Selfie-obsessed: Growing up in a social media world
In 2013 it was named 'International Word of the Year' by the Oxford English Dictionary, and in 2014 Ellen DeGeneres took one at the Oscars that has since been shared more than 3 million times. It's safe to say that the humble – or not so humble – selfie has well and truly made its mark on our cultural landscape. Across the world it's estimated that 1 million selfies are taken every single day, and a huge number of newspaper column inches have been dedicated to psychoanalysing our global obsession with snapping ourselves.
The selfie phenomenon has become so ubiquitous that, even as fully grown adult women, it can be all too easy to spend a little bit longer than necessary preening for a holiday snap, or even slip into the odd bout of Insta-envy. But what must it be like for a generation of young people growing up in a world of selfies, social media, and sexting? Last year, personal care brand Dove surveyed British girls aged 13-23 and found that 6 out of 10 of them feel prettier online than in real life. The girls surveyed spent an average of 1 hour and 24 minutes each week preparing for selfies and yet, after all that time, one in four girls said they had deleted a photo because it didn't get enough 'likes' on social media. A staggering 80 per cent said that negativity on social media had a harmful effect on their self-esteem.
More worryingly still, psychiatrists are beginning to consider 'selfie addiction' a serious mental health problem, following cases like that of a selfie-obsessed British teenager who attempted suicide after reaching a point where he was taking up to 200 self-portraits per day. In this particular case, the 19-year-old boy was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) – conditions that are increasingly being linked with obsessive selfie taking behaviour.
With social media icons including the immaculately finished Kardashians, pop stars like Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber, plus a whole host of self-made YouTube and Instagram stars, the beauty standards for teens to live up to are increasingly difficult to attain - from chiselled muscles to perfectly contoured features, full lips and wacky new makeup trends. It's hardly surprising that so much time is being dedicated to preparing, composing, taking and editing the ideal shot.
Of course, views on the real impact of selfie culture vary widely. For some the art of the selfie represents something spontaneous and authentic, a choice to present yourself in your own way and for your own gaze, rather than an act of vanity or seeking social approval. But for teenagers already grappling with insecurity, finding themselves, and the physical and emotional rollercoaster of hormones, the pressure to put out perfect, or even sexually explicit, selfies on Instagram and Snapchat can have a seriously detrimental impact on the way young people feel about themselves.
"Selfies can be fun and give people a burst of satisfaction in the moment, but we still want to encourage people to have authentic identities in real time and with real people," psychologist Lucie Hemmen, author of Parenting a Teen Girl: A Crash Course on Conflict, Communication and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter, told AdWeek.
"Because teenagers are often driven by insecurity to construct a desirable persona, they are particularly vulnerable to the negative side of self-portraiture," she explains. "[An] insecure person is going to post staged or sexualised photos, and they're going to do it so much that they become consumed by it and the comments they receive. If a young girl poses provocatively and gets 300 likes for that photo, that's false self-esteem."
Instead, schemes like Dove's Self-Esteem Project want to encourage teenagers to live more in the moment, and take a step back from their perpetually edited online lives, through their #NoLikesNeeded campaign. Snapchat's new range of filters, from dog faces to unicorns, also seem to be aiding the rise of the 'ugly selfie' trend, breaking the tyranny of perfection in favour of humour and not taking yourself too seriously.
Nevertheless, for many young people the selfie struggle remains a very real and distressing issue. Too easily dismissed by the older generations as mindless vanity, the selfie is just the latest in a long line of added pressures for young people to contend with.
<p>Author: <a href="http://sarah-graham.co.uk/">Sarah Graham</a></p>