Jump directly to the content

Our Bodies, Our Selfies: On Body Image Online


Sep 3 2014
The approval-seeking scrutiny of social media’s selfie-mania.

The ubiquity of social media exerts a certain pressure to post photos of oneself — often, selfies — and submit them to the scrutiny of others. One study estimates that a third of all photographs taken by people ages 18-24 are selfies — photographs taken by the subject of the photograph, usually at arms length.

Selfies, it seems, have become one of the important “body projects” of the digital age. In her book, The Body Project, historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg chronicles the increasingly exacting standards of appearance that girls and young women in North America have felt pressure to conform to. As others — such as Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth — have noted, gains in women’s rights have often been undermined somewhat by ever-more unrealistic and unattainable standards of beauty.

Photographer and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has given considerable attention to the significance of girls and women’s appearance in our culture. There is, she has written, an “element of performance and exhibitionism that seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl.” Or, for that matter, a person — actor James Franco defended his abundant posting of selfies in a New York Times op-ed piece, noting that poems and thoughtful quotations didn’t garner nearly as much attention as selfies — particularly shirtless ones.

It goes without saying that selfies posted to social media are the most attractive ones that the person can create, with the help of camera angles, cropping, filters, and other editing tools. Selfies are images of the self for the consumption and approval of others; some selfie-dedicated websites serve no other purpose than to promote the posting and approval — or disapproval — of images of the self.

I spent at least a ten-year period in my teens and early 20s obsessed with my appearance, constantly asking: Am I ugly? Does this make me look fat? Are you sure my hair is all right in the back? If I were going through that difficult decade now instead of then, I suppose I would have been taking selfies and posting them online, waiting for the “likes” and the “favorites” and the comments — hopefully all complimentary — to come pinging in.

Back then, I mostly used my first digital camera to chronicle our growing baby with pictures to be emailed to grandparents. But secretly, I’d also place the camera on a table or bookshelf, set the timer function, and pose so that the camera could help me decide for myself whether I seemed to be getting a little heavier in the thighs. Then I’d delete the pictures. At the time – and even now — I felt a measure of shame over what I was doing. It was a desperate attempt to find answers to the questions that my husband, mom, and best friends were so tired of hearing: “Do I look okay?”

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Comments

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

orSubscribeor
More from Her.menutics
Let Them Bake Cakes

Let Them Bake Cakes

The Great British Baking Show teaches me about offering and receiving friendship in a fractured world.
Why I’m Not a World-Changer

Why I’m Not a World-Changer

In my middle-age years, I’ve traded revolution for good old-fashioned faithfulness.
Our Bodies Are Imperfect Temples

Our Bodies Are Imperfect Temples

God dwells in us whether we’re Olympian-level muscular or morbidly obese.
Am I Humble Enough to Learn from Millennials?

Am I Humble Enough to Learn from Millennials?

Learning from my elders is easy. Learning from those younger than me—not so much.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

The Truth About Living with an Invisible Illness

God sees me and my pain even when others cannot.

Follow Us

Twitter



What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies

Christianity Today
Our Bodies, Our Selfies: On Body Image Online