As a 20-something living within the current state of technology and social media, I couldn’t imagine a world without selfies in it!
I’m not saying that my phone is filled with selfies, because it’s definitely not, i’m saying that selfies have become so saturated within our lives–and the media– that it would seem abnormal to flick through my Instagram feed and not see a selfie.
However, there was a time when selfies weren’t as prominent within our cultural society. When I look back through my old photo albums, there is not one selfie in sight. The photographer is almost never within the same photograph that they are taking.
Although, this doesn’t mean that selfies didn’t exist.
The Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, created an array of self-portraits within the mid-20th Century to express how she was feeling and to discover her place within the world. Many of her self-portraits deliberate her feelings toward her husband Diego Rivera and the turmoil she endured the bus accident that rendered her part-disabled. Thus, her self-portraits gave her a voice.
Kahlo soon became an icon for female empowerment, as Carlos Fuentes, a celebrated Mexican critic states;
“Frida Kahlo in that sense is a symbol of hope, of power, of empowerment, for a variety of sectors of our population who are undergoing adverse conditions.” (PBS, 2005)
However, this notion of a self-portrait has evolved into the phenomenon of the selfie with the introduction of new technologies and capabilities.
American Media Theorist, Marshall McLuhan stated that new technologies are an extension of man’s consciousness.
“In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness. That is what is meant when we say that we daily know more and more about man. We mean that we can translate more and more of ourselves into other forms of expression that exceed ourselves.” (McLuhan, 1964 p. 60)
Here we have the birth of the selfie as social empowerment.
Let’s take Australian Actress, Caitlin Stasey.
She uses selfies to bring awareness to the female body and draws attention to women’s rights by posting either unconventional or provocative selfies on Instagram.
In relation to the theory of McLuhan, selfies act an an extension of Stasey’s consciousness where she fights for the celebration of female bodies and actively participates in the ‘free the nipple‘ campaign. Therefore, her selfies stand as a form of social empowerment and become a state of visual communication between her consciousness and the world.
As the photographer of her own selfies, it enables her to have control over her own voice, much like Frida Khalo constructing a voice through her self-portraits.
In the 1970s John Berger stated that in the past women have had little say in how they are represented within Western art. (Senft & Baym, 2015, p. 1594 ) Selfies allow the photographer to control how they are portrayed to the world.
Although, there is the question of identity where people who take selfies as a form of social empowerment also plaster their face on the image and the cause. This in turn, could cause them lots of personal turmoil and abuse from members of the public with opposing views.
Through her campaign and the selfies she takes, Stasey is constantly watched by others and has recently reported being sexually harassed due to the representation that her selfies have portrayed to others.
This sexual harassment sparked from shift in our topology where a moral panic has occurred due to the power given to the people taking the selfies as it is seen as a threat to the current state of living and interacting. In order to restore the balance, those feeling threatened react–thus causing the sexual assault.
Caitlin Stasey acts as an advocate against the moral panic that selfies have brought about as she fights to remove the stigma surrounding women’s bodies. The fact that she is the face and the identity associated with the cause brings about negative effects but also positive changes in society.
This is reflected through Frosh’s notion of the ‘gestural image.’ It states that selfies are “not only ‘see this, here, now’ but also ‘see me showing you me.’” Rather than the inviting voyeurism, selfies show a “self enacting itself” and invite spectators to reflect on the “very instability of the term self.”‘ (Senft & Baym, 2015, p. 1595)
Through the use of selfies, Stasey is the face of her campaign and allows her audience to visually witness her effort to fight for social empowerment as an act fuelled by her extended consciousness. Selfies create a deeper connection between the audience and the selfie taker, thus bringing the audience into the world and psyche of the selfie-taker– allowing them to understand the world from their perspective.
McLuhan. M 1964, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
PBS 2005, ‘Understanding Frida Today,’ The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.pbs.org/weta/fridakahlo/today/>
Pustetto. M & Scrimshire. J 2016, ‘Former Neighbours star Caitlin Stasey posts another topless selfie after pledging her support for Free The Nipple campaign,’ Daily Mail, 4 April, viewed 10th March 2017 <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3522351/Caitlin-Stasey-posts-topless-selfie-pledging-support-Free-Nipple-campaign.html>
Senft T & Baym. N 2015, What does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Golabal Phenomenon’ International Journal of Communication 9, pp.1590–1600
Suval. L 2014, The Pheonomenon of the Selfie, Psych Central, blog post, 4 June, viewed 10 March, 2017 <https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/06/04/the-phenomenon-of-the-selfie/>
Tempesta. E 2015, ‘He abused his power: Reign star Caitlin Stasey reveals she was sexually harassed by a Hollywood agent, as she strips to her underwear to promote body positivity,’ Daily Mail, 18 Novemeber, 10 March 2017 <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3322702/Reign-star-Caitlin-Stasey-reveals-sexually-harassed-Hollywood-agent-strips-underwear-promote-body-positivity.html>
West. S 2004, Portraiture, Oxford History of Art, 1st edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK, pp. 164