When whoever nicked my iPhone last week leaks my iCloud, posting the pictures from my cameraphone online, it won’t be snaps of my tits that come back to haunt me; it’ll be all the selfies I’ll be humiliated by.
I have selfies by the hundreds. For each one that I actually post online, another six are snapped in the process: always taken from above, posed with the same 45-degree head tilt and sucked-in cheek bones, until I’ve reached faux-slim, doe-eyed perfection.
Say what you like (“Katie, you’re a shallow narcissist”), but don’t tell me you haven’t done it. We’re selfie-obsessed. There’s no moment too inane to remain un-selfied (ask Kim Kardashian, who is selling a book full of them). No moment is too precious: astronaut Alexander Gerst recently took a selfie from the International Space Station, as if orbiting Earth wasn’t mindblowing enough.
Is there anyone who does not selfie? The Queen has appeared in so many she’s sick of them. Barack Obama and David Cameron are aficionados (most unforgettably, snapping a selfie while sandwiching the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial). A monkey has taken a selfie. So has Pope Francis. You can’t be too transcendental for selfies, as the Dalai Lama has proved (but then he does have an Instagram account to update). You can sing the Selfie song (thanks, Nina Nesbitt); watch the Selfie TV series (starring Karen Gillan); or LOL at the efforts of those who entered the Selfie Olympics. What you can’t do is write the selfie off as pure narcissism.
In an age where “I internet therefore I am”, the selfie is the digital equivalent of the mirror stage in psychoanalytic theory (the point at which, aged about six months, babies first recognise themselves in a mirror — stick with me here). Selfies are a way of capturing and understanding our identities, positioning and defining ourselves in relation to others in a world that unfolds online. As the kids say, “Pictures, or it didn’t happen,” ie, without a selfie no moment exists.
Selfies are no longer just self-promotion. Now we take dronies (snapped by drones) and stickies (taken with selfie-sticks) that allow us to capture not just our faces but our environment. There are shelfies (pictures of your bookshelf); belfies (see Kim Kardashian’s ass for details); usies (pictures of two people); and groufies (when there’s a few of you).
We see selfies taken in extremis: after sex, during surgery, at funerals, with dead people, at the 9/11 memorial and at Auschwitz — which might offend some, but strike me as our efforts to situate these experiences in the context of our online lives. Rather than pure selfishness, selfies are now one of the means by which we communicate — a conversation in portraits.
The best selfies constitute political activism: from #NoMakeUp selfies (which raised £8m for cancer research) to #WakeUpCall selfies for Unicef (raising money for children in Syria), to the hairy-girl selfies in China (for feminism). When the Turkish deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, admonished a woman for laughing publicly during Eid, Turkish women responded by posting pictures of themselves giggling defiantly. Their hashtag, #DirenKahkaha (Resist Laughter) trended worldwide.
The selfie is almighty altruism, not sheer self-indulgence. Convinced yet? Phew. Just don’t judge me when my pouty selfies are posted online.
FIND MY COLUMN HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1481912.ece