Is the rise in selfies causing body issues?
It’s been slammed for encouraging body image issues and crushing confidence. So where do you stand on the great selfie debate?
Brits now take more than one million selfies every day, according to a recent survey for mobile phone company HTC. And plenty of these snaps are promptly posted on social media, as a quick scrawl through your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account will reveal. But is the selfie craze really just harmless fun or could placing our looks under scrutiny in this way be having a negative effect on women’s self-confidence and body image?
It’s probably no surprise to learn that many women are clearly feeling the pressure to look gorgeous in their selfies. But the extremes to which they’re prepared to go to achieve this may come as a shock. In the US, one in three cosmetic surgeons has seen a recent marked increase in the number of patients under 30 asking for facial procedures – such as nose jobs and eyelid surgery – so they can look better in online photographs.
Too close for comfort?
And in the UK? The rise of the selfie and growing demand for non-surgical procedures may well be unconnected – but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. The Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton, who recently launched her skincare clinic in London, is pretty frank on the matter: ‘I’ve definitely noticed an increasing number of patients in their twenties – predominantly female – wanting treatments, such as lip or cheek enhancement, to “improve” their selfies.
‘Unfortunately, I think the selfies trend encourages us to examine our appearance more carefully and compare it to that of celebrities, whose selfies are freely accessible on social media. It can lead to women scrutinising their own looks more closely and encourage the desire to “attain the unattainable” in terms of appearance. It’s a worrying trend.’
What’s your motive?
OK, let’s back up for a minute here. The desire to look good is nothing new, after all. So one school of thought is that it’s wrong to blame a passing trend for something that would always be happening in some shape or form anyway. It’s also worth pointing out that not everyone who posts a picture of themselves online is fishing for compliments.
‘It all comes down to motive and expectations,’ says aesthetic surgeon Dr Terry Loong. ‘When an individual feels proud of themselves and wants to share that good feeling or encourage others to do the same, it’s just about embracing confidence from within. But if someone posts a selfie expecting approval and gratification, it can become dangerous, particularly if they come to depend on it.’
Mary-Lou Harris, emotional wellbeing therapist and senior nutritionist at New You Boot Camp, has mixed feelings about selfies, too: ‘I’ve definitely seen improved confidence in clients who’ve received encouraging feedback after posting pictures showing their weight loss or fitness achievements online. But some people do seem to require external approval, rather than fostering a healthy self-image to start off with. In that case, negative responses can have a fairly dramatic and negative impact.’
Yes or no to fitspo?
What impact do other people’s selfies have on our body image, though? In particular, there’s the growing trend for ‘fitspo’ selfies – mid-workout photographs posted by fitness gurus, which are generally intended to inspire others to get or stay in shape, too. Still, if you’ve just collapsed in a heap after five minutes on a treadmill, there’s always the chance that seeing an impossibly svelte yoga instructor doing the splits is going to be intimidating or – whisper it – irritating, rather than confidence-building.
Well, that’s entirely up to you, argues Dr Loong: ‘I believe it’s inspirational that fitness gurus share their snapshots. If you accuse them of showing off or blame them for putting pressure on you to look good, you’re not taking responsibility for your own body and feelings. If you don’t like it, you can always ignore it.’
Once again, it seems it all comes down to individual perceptions. Put simply, one woman’s inspiration is another woman’s confidence-crusher. Bikini athlete Rachel Evans, who uses selfies in a bid to inspire herself and others, comments: ‘For some people, seeing a picture of a super-fit athlete can be like holding up a mirror to their own body image insecurities. But others will see it as motivation to get in shape. Personally, I use selfies to keep track of my body shape changes, but I always delete any unflattering ones and I advise my body makeover clients to do the same.’
Ready for your close-up?
Finally, no discussion of the pros and cons of selfies can ignore the impact of the recent #nomakeupselfie campaign that saw more than £2m raised for Cancer Research UK. What began in part as a backlash against the plethora of perfectly posed, made-up-to-the-nines self portraits on social media soon developed into a headline-grabbing campaign, with women simply happy to be themselves for a good cause.
‘Efforts such as these encourage people to transcend their fears of “exposing” themselves in photographs in order to achieve an inclusive act of kindness or community service,’ points out Mary-Lou Harris. ‘In itself, this can give rise to an improved self image. But ultimately, I would caution against investing too much emotion in the external, superficial image. Our aim should always be to look beneath and see each other’s inner beauty, then we can foster relationships based on personality and compatibility.’