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Selfies and Self-portraits - Credits: (Stocksnap)

Conversation Alley: About selfies and self-portraits

Selfies!!!! This time something completely different. Within this Conversation Alley with Brooke and Dali, we will discuss both the psychology behind them in general, and then the truth behind the lens, if you will, with regards to those who take selfies in particular locales in which they misrepresent either the locale, themselves, or both.

We will venture as to why people might do this, the drawbacks of presenting such misleading information, and how we might act differently with regards to adventure selfie snapping (aka more authentic and honestly) while still being able to showcase the awe inspiring, awesome places to which we have traveled.
*Credits: Featured image by StockSnap,

Make sure to visit my co-author Brooke’s blog!

What we’re on about


So, lets start off by laying the groundwork. Selfies in general. There has been a lot of talk and focus around selfies in the last few years, so much so that they even an official term now. People either love them, snapping selfies of their own faces routinely (some people even spending hours doing this), or of themselves together with friends or romantic partner in abundance and then posting such on social media in rapid succession. A montage of their daily, supposedly envy worthy lives. Or, people loathe selfies, rolling their eyes at selfie snappers in annoyance and disdain, finding the whole self focus of such groan worthy, sad, and obnoxious. These are the two camps people tend towards separating into with regard to selfies.

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Selfies and self-portraits. Both formats are in fact not as new as we might think. Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Dürer, Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne – these and many other famous artists painted themselves. Some of their self-portraits are simply studies of human face and body, while others aim to be more creative, or are surrounded by mystery. And others are actually quite witty – Raphael included himself in the painting The School of Athens which can be seen in Vatican. Jan van Eyck immortalized himself in a little mirror in his famous painting known as The Arnolfini Portrait.

Although there is a difference in the technical way the depiction is produced (selfie = pressing a button, traditional self-portrait = time, material and skill), the rationale behind them nowadays is or might be similar to 500 years ago. In fact, some people invest so much time in posing for selfies, perfectionizing their facial expression and finally spend hours on editing them just so, that even the old masters might have struggled to keep up.

“Just cut off my ear.”

Vincent van Gogh likely would have been called a “selfie freak” by today’s standards, since he depicted himself more than 40 times during his relatively short life. This, of course, was more likely caused by the level of his shaky psychological well-being, rather than self-obsession. He even painted himself with a heavy bandage soon after cutting off his own ear. Strange thing to do, right? But is it really? Scrolling through Instagram, I have the strange feeling, this would be exactly that kind of IG banger to get the most likes, comments and follows. “Look at me, I’m such a bad-ass, just cut my ear off.” *

This is where our journey into the selfie world takes a strange and maybe even dangerous twist. What I mean is a literal twist of cause and consequence. Van Gogh had cut his ear off. Whatever reasons he had, I’m convinced he had not done so with the self-portrait in mind to come of bandaged himself. The danger is that nowadays, people actually do all kinds of clickbait-y things (harming themselves or other people, doing extreme stunts, posing wearing nearly nothing) exactly for that reason – with a self-portrait/selfie in their mind. Maximum shock value and loads of attention follow. Consequence becomes the cause.

Vincent van Gogh was kind of a selfie king of the past - Credits: StockSnap,
Vincent van Gogh was kind of a selfie king of the past – Credits: StockSnap,

*My apologies go to poor Vincent, whom I used as a most inappropriate example.

So what exactly is wrong?


From selfie sticks, to apps like Snapchat, to spending hours primping and posing for that perfect selfie that showcases one at their “very best” and most attractive, to adding cutsie animal ears and stars to one’s eyes, morphing your image into some adorable animal or other type of creature, we have become a society obsessed with altering our own image, and showcasing such as the best of the best to an audience. Then, awaiting the responses silently, much like a dog with its tongue out, salivating for its meal (aka the reward) to come. Many of us have come to hunger for and thrive on this feedback. A not insignificant amount of people even living their lives rather heavily based on it.

