The rise of selfies and self-esteem

Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” the Word of the Year for 2013. Richard Sherman named himself the best corner in the game in his infamous postgame rant. Unrelated headlines – or part of a sweeping trend that’s emphatically putting the ME in social media?

Selfies are everywhere now. Oxford says usage of the word increased 17,000 percent in the last year. I don’t typically take pictures of myself to post, but I don’t necessarily object to them either. I do, however, find their boom in popularity to be a social trend worth noting.

For so many years, people have taken photos of the world as they see it. Your lens is your perspective – what you find interesting, what you want to remember, what you value.  Now, more than ever, our favorite picture subject is…ourselves?

And not only are we as a society constantly turning the camera on ourselves, but we feel compelled to share these shots with the rest of the world, too. Facebook gives us this opportunity – as do Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, Snapchat – there’s even Selfie, an app devoted to this self-portraiture.

Granted, self-portraits are nothing new in the art world. But what Rembrandt and Van Gogh created were images of lasting value. The same can’t be said of the pics Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber are so fond of sharing. It’s fair to say their selfies cross the line to self-promoting.

Which brings me back to Richard Sherman. His exuberantly narcissistic response to Erin Andrews has been analyzed from many angles already, perhaps exhaustively so. What struck me, though, was how incredibly self-centered it was. Yes, he had just made a quite commendable defensive play. But football is a team sport, and his team won the game to advance to the Super Bowl. How many points did he score in the winning effort? Yep, none. His focus, though, was on his own accomplishment.

Sherman’s brashness garnered attention for the prominence of the occasion, but the truth is social media gives us all a stage for self-promotion every day. Certainly, ours is a much smaller scale than a nationally televised audience, and we don’t choose to use it for such vain pronouncements. But perhaps having the ability to announce whatever we choose to our audience of “friends” with just one click – our own thoughts, our own images, our own online self that we’re essentially creating one post at a time – lends a potentially exaggerated sense of importance to it all.

What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks, and so we answer. Then are reassured when we are “liked,” buoyed by nice comments, and, the ultimate compliment, delighted when someone finds our status worthy of sharing. Posting can be a great self-esteem boost, even if that’s not our intention for doing so. It’s harmless fun in small doses, but it can be a slippery slope if we start to find “what’s on our mind” to be at the center of our daily decision making. Our own desires and motivations often should take a backseat to the needs of others, our responsibilities to our families (and teams), and most notably, how God calls us to live our lives. It’s easy to forget, though, when we’re surrounded by selfies.

C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”  Good advice to Richard Sherman – and us all.

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