Are Selfies Hurting or Helping Teen Self-Esteem?

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I was an incredibly camera-shy kid. In fact, you’d have a pretty hard time proving my presence at a single family gathering during a certain stretch of the early ’90s (sorry about that, Mom!). Which is why I found it so difficult to wrap my head around the selfie trend as it took hold several years ago. While I could hardly stomach a snapshot showing up in my mom’s photo album, how do kids now feel so comfortable offering themselves up for approval or scrutiny? And why are today’s teens so obsessed with showing the world the way they look?

Granted, that deep-seated desire to evade the camera at all costs was probably a side effect of my own inner struggle to make peace with my changing appearance. But selfies—especially their reinforcement-seeking subtext—seem to occupy a strange space in the self-esteem landscape. Equally self-sadistic and self-obsessed, these photographs have the power to tell the story of a teen’s own inward-looking love-hate relationship, one he or she probably doesn’t completely understand just yet. (Not that there is secret insecurity beneath the surface of every selfie, but that possibility will always make me wildly uncomfortable every time I see one.)

In the September issue of Teen Vogue, YA author Melissa Walker—also the Choices contributor responsible for this month’s brilliant “Is it Bullying or Drama?” story—explores these contradictions and more in her story "Selfie Control.” Aside from unpacking the way in which selfies are damaging to a girl’s developing sense of self-esteem, she also gets experts to raise some interesting points about their positives. Selfies give teens power over their own online identity, the article says, and they shift the focus to regular people—not models. I appreciate those pluses. I really do. But I think Walker’s ultimate conclusion is the one clear-cut, super-real message worth spreading to teens:

“Everything you share on social media reveals something about you, and you are in control,” she writes. “So maybe you like to travel, or read, or dance, or create crazy 3-D nail art . . . post that!”

 

Here at Choices, we couldn’t agree more. And Jess Weiner, the Global Self-Esteem Ambassador for Dove—and one of my favorite body-image gurus—had some equally smart stuff to say about selfies when she talked to fashion site Refinery29 recently:

 “There’s a lot of self-editing going on. Many women and girls who are shy use selfies to portray themselves as a different character. It can be dangerous if you're spending too much time judging yourself on your beauty and focusing on judgment of others, not just capturing a moment in time.”

Amen to that.

So what do you think? Are selfies as loaded as we’re making them out to be? Have you seen situations where the habit backfires? We’d love for you to share your thoughts and experiences.

And for more on teens, self-image, and social media, check out this Teenbeing post:

Have You Heard About the Thigh Gap?