The deep psychology behind the simple snapshot.
The hint of a smile, a little eye smolder and…snap! Many of us have taken a selfie or two, and whether youâve posted the results on Instagram, e-mailed them to a friend or took one look and hit âdelete,â turn- ing the camera phone on ourselves has become a cultural norm. If our Instagram feeds are anything to go by, there arenât many moments folks feel are too small to document, thus giving certain setupsâthe âdriving to workâ selfie, the poolside âmy current situationâ vacation shot or the âgym flowâ photoâiconic status.
Be honest: There are snaps of you doing all these things on your phone right now. Youâre not alone. More than 1 million selfies are taken every day, ac- cording to techinfographics.com, and as of June 2014, there have been more than 127 million Instagram photos with the hashtag #selfie. Since Black women use social media at a high rate, odds are, a good percentage of that number includes us. So whatâs behind this boom? Selfies are a response to negative reactions to African-American womenâs image, says Karen Streeter, Ph.D., Memphis psychologist and host of the radio program On the Couch With Dr. K! âBlack women have suffered a lot of attacks on our self-esteem,â she says. âWhen you experience that, you can develop a need for positive reinforcement on a regular basis.â Selfies provide an opportunity to exhibit self-love and create our own communities in which our standards of beauty can live and be accepted. âAfrican-American women are saying, âMass media, you donât say Iâm beautiful? Okay. Iâm going to show my- self to the people who will reaffirm me,ââ says Streeter.
But sometimes that desire to declare our beauty can venture into self-parody and narcissismâthe near-nude photos taken in the bathroom mirror or the self- ies snapped at funerals and other inap- propriate places. We roll our eyes and hide the stream of that friend who clogs our timelines trolling for âlikesâ by post- ing multiple selfies a day, but Streeter says such behavior can signal a deeper problem. âIf youâre spending all your time posting these pictures while put- ting your work and responsibilities and relationships on the back burner, youâve moved beyond the point where itâs healthy,â notes Streeter. And looking to online friends, many of whom might be strangers, for validation and acceptance is equally problematic. âWe know that peopleâs opinions are fickle,â says Street- er. âIf the positive feedback stops, what will you do to feel okay with yourself?â
The key to joining in on the fun of taking selfies without losing your sense of self is to foster a healthy balance between getting affirmation from the online community, your real support system and, most of all, yourself. Says Streeter, âUltimately we all have to do a real selfie, which is looking at ourselves in the mirror and liking what we see.â
This article was originally featured in the September issue of ESSENCE magazine, on newsstands now!
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