When I first started struggling with mental health issues (and in particular body image), smartphones didn’t exist – and neither did selfies. Things were incredibly difficult for me – even though I wasn’t exposed to images constantly on social media, or compared myself (sadly) to selfies taken by the people I wished I looked like. Back then I only had magazines and television to trigger the insecurities which were being compounded every day by bullies at school – yet the damage from those things alone caused me to develop many issues (including Anorexia), and has stayed with me to this day.
Now though I see so many things which could have made things even worse for me back then – things which I’m sure help people to struggle and hate themselves when they’re already doing a good job of that on their own. Even for me now I struggle with selfies and that’s why I say they’re toxic – and share this post to show how you might be addicted or harming your self-esteem without even realising (and why it doesn’t matter if you don’t take a picture of yourself every day).
We use selfies to compare with others
Selfies encourage us to compare ourselves with others. So added to the ‘normal’ photos we use to compare ourselves with, we’re now up against photographs which have been carefully selected from thousands (and cleverly edited). We can see what other people look like even more than ever before – this is down not just to social media, but to selfies too. Nobody in the 1940s would have commissioned a photographer to take a shot of them standing naked in their bathroom mirror.
I started taking selfies obsessively because I was comparing. And now I can’t stop. The only thing I do to help myself with this is not to look at other people’s.
We use selfies to compete with ourselves
If I don’t take a selfie on a day when I feel good, I worry that I may never look that nice again. Then when I’m feeling good I’ll look at previous selfies to help me to feel better – and to know ‘what works’ for next time. I’ll be able to feel better when I’m feeling down, as when I’m feeling bad I flick back through them and think ‘oh no actually, I’m not that bad’. On the face of it this all seems like a helpful coping strategy, but actually it perpetuates an already difficult (and time consuming) issue. It also opens me up to looking through past selfies and panicking that I am fatter, or uglier, or different-looking compared with how I was before. Opening up a world of completely unnecessary pain.
A lot of people use selfies in the same way as a sort of tool for monitoring themselves in some way. This is not good. It causes us to become MORE image obsessed as a result – which can only be a bad thing. If you need proof of how bad this is then use me as an example. I was very poorly when I was younger – much worse than I am now. Image wasn’t as important back then – and there was no way of knowing what other people looked like, at least not publicly. They’d have to get out their photo albums. Yet now when I am more clued up and understand myself better, have coping strategies, I still find that selfies make me feel bad. And I know that if they’d been around back then they’d have made life a lot worse for me. Think about young people who are in the position I was in over ten years ago. Think about how fucked up I was, and then consider the potential issues they could face. It’s sad, and it’s scary.
Selfies are addictive
Once you start it’s hard to stop. I think this is down to a narcisstic human instinct present in all of us. We all want to look and be the best. We all like the thought of admiration and praise – whether it’s from within or from followers on social media. We miss holidays, events, parties and special moments in our lives for the sake of capturing them. Either way, it’s damn hard not to take a selfie when you feel you’re looking good.
Selfies encourage us to obsess over how we look. They add to general anxiety as well as body image related issues
As discussed selfies take up headspace, and cause us to compare and scrutinise ourselves against each other and as individuals. We obsess over image when really in the grand scheme of life how we look means nothing. Then we encourage others to do the same and pass this toxic behaviour on to the next generation.
For me personally selfies add to my generalised anxiety, as they cause massive storage issues on my phones and computers, and make me panicky about ‘losing’ images. So I bury my head in the sand and refuse to face them until my phone tells me it’s full. And then I waste time and energy being anxious again.
Selfies put us in competition with others
I’ve made this point briefly before but naturally when we take a selfie and combine it with social media (or at least exposure to other people’s selfies) competition occurs. We are in competition with ourselves wanting to look better and better, but we’re also in competition with others – feeling we have to ‘out do’ them with a better, more beautiful selfie. Various beautifying products and apps (along with selfie accessories) are testament to this.
Selfies aren’t a true representation of you anyway
In my post The Camera Does Lie I talk about the deception and distortion that goes on when we view ourselves through a lens or on a printed image as opposed to how other people see us with their own eyes. In that post I quote my fab friend and professional photographer Neil, who also takes issue with selfies. He explained to me that selfies obscure our true appearance (often in an unflattering way) because of the quality of the camera, the angle they are taken at and other environmental factors like lighting.
The bottom line here is that selfies are bad for us mentally. But I know from personal experience that stopping taking selfies is easier said than done! I hope that this article has shed some light on how selfies can be harmful, and that helps you to rationalise and understand them (and yourself) a little more. Follow my journey and take a look at further self-esteem and body image blogs and vlogs here.