Front-fac­ing cam­era work­ing over­time? Maybe take a break

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - LIZZY DENING words SARAH TANAT-JONES il­lus­tra­tions

Our pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with self­ies is clearly go­ing nowhere. But whether it’s a post­work­out snap to send to your trainer or a full pout and head tilt on a Satur­day night, is your weak­ness for self­ies play­ing havoc with your sense of self?

Not since the Spice Girls fu­elled that 1990s in­ter­na­tional epi­demic of dodgy plat­form train­ers has a celebrity trend caught on quite as ob­ses­sively as the selfie. It’s been four years since it was named word of the year by Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies and we now take more than a mil­lion of them ev­ery day; a colos­sal 24 bil­lion were stored on Google Photos in 2016. But while your favourite habit might be help­ing your In­sta pro­file pop, could it be hav­ing a detri­men­tal ef­fect on your men­tal health? A Ger­man study pub­lished ear­lier this year re­vealed that while 77% of par­tic­i­pants in­ter­viewed ad­mit­ted dip­ping a toe in the cur­rent pose-and-post cul­ture – and lov­ing ev­ery minute – the ma­jor­ity (67%) also said self­i­etak­ing had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on self-es­teem. So if you know that they could be do­ing more harm than good, why do they still ac­count for one in ev­ery three photos you snap? ‘Self­ies are gen­er­ally linked to a need to mea­sure pop­u­lar­ity,’ says Andy Phip­pen, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in IT. ‘There can be a com­pul­sive el­e­ment to shar­ing them – you’re seek­ing val­i­da­tion from other peo­ple that you mea­sure up, that you’re at­trac­tive and pop­u­lar.’ In some cases, selfie ob­ses­sion can reach ex­treme pro­por­tions. In 2014, UK teen Danny Bow­man made head­lines as the world’s first ‘selfie ad­dict’. The anx­i­ety Danny associated with achiev­ing perfect self-por­traits caused him to drop out of school, lose 2st and, at his low­est point, at­tempt sui­cide. Okay, so you’re un­likely to take it that far, but there is ev­i­dence that con­stantly post­ing your pics – and look­ing at other peo­ple’s – is lead­ing to a change in the be­hav­iour of the av­er­age per­son. The Selfiecity Lon­don project found women are the most pro­lific posters world­wide, and are 50% more likely to add a head tilt (the shame). And this ob­ses­sion isn’t do­ing the cos­metic surgery in­dus­try any harm. Stats from the American Academy of Fa­cial Plas­tic and Re­con­struc­tive Surgery re­veal that over 40% of sur­geons said look­ing more at­trac­tive in so­cially shared self­ies was an in­cen­tive for pa­tients seek­ing surgery.


It’s easy to as­sume the de­sire to take, and pub­licly post, photos of your­self is driven by noth­ing other than nar­cis­sism. And the science is there to back these as­sump­tions: Korean re­searchers found peo­ple who demon­strate a higher de­gree of nar­cis­sism are more likely to post self­ies and en­gage with com­ments left on their posts, with­out leav­ing feed­back for oth­ers. To take it a step fur­ther, a study from Ohio Univer­sity in­ves­ti­gat­ing male par­tic­i­pants de­ter­mined a con­nec­tion be­tween psy­cho­pathic traits, such as a lack of em­pa­thy or a ten­dency to­wards im­pul­sive be­hav­iour, and serial face shar­ers. But let’s not write off ev­ery pro­lific selfie-poster as a selfab­sorbed dick­head – as ex­perts sug­gest, while that link be­tween ego­tism and fill­ing your feed with your own face is real, there may be other mo­ti­va­tions at play. ‘There are two main rea­sons why peo­ple post self­ies,’ says Dr Femke Leathes, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist (leathes­psy­chol­ ‘Yes, they can be a fairly clear in­di­ca­tor of a nar­cis­sis­tic per­son­al­ity; these are the peo­ple who post self­ies to seek ad­mi­ra­tion, to an ex­ces­sive ex­tent, in or­der to boost their self­es­teem.’ And while she sug­gests it wouldn’t be fair to say tak­ing self­ies causes nar­cis­sism – as that per­son­al­ity trait has its roots in child­hood – there’s an as­sump­tion that so­cial feeds can be­come a channel through which the trait flour­ishes. ‘How­ever, many use self­ies in a more in­no­cent man­ner, to main­tain friend­ships, pro­mote “face-to-face” con­tact when dis­tance doesn’t al­low it and to share le­git­i­mate achieve­ments or ex­pe­ri­ences,’ she adds. So it seems the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind shar­ing the selfie love can be more com­plex than you might as­sume. For Steven Holiday, re­searcher at Texas Tech Univer­sity, it’s this

im­pe­tus be­hind post­ing self­ies that in­di­cates whether they could be dam­ag­ing your men­tal health. ‘There’s no deny­ing self­ies have be­come in­grained in our cul­ture as a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and it could be that we can use them to help add a sense of tone to text mes­sages, which are of­ten dif­fi­cult to in­fer mean­ing from,’ he says. ‘But if your mo­ti­va­tion is to seek ap­proval, that’s an un­healthy be­hav­iour.’


Cat­e­gor­i­cally not hooked on star­ing back at your­self on your phone screen? An aver­sion to tak­ing self­ies doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. ‘I work with a grow­ing num­ber of women and girls who are sig­nif­i­cantly and neg­a­tively in­flu­enced by the self­ies they see on so­cial me­dia, in­de­pen­dent of whether they choose to post any them­selves,’ says Dr Leathes. ‘The trou­ble is, these self­ies have likely been heav­ily fil­tered and only rep­re­sent a small, highly bi­ased snap­shot of the sub­ject’s life, so the com­par­isons they trig­ger are en­tirely un­re­al­is­tic and ir­ra­tional.’ In­deed, a 2015 study from Penn State Univer­sity con­firmed that sim­ply look­ing at self­ies was associated with lower self-es­teem and re­duced life sat­is­fac­tion. Dr David Houghton of the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham has re­searched the ef­fect of Face­book self­ies on per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, and thinks the site’s al­go­rithm for pop­u­lat­ing your news feed can ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem. ‘Self­ies can be a bit of a worm­hole and lead to a nar­row view­point,’ he says. ‘If you’re be­ing fed the feeds of celebs and see­ing noth­ing but glossy images of the “cham­pagne life­style”, it stops be­ing a networking tool and in­stead be­comes an echo cham­ber. And if you al­ready have a ten­dency to feel in­se­cure, there can be a danger of dis­miss­ing the wider world.’ How­ever – much like with booze and burpees – #bal­ance seems to be key in man­ag­ing your selfie ob­ses­sion in a healthy way. The find­ings of Dr Houghton’s study sup­ported the idea that cam­era-flip­ping can reap re­wards for your friend­ships. While ca­sual ac­quain­tances re­ported be­ing ir­ri­tated by re­peated pic­tures of peo­ple clog­ging up their so­cial me­dia feeds, ac­tual friends didn’t feel the same way. ‘There was a sig­nif­i­cant link be­tween close friends and part­ners view­ing self­ies and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an im­prove­ment in re­la­tion­ship qual­ity with the poster,’ he says. Fur­ther­more, US re­search* found that, as long as par­tic­i­pants es­chewed duck­face for a gen­uine smile, shar­ing self­ies with friends ac­tu­ally in­creased their hap­pi­ness lev­els. So, if you can get to a place where you’re cam­era-flip­ping to boost your friend­ships rather than your own es­teem, and swap the pout for show­ing off your pearly whites, per­haps a pen­chant for self­ies isn’t all that bad. Smile (no head tilt, though).


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