Promoting Yourself(ie)

December 6th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

As the 2013 Word of the Year, some wonder if there is any value to be found in “selfies.”

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The Responsibility Project

“The most esteemed guardian of the English language has bestowed a prestigious honor upon debatably the most embarrassing phenomenon of the digital age,” bemoaned CNN’s Ben Brumfield. The source of Brumfield’s agony is the fact that Oxford Dictionaries’ 2013 Word of the Year is “selfie.” That’s right, the much-maligned smartphone self-portrait, taken by everyone from teens behind the wheel to singles sporting their most enticing “duckfaces” to your grandmother. In fact, the Pew Center for Internet Research reported earlier this year that 91 percent of teens had posted a “selfie” on social media sites.

Though the perhaps narcissistic selfie has recently been an object of much derision, it is not without defenders. Could these self-portraits actually serve as a tool to promote confidence in young women, or even prove useful in their future professional lives? Slate’s Rachel Simmons writes, “The selfie is a tiny pulse of girl pride, a shout-out to self,” which sounds like a good thing when you consider that teen girl social culture punishes expressions of self-confidence. “Act too confident and you’ll be isolated, called ‘conceited,’” Simmons points out.

So set aside your annoyance and restrain your scoffing at the doe-eyed, pucker-lipped poses and, Simmons suggests, you’ll see girls, well, leaning in. She writes, “If you write off the endless stream of posts as image-conscious narcissism, you’ll miss the chance to watch girls practice promoting themselves – a skill that boys are otherwise given more permission to develop, and which serves them later on when they negotiate for raises and promotions.”

Of course, not everyone sees eye-to-eye on the value of selfies. In Teen Vogue, psychologist Jill Weber worries that girls have become conditioned to see themselves as lovable and worthwhile only if others value them in the form of comments and “likes.” And though the desire for social validation is normal, Dr. Weber says that the instant gratification – or disappointment – of online interactions can “quickly spiral out of control.”

And Slate’s Simmons, while defending the selfie, does not entirely disagree with Dr. Weber, as she points out the obviously troubling nature of the trend: The focus is on looks over anything and everything else. “I do worry that for every girl who posts a selfie with pride, others use it to cobble together the validation they cannot give themselves.” What’s your take on the selfie? Is it purely narcissistic, or is there value to be found in the form of self-esteem boosting? Weigh in here.