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Do Selfies Help or Hurt Self-Esteem?

Posted 04-08-2014 05:06 PM by ChristaIB
Updated 04-16-2014 07:23 PM by ChristaIB

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By now you’ve seen—or at least heard of—the latest social media trend: Selfies. This phenomenon sweeping the nation involves taking a portrait of yourself with your phone’s camera, and then posting it on social networking sites like ********, Instagram or Twitter for all to see. Pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and Rihanna post selfies to the Internet on a daily basis. Even comedienne Ellen Degeneres joined the trend by snapping and posting a few selfies while she was hosting this year’s Oscars.

Do you post selfies? And, is this social media trend healthy for your self-esteem, or is it potentially damaging? The answer depends on how invested you are in your virtual image, and how your “selfie” is received by your audience.

Danger of a Selfie

Selfies allow people complete control over their image, and that's what makes them so appealing. By holding the camera at a certain angle, you can capture your "good side." With the help of photo editing applications that can be loaded onto smartphones, you can minimize blemishes and other imperfections—even enhance the contours of your face or whittle inches from your body. But does posting your enhanced self-portrait create an unrealistic self-image?

Psychologists warn selfie-takers not to get caught up in this practice of virtual self-perfection. What is being presented on social media is only a snap-shot—a controlled presentation of you and your appearance. The reality is that in day-to-day life, you have very little control over how other people perceive your looks. It may be dangerous to your self-perception to create and publicize an unrealistic virtual image of yourself that you feel you need to live up to in “real life.”

What Impact Do Selfies Have on Self-Esteem?

When a selfie is posted on ********, Instagram or a similar site, the person posting the image cannot anticipate how the public will react. On the positive side, the image might be well-received—meaning people can click the "like" tab or leave a nice comment. Some psychologists argue that this can help those who need to improve their self-esteem because the more "likes" they get, the more their confidence is boosted. Alternately, might an abundance of positive responses encourage an already narcissistic person to become more self-absorbed? It may not be healthy for a person to go overboard and start posting 10 self-portraits per day.

On the negative side, selfies are not always well-received. They may be met with scorn and criticism, whereby many people post negative or bullying comments. This, some psychologists say, is when "selfies" can lead to emotional wounds and lowered self-esteem. A person who has been the brunt of a lot of negative feedback online may experience stress, anxiety or depression. In these instances, publicizing a virtual self-portrait can backfire and potentially harm you in a way that feels personal.

A Positive Shift in the Selfie Trend

Recently, there has emerged a new group of "selfie-takers" who are using selfies to give women and men with low self-esteem the confidence to be who they are and to love themselves with all their imperfections. This social media movement is being called the “Love Your Body Challenge.” Men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages and disabilities are baring all—including wrinkles, pregnancy bellies, beer bellies, cellulite, stretch marks, faces devoid of makeup, you name it—and posting these more realistic, honest images with words of encouragement that people should accept how they look and who they are.

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