What is a selfie and how do you take one?
The term selfie was discussed by photographer Jim Krause in 2005, although photos in the selfie genre predate the widespread use of the term. In the early 2000s, before Facebook became the dominant online social network, self-taken photographs were particularly common on MySpace. However, writer Kate Losse recounts that between 2006 and 2009 (when Facebook became more popular than MySpace), the “MySpace pic” (typically “an amateurish, flash-blinded self-portrait, often taken in front of a bathroom mirror”) became an indication of bad taste for users of the newer Facebook social network. Early Facebook portraits, in contrast, were usually well-focused and more formal, taken by others from distance. In 2009 in the image hosting and video hosting website Flickr, Flickr users used ‘selfies’ to describe seemingly endless self-portraits posted by teenage girls. According to Loose, improvements in design—especially the front-facing camera of the iPhone 4 (2010), mobile photo apps such as Instagram and Snapchat led to the resurgence of selfies in the early 2010s.
Initially popular with young people, selfies gained wider popularity over time. By the end of 2012, Time magazine considered selfie one of the “top 10 buzzwords” of that year; although selfies had existed long before, it was in 2012 that the term “really hit the big time”. According to a 2013 survey, two-thirds of Australian women age 18–35 take selfies—the most common purpose for which is posting on Facebook. A poll commissioned by smartphone and camera maker Samsung found that selfies make up 30% of the photos taken by people aged 18–24. By 2013, the word “selfie” had become commonplace enough to be monitored for inclusion in the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary. In November 2013, the word “selfie” was announced as being the “word of the year” by the Oxford English Dictionary, which gave the word itself an Australian origin.
Selfies have also been taken beyond Earth. Selfies taken in space include those by astronauts, an image by NASA’s Curiosity rover of itself on Mars, and images created by an indirect method, where a self-portrait photograph taken on Earth is displayed on a screen on a satellite, and captured by a camera.
In 2011 a crested black macaque stole a wildlife photographer’s camera, and when the camera was later recovered it was found to contain hundreds of selfies, including one of a grinning female macaque. This incident set off an unusual debate about copyright.
In October 2013, Imagist Labs released an iOS app called Selfie, which allows users to upload photos only from their front-facing smartphone camera. The app shows a feed of public photos of everyone’s selfies and from the people they follow. The app does not allow users to comment and users can only respond with selfies. The app soon gained popularity among teenagers.
In January 2014, during the Sochi Winter Olympics, a “Selfie Olympics” meme was popular on Twitter, where users took self-portraits in unusual situations. The spread of the meme took place with the usage of the hashtags #selfiegame and #selfieolympics.
In April 2014, the advertising agency iStrategyLabs produced a two-way mirror capable of automatically posting selfies to Twitter, using facial recognition software.
The popularity of selfies in social media has been astounding. Instagram has over 53 million photos tagged with the hashtag #selfie. The word “selfie” was mentioned in Facebook status updates over 368,000 times during a one-week period in October 2013. During the same period on Twitter, the hashtag #selfie was used in more than 150,000 tweets.
The appeal of selfies comes from how easy they are to create and share, and the control they give self-photographers over how they present themselves. Many selfies are intended to present a flattering image of the person, especially to friends whom the photographer expects to be supportive. However, a 2013 study of Facebook users found that posting photos of oneself correlates with lower levels of social support from and intimacy with Facebook friends (except for those marked as Close Friends). The lead author of the study suggests that “those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships.” The photo messaging application Snapchat is also largely used to send selfies. Some users of Snapchat choose to send intentionally-unattractive selfies to their friends for comedic purposes.
Posting intentionally unattractive selfies has also become common in the early 2010s—in part for their humor value, but in some cases also to explore issues of body image or as a reaction against the perceived narcissism or over-sexualization of typical selfies.
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