ME , MY SELFIE & Is your social media avatar (your online personality) glossier and more daring than you are? Amy Molloy asks, are we creating a generation of narcissists?
On my Instagram page is a photograph of me doing yoga. Naked. I’m in bridge pose, so you can’t really see my face, but that’s the only part of my anatomy that is hidden. I would never dream of hanging a nude photograph on my living room wall, so why did I take off my clothes for Instagram? In real life I am neither a nudist nor an exhibitionist, but in the virtual world I am social media hussy, desperate for recognition and attention.
And I’m not alone. According to experts, the Internet-mad generation of twenty-somethings is more self-absorbed than ever. A 2013 study of university students, led by psychologist Jean Twenge, found that in the past three decades, narcissistic tendencies (charaterised as an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance) among young people has risen by 30 percent.
It’s not our fault, really. Although narcissism is traditionally seen as a psychological disorder, Twenge argues it’s now a culturally imposed epidemic. As late as 2009, Facebook had a limit on the amount of photographs you could post to one album (it was 60) but now you can drag-anddrop to your heart’s content. It encourages even the most camera-shy to overshare. There are currently in excess of 240 million pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #me, but how many of the pouters in these photos are actually introverts in real life? Is social media grooming a generation of “look at me” women, whose online personas are at odds with their true personalities?
Take the example of my Instagram disrobing. I wouldn’t class myself as particularly body confident, but my inhibitions were lowered by the wonders of technology. Before posting the photo, I could check the angle was flattering, blur my cellulite, and add a black-and-white filter to make it look artsy. Think about it: how many selfies would you share if you were unable to edit them before they were uploaded, instantly, like a Polaroid?
According to a recent survey by Dove cosmetics, 42 percent of women untag themselves from unflattering photographs and 55 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say Facebook has made them more self-conscious. Yet rather than avoiding social media completely, we’re just finding more sophisticated ways to gloss over our flaws and hide our weaknesses.
In her 2012 TED talk, “Connected, But Alone?”, which has been watched by more than 2.3 million people, psychologist and cultural analyst Sherry Turkle argues, “People [use technology] to customise their lives … you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.” She calls it the Goldilocks effect: not too close, not too far, just right.
We want everyone to see us, but only from our best side. What’s more, we apparently have no moral issues with posting a self-portrait that isn’t a 100 percent honest reflection of us. Just look at the popularity of “selfie surgery” and “virtual makeover” apps such as Facetune, ModiFace, and Liquify, which allows users to digitally edit their face and body shape. Eyelashes can be added, teeth whitened, skin smoothed, and kilos shed, all at the click of a button.
When Katy Perry recently posted a #couplie of herself with fellow singer Adele on Instagram, more than 36,000 followers “liked” it. It has attracted in excess of 4,800 comments, with many asking if they are recording a duet together (they’re not). Yet other viewers had different priorities: “What filter did you use? asked one fan. “Have you Photoshopped your face? I want to copy your cheekbones.”
We are increasingly using social media to micromanage the way we’re perceived by others. New research from Trinity University in Texas examined the reasons people