The whole setup of a selfie often playing out like so. Pretending to “just” snap a photo of ourselves in an aloof, casual, oops-just-happened-to-snap-this-photo-of-myself, and then posting it “just because.” Then when the flood of comments come in remarking on how “awesome” we look, or how jealous everyone is of where we are going/what we are doing, how gorgeous we look, how ripped our body is, or where we are, we pretend with false modesty to be caught off guard. “What? Oh jeez, I look like crap in this photo even though my abs are flexed and I’m standing here in a bikini/speedo, the wind blowing conveniently through my hair just so, lips puckered, but thank you soooooo much. You are so sweet!!! Love ya!”

Sound familiar? I imagine for those who love selfies and partake in them enthusiastically…this is the point where they will get defensive and angry in reading. And for those who despise selfies, this is the point where they are nodding their heads in agreement.


Trying to look nice on a photo is not a sin. Yes, most of us try to smile and pose in such a way that is appealing, thus we all want to show our “chocolate side” to a degree. Simple-to-use softwares enable us to remove bags under the eyes or a couple of pimples in seconds. But that is quite natural – of course we want to be pleasant to look at when taking a picture.

What really bothers me is how popular that sort of pretending has become. Acting performance is often presented as something normal and ordinary. Sadly, this acting is often disguised as something “inspirational” but what it really does is generate envy, insecurity and cause others feel that their life sucks. It nourishes the dangerous comparison culture leading to unhapiness. But weirdly, exactly those accounts are rewarded by a ridiculously high number followers.
Now, let me show you a couple of examples I have come across in my Instagram research and where the self-presentation is straight up false acting.

1. Geroldsee Chillax

This one is just stupid – guy is just sitting and “chilling” on the roof of an alpine cabin, checking out the view of Geroldsee, Germany. Seriously? If your property (car, house, hut, whatever) happens to be in a nice place, would you consider it normal that people climb it up and maybe damage it in order to present themselves as cool on the internet? Besides, although it might look like a deserted wilderness, it is not – in fact there is a small village starting right next to the edge of this image and a very busy road behind it. I can imagine Gerold’s inhabitants just looking up to their cabines, where this glorious scene was created, shaking their heads in disbelief. 😀

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Thomas (@visualsvan) am

2. Peecnic in Paris

Picnic right in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Sounds amazing, right? Is there a place more romantic than this in the city of love? Well, actually…yes…plenty. Parc Champ de Mars is a haven for weirdos, it is a bit smelly and there is usually A LOT of trash everywhere (sadly, left not by weirdos but by the picnic people). There are also tons of people pretty much round the clock sitting on the lawn. And this photo actually proves it, just look closely – see those weird smudges everywhere around the lawn? They were definitely either people or trash, photoshopped away, not very successfully though.
I like to imagine the woman on the picture to pose for the photoshooting first and then telling her photographer: “Alright, we’re done, let’s get out of here, it’s crammed! Can you smell that too?” And then she grabs the croissants and eats them in the hotel.

3. Drag me to hell

Such a classic cliché image. Woman’s hand holding man’s hand and dragging him somewhere. Why? It evokes adventure, it invites the viewer to come with her to wherever she’s going (in this case inside a damn freezing waterfall, obviously). But at the same time, it’s just a staged “look at me, I’m at this amazing place with my amazing boy-/girlfriend” kind of situation. So for everyone, who cannot travel to amazing places and maybe does not have a boy-/girlfriend, I’ve got a message for you: This is NOT real. My wife never drags me around like this. We just…walk side by side, like normal people. By the way, ever tried to do such image with a heavy DSLR camera held by one hand?

Now what?

Brooke: So, are selfies really signs of narcissism, arrogance, are they self objectifying? Or is that an overblown exaggeration? Let’s find out. First, quickly to define each of those:

Narcissism: Extreme self-centeredness and a grandiose view of oneself. Narcissists have an excessive need to be admired by others and a sense of entitlement. They’re likely to agree with statements such as: “I’m more capable than most people,” and “I will usually show off if I get the chance.”

Self-objectification: This is a tendency to view your body as an object based on its sexual worth. Those high in self-objectification tend to see themselves in terms of their physical appearance and base their self-worth on their appearance.

Arrogance: An inflated sense of self, usually tending towards thinking of oneself as better than or above others.

