through technology has its downfalls (sometimes, people are too ‘plugged in,’ missing out on life around them), the selfie could be a mechanism to bring people together.

Time’s article about selfies explains that they “can also be a window into deeper adolescent issues.” From a therapist’s vantage point, selfies could offer a glimpse into a teen’s or young adult’s mindset, illustrating their emotional dispositions and self-perceptions. Selfies could trigger a dialogue – why was this picture taken and what were you feeling?

“Scientific studies are gathering more information about the use of social media to help professionals recognize these as avenues to identify, support, and help young folks who may not otherwise receive this kind of attention,” clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamendi said.

James Franco, actor/director/teacher/author, wrote about selfies for the New York Times. As a celebrity who prominently and frequently uses Instagram, he probably earns his title of the “Selfie King” (anyone can log into his account and see an abundance of up close and personal photographs). Selfies yield attention and attention is power, he notes.

And, the “celebrity selfie” gives the public a peek into a private, candid moment. It bridges the gap between an unattainable icon and a regular human being.

Overall, Franco advocates that the selfie can be used as a tool to share yourself with others; it’s a visual that conveys what you’re doing, where you are and what you’re feeling.

“I’m actually turned off when I look at an account and don’t see any selfies, because I want to know who I’m dealing with,” he said. “In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, ‘Hello this is me.’”

In hindsight, I suppose there was more to those MySpace selfies than playful teenage narcissism; the pictures captured me in specific emotional states and trains of thought.

“We all have different reasons for posting them,” Franco said. “But, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.”

The Phenomenon of the Selfie

Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her collection of personal essays, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” can both be found on Amazon. Lauren's latest E-Book, "Never Far Behind," a collection of poetry, is available on Smashwords, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. She loves to be followed on social media, including her Facebook Writing Page,

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APA Reference
Suval, L. (2018). The Phenomenon of the Selfie. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.