Find your true self(ie)

Health & Fitness - - Contents -

Delve be­hind your selfie and dis­cover the real you.

Have you up­loaded an im­age on Face­book re­cently? Or In­sta­gram? And, if so, was it a to­tally spon­ta­neous, un­fil­tered shot? Alarm­ingly, we Brits are go­ing to ever greater lengths to pro­duce the per­fect snap­shot of our lives. New re­search shows a shock­ing 50 per cent of 18- to 25-year-olds* even have a ‘selfie stage’ in their home, a ded­i­cated space for cap­tur­ing ‘like’-wor­thy im­ages with a sub­text that says, ‘this is me be­ing amaz­ing in ev­ery­day life’. Only it isn’t ev­ery­day life – it’s a care­fully con­structed arena which, the re­spon­dents of the study con­fess, has been cho­sen be­cause it has ‘great light­ing’, ‘flat­ter­ing back­ground colours’ and an air of ‘gen­eral tidi­ness’. Sixty-four per cent of them will even keep the area clean for the sole pur­pose of en­hanc­ing their im­ages.


Whether it’s our lat­est culi­nary ef­forts, a set of finely honed abs or a group shot with a cool bunch of friends, our sense of self in the 21st cen­tury has be­come closely linked to our pres­ence on so­cial me­dia – how many friends we have, the num­ber of likes we get and who posts a ‘per­sonal’ mes­sage when we’ve had a dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence or suc­ceeded in our lat­est fit­ness chal­lenge. But, of course, it wasn’t al­ways that way. Our sense of iden­tity has its roots in a much older past, as ac­claimed jour­nal­ist Will Storr un­cov­ers in his new book Selfie (Pi­cador, £18.99), which traces the con­cept of self from pre-his­tory to the dig­i­tal age, and it’s well worth a read.

What we of­ten fail to re­alise, says Storr, is that the things we be­lieve are a com­bi­na­tion of sto­ries, su­per­sti­tions and philoso­phies. Our in­ter­est in rep­u­ta­tion – which, in part, fuels the selfie phe­nomo­nen – is rooted in our tribal past, for ex­am­ple, where the flu­id­ity of hi­er­ar­chi­cal is­sues such as sta­tus was cru­cial. Mean­while, the no­tion that phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance and moral worth are di­rectly linked comes from the An­cient Greeks, he ex­plains. They even had a word for it: kalok­a­gathia from ka­los mean­ing ‘beau­ti­ful’, kai mean­ing ‘and’, and agathos mean­ing ‘good’. And if you think this is just se­man­tics, con­sider how the con­struct is still re­in­forced in pop­u­lar cul­ture more than 2,000 years later. How of­ten is the hero­ine of a novel or movie de­picted as be­ing phys­i­cally ‘ugly’?


Of course, there’s noth­ing in­trin­si­cally wrong with shar­ing your life on­line, it only be­comes an is­sue when you lose touch with your deeper con­nec­tion to your­self, plac­ing more value to the way oth­ers per­ceive you. It’s even pos­si­ble to con­fuse the two. It’s known as cog­ni­tive fu­sion in psy­cho­log­i­cal cir­cles: when you take on some­one else’s point of view as fact. Now that’s ven­tur­ing into dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory.

While we all as­pire to be the best ver­sion of our­selves, in­stead of seek­ing ex­ter­nal val­i­da­tion for our worth, look­ing in­side and get­ting to in­ti­mately know and value our true self can be deeply ben­e­fi­cial. Rather than in­vest­ing in how we are seen, per­haps it’s time to ask our­selves what we re­ally be­lieve and prac­tise liv­ing it. What re­ally mat­ters to you? What do you deeply value or want to ex­pe­ri­ence today, this month, this year?

Per­haps we’d do well to heed the ad­vice given to young Lit­tle by fa­ther-fig­ure Juan in the Os­car-win­ning movie Moon­light: ‘There comes a time in your life when you have to de­cide for your­self who you are go­ing to be. Can’t let no­body make that de­ci­sion for you.’

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