In a study done of 1,000 people between ages 18 and 40, participants completed personality questionnaires, psychology assessments, and then answered questions about how often they took selfies, how much they posted on social media, how many other photos they posted generally, as well as how much time spent on social media. They were also asked to rate how often they used various methods to make themselves look better in pictures, such as cropping, filtering, and re-touching.

Pose, snap, retouch, post, repeat. Credits: MabelAmber,
Pose, snap, retouch, post, repeat. Credits: MabelAmber,

Results showed that both narcissism and self-objectification were associated with spending more time on social networking sites, as well as with more photo-editing. Posting numerous selfies was related to higher narcissism, self objectification, and even psychopathy.

This of course, does not mean that everyone who likes posting selfies is a narcissist or psychopath. Not even close. That would be a major overstatement, blanket assumption, and exaggeration. What it does mean though is that a high incidence of selfie posting carries with it a correlation to these personality disorders, and a sense of arrogance/major self involvement. That seems obvious though, doesn’t it? If a person is spending hours taking photos of themselves, posting this way and that, primping for this very photo just so, all for the likes and responses it will hopefully garner, that is a lot of time dedicated to the showcasing (and hopefully garnered attention for) of oneself.

It doesn’t mean that everyone who likes posting selfies is a narcissist or psychopath. Not even close.

Still, narcissism can explain only a small amount of the selfie-posting behavior that we observe on social media. There may be many other still-to-be-uncovered factors that also influence this behavior, as well as other nuances to consider. How often does the person post selfies and to what extreme. How many hours of their time do they spend primping or prepping for these photographs of themselves? How much does their feeling good about themselves rely on and stem from people’s responses to their photos? These are important questions which can help pinpoint whether or not someone is truly narcissistic and self obsessed, or just likes posting an occasional photo to show their friends something fun and/or cool.

I also imagine that another piece of this puzzle is the follow-the-pack mentality. If everyone else is doing it, we tend towards being urged into doing it too, even if it doesn’t full feel right or “like me,” we often assume that because “everyone else” is doing something, that it’s ok, acceptable, even cool, and/or the thing to do.

Woman taking a selfie - Credits:
Selfies – just fun or a sign of narcissism? – Credits:

Conclusion on the current selfie situation


It is hard to draw a conclusion on this topic. Selfies are not evil, that’s not what we are saying. It just feels like more and more people are willing to do dangerous stuff, distort reality or stage what they then present as their “ordinary” life. All that for the sake of likes and follows of anonymous admirers. During my Instagram research, I focused heavily on travel photography but I was shocked by how many proposal images I have accidentally come across, most of them obviously staged. I think it is very sad when social media virtual life and the eagerness to present ourselves in the perfect light has penetrated even those unique, treasured, and intimate moments of our lives.

On my travels, I also encountered countless cases of people crossing all kinds of barriers just to get the perfect Instagram photo. This has become increasingly ‘normal’ but it simply isn’t. Don’t disturb the wildlife and don’t risk your life for a couple of likes, it is simply not worth it. It is also disrespectful and unconcerned with those around you. People acting this way will eventually just spoil the fun of travelling for the generations to come. When there is a barrier, it is there for a good reason. Respect it. Authorities are restricting and closing many tourist sites because of tourists doing stupid things for likes. If you agree with me and feel extraordinary generous today, there is a petition out there.

Also, please don‘t pretend you‘re enjoying something for the photo, simply enjoy and be where you are. Don’t go and have picnic at a place which is not romantic at all just because it’s trendy on Instagram. Go somewhere, where it really is romantic. Don’t climb up other people’s property to look cool. Instead, just look around and enjoy the astounding view. Hold the hand of your loved one and do it just because it’s nice. Don’t do it for the Gram.


This is what leads to living a life chasing after others reactions, responses and praise, and ultimately, what results in living a life where you miss out on truly emotionally moving experiences and moments. Sure, take some photos of your adventures to share with family and friends later, but for the most part, be there, fully there, in the moments of your life. They are passing by, and fast. How did you pass your most recent memorable moment? Fumbling for your phone to get a photo of it, taking you out of the moment and bringing your focus to the responses you will receive? Or actually full, mindfully in the experience, heart overflowing with fulfillment and joy?

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