20+ Little-Known Facts About Selfies: History, Motivation and More

Written by Angela Atkinson

Selfies are an ever-growing trend among people of all ages. The word “selfie” was even introduced into the English Oxford Dictionary, where it’s defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Yep, you already knew that. But today, I’m going to share more than 20 facts you probably didn’t know about selfies.

They Were Pioneer (Selfie Photographers)

994111-1900-selfieYou might think that selfies are a phenomenon that began with smart phones and standard on-board cameras, but you’d be wrong. But whether Paul McCartney invented them or they were officially an art from as early as the 1800s, they are definitely an art from.

As this post from an Australian news and blog site shows, selfies have been around since before most of us were born.

(Though, to be fair, the widespread phenomenon and the term “selfie” can be traced to those phone cameras everyone’s carrying around these days.)

“At the turn of the twentieth century, seflies like this one taken by a woman in 1900 were among millions by amateur photographers all over the world,” writes the author about the photo at the right. “But unlike today when people take and share images instantly with the world, many first generation selfies were most likely taken by snappers experimenting with their new cameras who had to wait to see how their images would turn out.”

Selfies: An Analytical History

New York Magazine contributor Jerry Saltz wrote a very detailed and expansive analysis and history of the selfie at Vulture.com, one that made me laugh, think and feel a little sad  for our society.

“Selfies are usually casual, improvised, fast; their primary purpose is to be seen here, now, by other people, most of them unknown, in social networks,” Saltz says. “They are never accidental: Whether carefully staged or completely casual, any selfie that you see had to be approved by the sender before being embedded into a network. This implies control as well as the presence of performing, self-criticality, and irony.”

He adds a comparison that makes some selfie-artists cringe.

“Unlike traditional portraiture, selfies don’t make pretentious claims,” Saltz says. “They go in the other direction—or no direction at all. Although theorists like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes saw melancholy and signs of death in every photograph, selfies aren’t for the ages. They’re like the cartoon dog who, when asked what time it is, always says, ‘Now! Now! Now!’”

These Are the Selfies of Your Life…or Someone’s, Anyway

selfie funeralSome people are just a little different–and it seems that our culture is making it acceptable to be a little “off.” Not only acceptable, but commendable, even. For example, there are a number of websites that exist for the purpose of taking…unconventional…selfies.

  • Selfies at Funerals–This is a site entirely dedicated to (literally) selfies…taken at funerals. Yeah. Interestingly enough, the guy wrote his final post in December of 2013, entitled ‘obama has taken a funeral selfie, so our work here is done.’ And yes, the photo at the left features a lovely young lady who engaged in this rather upsetting practice.
  • Selfies with homeless people–Again, exactly what it sounds like. Again, makes my stomach turn a little.
  • And then there are the selfies that just kind of make you go “hmm.” Even when you secretly know you’ve done it too.
  • Car Selfies–Okay, we’ve probably all taken a car selfie, now and then, but some people take it to a whole new level. Like The Chive‘s Mac, who is so into them that he created a post full of more than 50 car selfies, each of a woman he finds particularly attractive. Fetish much, Mac? 😉 I kid, I kid.
  • Ugly Selfies–Jessica Bennett’s expose in the New York Times about ugly selfies honestly surprised me a little. As someone who is all about editing the crap out of my own selfies, I didn’t expect to see teenagers intentionally taking ugly pics of themselves–and sharing them in their social networks. But, according to the author, this isn’t a new practice. “There is a long history of women using self-portraiture as a form of radical self-expression (think Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman),” Bennett writes. “In fact, it was a teenage girl — a Russian grand duchess — who is believed to have taken the first-ever selfie, with a box camera, in 1913.”
  • Weird Selfie News–Graduates asked not to take selfies earlier this month at two separate schools in different parts of the country. “Graduates at the University of South Florida and Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., have been asked to refrain from taking self-portraits with their cell phones as they collect their diplomas,” according to the AP. “The seemingly simple directive is standing out for placing the slightest curtailment on a collective societal march toward sharing every waking moment on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like.”

Selfies: Good or Bad?

duckface selfieYou know how they say you can prove anything if you want to? These next two articles are an example of that.According to this article in the New York Times, selfies are good for girls–but then again, this article over at Jezebel suggests that they’re actually more of a cry for help.

Do selfies matter? This article from Times Magazine says yes–and outlines the whys of it all. And this one from the New York Times entitled ‘My Selfie, My Self’ adds to the same theory, and it looks like the folks at CBS Atlanta might be on the same page, if this article is any indicator.

Some people suggest that selfies could actually be an indicator of a mental disorder, as is explained in this article from Forbes Magazine. And the Positively Media blog over at Psychology Today suggests that it might even be a narcissistic trait (shocking, I know!). Of course, The Daily Hiit has rounded up those it considers the “worst” kinds, in this photo-filled article (that produced the lovely duckface you see to your left, along with 15 other eye-poppers).
How about you? Do you take selfies? How do you feel about them? Let me hear what you think!
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