Selfie phenomenon 

longread | 01.12.2020

From 2011 to 2018, 275 people and one dolphin were killed or injured whilst attempting to take a selfie. Why are there dozens of close-up photos of our friends’ faces on the newsfeed, and how does this tie into self-affirmation in society?

Selfie – sounds modern, doesn’t it? In fact, the first time anyone captured an image of themselves was back in 1524.



Selfie. It sounds modern, doesn’t it? In fact, the first time anyone captured an image of themselves was back in 1524 – the Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror by Francesco Parmigianino, made with oil paint. In the more progressive year of 1914, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia took a picture of herself with the help of a mirror in order to send it to her friend. In the enclosed letter she wrote “I made this picture while looking in the mirror. It was very difficult because my hands were shaking.” From 2004 to 2008, the first photos with the tag ‘selfie’, that is to say, a self-portrait, began to appear on MySpace. The trend began to grow as frontal cameras appeared on mobile phones, and in 2014 as many as 93 million selfies were taken every day. 



A sarcastic series called ’Selife’ was released at the height of the phenomenon’s popularity, which depicted modern youngsters, at an average age of 23, who lost all sense of reason when it came to sharing selfies. At around the same time American universities were engaged in the Selfiecity research project, which revealed that women take selfies more often than men do, especially in Moscow, at 84%. 

Reasons for the rise in popularity


Why do people like to take pictures of their faces and post them online?

  • The ability to view yourself from the outside
    German sociologists conducted research and discovered that from the outset selfies were considered as mirrors, which helped to view yourself from the outside. Whilst mirrors are unable to ‘freeze’ an image, photos can be looked at as much as you like, you can choose your best side and use it for later pictures.
  • Self-promotion
    Selfies are an overt and clear statement made by a person that they exist. These pictures scream “I’m here!”. Such statements are often accompanied by “I’m here, and I’m cool.” Selfies are a peculiar, often unconscious way to boast about yourself so that others would want to talk to you. The urge to show off is so great that to this day 275 people were killed or injured when attempting to take a selfie. The phenomenon is described in a very interesting manner by a psychologist in a Russian newspaper article on the subject:


“It’s a kind of compensation mechanism: I haven’t achieved much in my life but, just like celebrities, I attract the attention of other people and my acquaintances, they ‘like’ me. The more ‘likes’ I have, the closer I am to the spotlight, which means that I am also a sort of celebrity.”

— Angelina Nikolau,


Reasons for a wane in interest

The Guardian claims that nowadays 82% of users would like to see fewer selfies on their newsfeeds. When it comes to selfies, the traditional function of a photograph – capturing memorable moments – is of little to no importance since only the face is visible in the picture. The desire to seem attractive and get long-awaited likes pushes people to try harder, which leads them to retouch their pictures or have specific facial expressions that emphasise certain facial features. So photos become staged and, more often than not, simply funny. They do not serve as a reflection of the person, but rather of a trend, which is why the vast majority scrolls through these pictures knowing that there’s just another ‘copy’. 

Selfies in pop culture

The modern selfie culture leaves many questions unanswered. For example, is it moral to take a picture of yourself laughing in the Auschwitz concentration camp? What incites people to participate in the flash mob ‘wrap your face in sellotape and post it online’? Does everyone want to see after sex selfies of their friends? Why did Kim Kardashian’s book, which consists of 448 pages of her self-portraits, become a bestseller? The answer comes back to a simple truth: people want to make themselves known. Next time your friend posts a picture of their face on the newsfeed just invite them over for a cup of coffee. Let them know that they’re not forgotten. Then there might be fewer selfies. But there will be more happy people!

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