Selfies and Self-confidence: Empowerment or Objectification?

Sometimes posting a selfie can give you an instant confidence boost. At other times, trawling through people’s perturbingly perfect snaps can cause your confidence levels to take a dip. But beyond the effects on our confidence, how do selfies affect the way we view each other?

In this blog post, we explore whether posting selfies on social media is empowering—or if the practice might damage our wellbeing by encouraging us to objectify each other. To shed light on the topic, we spoke to three women in digital to get their take on selfies and self-confidence.

Posting from a place of confidence

First up, we spoke to Livia Farkas, the woman behind the super practical creative living blog, Urban Eve. For Livia, it is important to only post from a place of confidence and not as a way of giving yourself a boost:

“I love a good selfie, but I don’t post too often. I have to feel really confident or there has to be a story worth sharing other than “Hey, look at me, I have a face!”. Confidence is key because I know myself enough to know that if I were to post a selfie when I’m not feeling well, I’d attach all kinds of assumptions of the number likes/comments (or lack thereof). For me, a selfie has to come from a place of “Whee, I look great and I don’t care if you agree.”, not “Please like?”.”

Posing for your own gaze

Livia sees the act of taking a selfie as an empowering one, because she decides how she wants to appear:

“For me, it’s inherently empowering because I am taking the picture of myself, so I can choose and decide everything in the picture. Thus, the gaze—by definition—is not a male one. I’ve had my picture taken a lot in the last five years (for magazines, interviews, and projects) and I always hated it when the photographer wanted me to look a certain way. It was weird since I was never hired as a model, but as myself, the picture was to go next to an article about me as a person or company owner, so isn’t looking like myself the point?

I had bad experiences with retouching as well—on several occasions I only realised they did something to my face after the article came out. They never asked for my permission just went ahead and redid my teeth. It was always my teeth since when I smile widely (and I do, I’m an all-in smiler!), my gums are showing. The horror. Apparently, this is not acceptable, so off my smile went. And I didn’t look like me anymore. I can keep my gummy smiles in selfies!”

Thinking like your future self

Livia points out that we tend to be kinder to ourselves when we look back on old photos—so why not try to give ourselves some of that kindness now? Using selfies to document our lives can be a rewarding practice:

“I do scrapbooking projects sometimes, and as the years pass, I noticed that pictures with me (or other people for that matter) in them are much more interesting than what I had for breakfast, so I also try to take pictures of myself for a memory keeping reason. I mean, however shitty I think I look, 80-year-old me will think I’m gorgeous now, so I might as well just think like her now.”

Accepting your physicality

Next up, we spoke to social media and content marketing consultant, Nicole Healing, to hear her thoughts on selfie syndrome. Like us, Nicole has done a lot of reflecting on the topic:

“I’m really conflicted about this topic. It was years before I even started taking selfies (and I still hate that word) but now I do with varying frequency. I think there are a few reasons for this.

It became the norm and with that normalisation grew my own acceptance of it as part of our social culture. I want to look back on photos of myself when I’m older, especially because my hair changes colour and style so frequently! There are never many candid or posed photos taken in my social life so it makes sense to do it this way.

But, primarily, it’s a confidence building exercise. I can’t stand most photos of myself so the more I can normalise seeing myself in images the more I think I can accept my physicality. That said, the temptation of editing them, especially with all the apps that are around, is overwhelming (and yes, I do touch them up sometimes).”

Objectification doesn’t come into it

Nicole doesn’t think objectification is a concern, especially when peers are supportive:

“Objectification doesn’t come into it for me, because it’s largely for me, and I think Gen X and first wave Millennials are actually pretty supportive and complimentary of each other online. What it’s like for second wave Millennials and Gen Y, I don’t know. I think there is increasing pressure on the younger generations, but then perhaps because they’re so used to editing apps and short-lived media that they don’t take it that seriously.”

Personalisation is important

From a profile building perspective, Nicole notes that photos of yourself plays an important role in giving a human face to your business:

“As for work, I think it’s useful to have at least a profile photo on LinkedIn and Twitter, say, and one on your website. This makes it easy to identify you in networking situations and shows potential clients that you are, fundamentally, a human. It’s all about personalisation after all.”

Keeping your brand and personal image separate

Finally, I spoke to Jan Burgess, founder of SOL Design Collective, to get her insights. Jan highlights how important it is to keep your brand image and selfies you might post on personal profiles separate:

“I don’t tend to post pictures of myself on social media either personally or professionally that much. I am not sure if it’s an age or fashion thing. On my professional profiles I am keen not to be the face of my brand—this happened once before and set the wrong level of expectation with my client base. I use branded profiles to promote my clients work, so my face isn’t really used.”

Seeking approval can be damaging

While Jan doesn’t see selfies as a means of objectification, she notes that they can amplify vulnerabilities if posted to get approval:

“I don’t see selfies as a means of objectification if the woman taking the picture is in a place true to herself. However, if she is in a place of doubt or need then she may well be using imagery to gain favour or opinion or satisfy a need for attention. This can be damaging as invariably this need will not be satisfied using this medium.

This isn’t the ‘fault’ of social media—it is the result of vulnerable people having another medium that can make them more aware of their feelings of vulnerability. They may look for the answers but the question is whether the answers are supportive—unfortunately often not when there is a lack of true connectivity.”

Takeaway

The consensus from the women we spoke to is that selfies do not perpetuate objectification when they are taken on our own terms. They can be empowering when posted from a place of confidence, but may amplify vulnerabilities if we post them for the wrong reasons.

This post is a small snapshot of the opinions our community holds on selfies and self-confidence. If you have something to share on this topic, do give us a Tweet or submit an idea for a blog.

Confidence is a theme that comes up a lot within the Brighton Digital Women community. From being steadfast in salary negotiations, to pushing content live without breaking a sweat, most of us have at least one self-confidence hurdle to jump.

Come to our confidence-boosting December meetup with three talks that explore the theme!

Brighton-born freelance writer and content strategist, who enjoys connecting people. When not organising events for Brighton Digital Women, Lana can be found writing words that help people, publications, and purposeful brands.


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