Selfies and Self Esteem

 19th Jan 2017

Technology is a wonderful thing.

It has allowed us to be more interconnected than at any other point in history. We can share special moments instantly with friends and family, wherever they are in the world.

As smartphones have improved so has the sophistication of the cameras and the apps that use them.
The rise of apps like Instagram – an app in which we document our lives visually – has had an unexpected side effect: selfies.

The popularity of selfies has surprised many and brought scorn from various groups in society including the media.

These parties have branded the selfie taker as self-absorbed at best, narcissistic at worst. Whilst instances of narcissism have been documented, in reality these represent a tiny proportion of users.

Considering traditional photography prevents the photographer from being part of the moment they are capturing, it is little wonder that the selfie is so common, especially in groups or with partners.


Officially there are three different type of selfie have been defined: those in a group, those with a romantic partner and individual shots.

The idea that the selfie to be the indulgence of pouting teenagers or alcohol induced, context-less group shots is not baseless but broadly speaking unfair. However, the selfie has brought with it a problem that is having a troubling impact on social media users, particularly teenagers.

Whereas Facebook (as we’ve discussed) has given us humblebragging, with users painting the rosiest version of their lives, Instagram and platforms like it present a constant stream of users looking beautiful or handsome with seemingly little or no effort.

Leading a great life has been stripped back to a whole new imperative: look fantastic all of the time.

For the current generation of glitterati, this is a relatively easy thing to accomplish. Legions of hangers on, stylists and personal trainers means that the likes of Selina Gomez and Kendall Jenner can rock that ‘fresh out of bed’ look without any effort at all.

It’s impossible to say who the intended audience for these images are considering they are shared on a public platform but the impact on young people has been evident.

The pressure experienced by many young people to be around the clock photo perfect has caused a spike in a demand for cosmetic surgery, an increase in eating disorders and a rise in mental health issues surrounding low self worth and self esteem.

Instagram and Facebook is littered with selfies of people ‘having just woken up’ with their hair styled, make up applied and impractical and suspiciously fresh looking pjs on. Whilst almost satirical in their obviousness, it highlights the need many feel to appear perfect and underscores the impact staged photos can have.

However, recent studies in the US have concluded that the ‘right kind’ of selfies can actually be good for your self esteem.

Taking pictures of yourself smiling, at different times of day can actually improve mood and raise self esteem. Many of us dislike our smiles or pictures of ourselves in general. We all see the flaws in ourselves that our peers and loved ones simply don’t. 

By taking selfies we begin to like, even love, the way we look. This boosts our self-esteem, gives us more confidence and makes us happier with our appearance. 

It also makes us less concerned with how other perceive us which can be no bad thing. Perhaps (irony of ironies) Selina and her peers share selfies out of a similar sense of wellbeing.

When shared with friends and family in a healthy, mutually supportive, fashion it can create positive dialogues in which individuals are complimentary of each other without fear of stigma.

This research puts lie to the assumption that the selfie is the domain of narcissists and whilst they undoubtedly exist, it is now time to disassociate the two ideas. 

Selfies are not, necessarily unhealthy and narcissism should not be trivialised. It is a deeply complex personality disorder that goes far beyond taking pictures of oneself.

Whilst there is an undeniable pressure on young people to imitate fellow users online, the origin of the picture perfect life actually comes from far more insidious influences and it’s more important than ever to tell ourselves, each other and our children, no matter how we were made were are all exactly right. 

That we are beautiful because of our flaws, not in spite of them.

Encompass is committed to supporting people with learning disabilities and enduring mental health issues in Dorset. If you or someone you know is interested in engaging our services, contact us today.

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