Holy Selfie

August 28, 2013

Now that the word has been officially inducted into the dictionary, we’ve got to ask some questions.

defense of selfies

Meryl Streep and Hilary Clinton take a group selfie. (Many people don’t know this, but I was on the receiving end.)

“Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of US lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a near-Lewinskian level?”

David Foster Wallace asked this question at the opening of his 1999 essay, Authority and American Usage. While he was reviewing a dictionary and ultimately goes on to describe the two distinct genres of those who write our wordlists, the question remains a good one when considering the most recent additions to The Oxford English Dictionary. First, there is ‘twerk,’ which no doubt comes in the wake of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs last Sunday night. Or maybe I’m not giving Jay Z enough credit. No matter how you slice it, though, Cyrus stands firmly in the thick of the now-legitimized word.

Second, there is selfie, which seems far more interesting than the former for no reason other than what comes just after the actual definition, (“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”), which is a sample sentence that chases the formal inflection. “Occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary.”

Well, that seems a bit rude.

Did Oxford Dictionary just tell me my entire social presence is effectively not necessary? What do I make of this? Doesn’t it seem strange that a presumably objective glossary, one meant to hold no biased opinion, would pass a tinge of judgement for those of us who qualify as chronic selfie-takers? In the scope of fashion, we are many. Outside of fashion, we are even more. Just take a look at the catalogued hashtag in your Instagram search tab. For heaven’s sake, Oxford, some of us may just want to share with the world how astutely we resemble 80-year old men in New Balance sneakers! What to you seems “unnecessary” about that?

An even more important question to canvass appears when considering how selfies earned themselves such a bad rap. According to the bearer of all accurate news, Wikipedia, selfies began permeating our conversations as early as 2005. They weren’t popularized, however, until late into 2010. This means — as friend and sometimes contributor to Man Repeller, Sophie Milrom, put it — that Steve Jobs’ implementation of a selfie-taking photobooth in our iMacs, and then the reversible camera into our iPhones, predated the craze. This, of course, therefore positions the man as one who holstered a fairly divine prophecy.

Early popularity for the term may be credited to MySpace while the meteoric rise to extensive fandom in the last several years is mostly in part due to Facebook, more recently, Instagram and perhaps most freshly, Snapchat.

During an interview with Stephen Colbert, one founder explains that they wanted to “Change the notion of what a photograph is and use it as a means of conversation.” Would it be too dramatic to declare that Snapchat may become a way for selfies to replace words and become their own vernacular?

When push comes to shove, the flack selfies have received is more than likely a response to what every media outlet in the history of publication has been saying since we’ve been old enough to start leaving a mark: that our generation, Generation Y (or as we like to call it, Generation ‘I’), is the most narcissistic one to plague planet earth. The manifestation of the selfie essentially just drowns us deeper into The Puddle but only while discussing the most stereotypical, body manipulating, sexual-activity eliciting self portraits. But there are merits to be considered, too. On the one hand, selfies may very well function as our nod to the importance of face to face communication in a highly digitized world.

On the other, and perhaps pertaining specifically to those of us who associate ourselves more directly with fashion, selfie-taking may very well become the “future” of street style photography only no one is dictating who gets air time and who doesn’t because we are all invited to participate at our respective behests. Ultimately, this is not a cronut, indulging everyday will not hurt you and so if you want to, then do it! We’re talking about a modern form of expression here. One that we, as Millenials, created — so why not own it?

Now, if you’d told me that daily twerking is unnecessary, maybe this could have gone in a different direction.

  • Savannah

    ‘This is not a cronut’ *insert laughing-tears-emoij*
    Thanks for the laughs Leandra! Couldn’t agree with you more, daily selfies are very much necessary indeed.
    Love from Holland

  • http://www.downtownhautefashion.blogspot.com/ Leslie

    Selfie-Gate!

  • (BAD) Blog About Design

    Love this post. Thanks for the laughs.

    Check out the BAD blog…http://design-bad.blogspot.com/

  • Rachel

    I never understood the hate and controversy that selfies are surrounded by! I mean– why!? Are we not all on Facebook to see photos of our friends and loved ones??? Oh wait, what’s that you say? If I add my dog in the photo too then I’m not a narrcist? Right. Yea.
    I for one am FOR THE SELFIE!

  • Thamsa

    Never justify your selfies

    • Frédéric della Faille

      We did this app that helps you to do selfies without having to justify :-)
      http://frontback.me

  • Aubrey Green

    I am waiting for your twerking video, or at-least another music video like the Carly Rae – with “We Can’t Stop”.

  • joannariedl
  • Vickie Papageorge

    Ha! Thank you for the laugh! I believe daily selfies are absolutely necessary!

  • Alba B.

    When is going to be manrepeller in the dictionary?!!! Or is it already and I have missed it?!!!

    abdsing.blogspot.com

  • http://www.fashionsnag.com/ Fashion Snag
  • Maria Inês Ribeiro

    ahah hilarious!

  • gcd

    The real problem with selfies is all in the caption. Whether you need to justify them or not, a selfie with a shitty caption is kind of like what the donut has become in a world where cronuts exist… its just kind of ‘there.’ If I have to look at your face all day on my feed, at least give me something witty to read along with it. I personally follow a female acquaintance who takes a selfie as representative evidence for pretty much everything she does in her day to day life. For all I know this chick is just a floating head who always has an iphone carefully positioned half a foot away from her face on a tripod or something. She’s doing her laundry! She’s assembling furniture! She’s having a bad monday :(… and what do we, the public get? A giant picture of her face. What does your face have to with these activities?? I no comprende. I just want people like her to understand that a picture of your face and a bunch of hashtags then relaying the components of said face (#girl #eyes #lips #ears [??]) should not try to pass as some sort of visual diary of your life. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you must take a selfie twice a day, at least try to make it a little bit more compelling. Or fuck, just caption it “shameless selfie”, at least you’re being honest with yourself.

