'Selfies' just as much for the insecure as show-offs

Ironman Matt Poole with  Eddie 'Groover
Ironman Matt Poole with Eddie 'Groover" Cross who crashed a TV interview so he could get a 'selfie'. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Taking "selfies" and posting them on social media might not be as vain as it seems.

A study on the art of the selfie – taking a photo of oneself, usually with the intention to post on social media – has found that two-thirds of women surveyed admitted to taking the self-snaps.

But cultural and social media experts from Curtin University say it's more about seeking reassurance and making statements about ourselves.

"There are very few people who are completely confident," said cultural studies expert Jon Stratton.

"It's people looking for their friends to confirm they look good. You want that reassurance, we all want people to say positive things about us.

"Other times it's much more a kind of statement about 'Where I've been and what I'm doing', like holiday snaps."

While there was an element of narcissism in uploading selfies, it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, says internet studies lecturer Tama Leaver.

"We presumed self-interest in fashion was a bad thing but that was more a reflection of the technologies at a time when sitting for a painting was time-consuming and expensive," said Dr Leaver.

"I think narcissism means something different now; the selfie is narcissistic but only in the sense its showing something of yourself."

The study, commissioned by Westfield and which surveyed 1,000 Australian women aged 18-35, found that the most popular spots to post selfies were on holiday (32 per cent) or at social events and parties (21 per cent).

"You're not going to be taking an image of yourself taking an image of yourself in tracky dacks, watching TV, like I am seven nights a week," Professor Stratton said.

"Those kinds of pictures are not necessarily narcissistic but this is something that women will do, and very rarely, men.

"This is women being used to being looked at and wondering whether wearing a particular dress, 'What do I look like?', and maybe thinking 'I look really good in this'."

While pictures of celebrities in glossy magazines were where women used to get their style ideas from, most reported taking their fashion inspiration from friends and families (51 per cent), followed by bloggers (26 per cent).

Just 15 per cent of respondents reported celebrities provided their style inspiration.

"I think what it's telling us is that there's a lot of women out there who are relatively who have a pretty good idea of what they look like and whilst they'd love to look like celebs, they know that's why those people are celebs and they're airbrushed as well, so in the first instance they look to their peer groups," Professor Stratton said.

"You want to dress like your peer group because then your peer group will support you. If you dress like a celebrity when your peer group is dressing conservatively, you can be ostracised."

The infiltration of the selfie in news feeds has led to two thirds of women regarding them positively and a quarter admitting to no longer thinking it strange to upload photos of themselves.

"I do think as our feeds fill up with photos on Facebook and Instagram it does normalise this idea of self-presentation," Dr Leaver said.

"And certainly with fashion these are feedback loops, they only make sense if people are looking and responding so it's perfectly natural to exist."

While Instagram has changed the way women upload many of their photos, the most popular forum for sharing images on social media was still overwhelmingly via Facebook (93 per cent), the study found.

"Instagram has become more popular and I do think the ability to manipulate photos very easily does play a role," Dr Leaver said.

"But I think for the most part people still think the privacy settings on Facebook work better."

Perception of privacy played a large role in the way we interact online, said Professor Stratton.

""I think what people are embarrassed about is when pictures get spread outside of the circle of people you want to see them," he said.

"It's that problem of the distinction between private and public is very porous and some people would say that distinction no longer exists.

"Take the drunken girls in McDonald's; today we are all surveilled most of the time and indeed we surveil ourselves.

"If you'd done something like that 20 years ago, nobody would know except the people in McDonald's and maybe your parents if somebody had rung to tell them.

"Those kids would have woken up with a splitting hangover to discover they're viral on the web; now it's a whole different thing."

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