  • Lilli

    I don’t mind a good selfie…. as long as the are not followed by hashtags like #doubletap #imhot #model #prettygirl #sexy

  • http://themannequintheory.blogspot.com/ Marin

    So, you’re telling me that you don’t flinch when you see the overtly sexual, half-naked-in-the-bathroom-mirror selfies? I love what you’re saying about embracing selfies as form of communication/expression, as our generation’s reaction to digital encroachment, etc., but I think establishing a distinction between acceptable selfie conduct and the opposite would also make for an interesting conversation…

  • Caroline

    My issue with the selfie comes in when I start to think about what is going on in the selfie takers head as they take their selfie. I typically imagine it being, “wow, I think I look really awesome in this, doing this, etc, etc.” I also imagine them being in a place in their head where for the moment they think they’re the greatest thing out there, a strange air of elitism that I cannot get past. And I see that sense of elitism in more than just the fashion crowd selfies. Truthfully, about 85% of the selfies I see illicit a “come on now” response. I find them to be overwhelmingly vain. You look fine, really. All for a little dopamine hit. Come on now, how about some constant positive self-talk and self-respect and get the dopamine hits from reality.

  • Jamie

    Too funny! I personally don’t take selfies but I totally get why people do, it’s an instant self esteem booster and if it you makes you feel better about yourself I don’t see the harm in that.

    xo,

    Jamie

    http://inspirationlush.com/

  • Anna

    For what it’s worth:

    No, “Twerk” and “Selfie” Have Not Been Added to the Oxford English Dictionary

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/08/28/_twerk_and_selfie_added_to_oxford_english_dictionary_nope_and_stop_saying.html

  • Olivia

    The only ban I’d like to instate as far as selfies go is to rid the world of captions that read: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”, “Long hair, don’t care”, and “turnt up!#$!” The only thing that the culprits of the first caption should be hated for is the act of complementing oneself twice (let me take a photo of myself because it’s an attractive representation of me, and then I’m going to simultaneously tell you that you my beauty is worthy of hatred). Second, by telling the world that we don’t care about something don’t we essentially care? (I realize that rap is to blame for the genesis of this, but even then quoting most rap songs in captions is all too common). Lastly, so you’re turnt up? Is that code for I’m so drunk I gotta throw up (hopefully a hairball of cheap extensions for the sake of karma)?
    All rants aside…. Keep selfies, support wit/originality. GODSPEED FACEBOOKIANS AND SOCIAL NETWORKIANS.

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    So what next, for the clever people adding value to our words for what it’s worth?

    – candy: sugary sweets Katy Perry (-> singer) uses to promote her career. Overconsumption can ruin your teeth, so make sure you can afford a good dentist.

    – meat, red: material Lady Gaga (-> entertainer) uses to dress in. Overconsumption can lead to serious health concerns, so do be careful.
    – air, hot: material some people (-> M. Cyrus) are filled with. Overconsumption can lead to irrepressible bouncing, which may or may not (-> J. Timberlake) look totally crass.

  • http://mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr/ Mafalda

    We don’t have a word for selfie in French, I guess we’ll use the English term!

    Mafalda ❤
    http://www.mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr

  • Royal Wang
  • Luciana Safdie

    I’ll take this as permission to post a selfish whenever I want to, and not hold back, thanks Lea!!

  • http://www.borsalon.com/ Borsalon
  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    As long as it’s not the same peace-sign-giving, duck-faced selfies of the modern American teenager, then go buck wild. I like knowing that my New Balance sneakers can work at the office, or at an office party – and without the selfie, how would I know that?

  • http://stylecurrent.blogspot.com Ashley Alan

    “Cyrus stands firmly in the thick…” Nice one, MR.

    • Leandra Medine

      I should have said Thicke, ey?

      • http://stylecurrent.blogspot.com Ashley Alan

        Nah, I caught your drift just fine. Never underestimate the sheer brilliance of your readers.

  • The Provoker

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  • http://dressupwithlola.com/ Lola

    I actually thought that the line after the definition was added as a joke by somebody, so shocked that this is the *actual* definition of the word in a dictionary. wow

  • Roza

    Funny little story on the same subject by dear friend Nimrod Kamer http://www.theguardian.com/technology/video/2013/aug/29/thinkfluencer-episode-1-selfies-video

  • jassyonyae

    Love this !! Well written and yea a selfie every day is not mandatory. Unless maybe you’re a photographer and you want to do a project of how you have evolved over the years…maybe

  • Wise Brunette

    I say an occasional selfie is healthy; however too many on your Instagram feed can be overkill. I think it’s best to keep it classy. Half-naked selfies will probably come back to haunt you in some shape or form later in life. Great post. — Amanda via http://wisebrunette.com

  • The Dandy Diaries

    I have no qualms with “Selfies” when they are just that. In fact, it’s nice to see people feel good about themselves. However, there are two instances when selfies become bothersome:

    1. Putting selfies into a collage: we get it, you can work different angles. In this case excess equates to narcissism.

    2. Lack of ownership: don’t caption “Studying” or “Dinner” without a single book or meal in sight. If you look great today just own up to it: take a picture, filter it and post it.

  • http://www.petitgraphie.blogspot.com/ Diana S. T.

    you’re unique dear…

  • http://www.sktthemes.com/ Professional Wordpress Themes

    I think being a selfie does no harm…its sometimes good to be selfie rather than meeting bad people….i post a lot of selfies of myself on instagram and fb….

  • Morricone1900

    Well…you see where that kind of thinking got David Foster Wallace….