I’ve been known to take a single selfie from about 37 angles then spend 50 minutes deciding on what filter to enhance it with (Lark is a current favourite). After that, I can use a further 13 minutes of my life conjuring up a caption that I – and only I alone -– find witty as hell. Then, I can easily spend a few moments searching for the correct location to tag into and another quarter-hour changing the caption to something less witty but more relatable to all of my 318 loyal followers.
Writing this down, I feel a bit weird and embarrassed by the process. But the thing is, I know I’m not the only one guilty of doing this. Most, if not all, of my best pals are guilty of regular selfie taking, filtering and posting. We garnish our faces with butterflies, rid our blemishes with a beautifying swipe of the finger and give ourselves an instant tan even though my Irish skin is incapable of this in real life.
It’s part of our digital culture and everyone’s at it, so why do I feel slightly ashamed by it? Is there anything wrong with taking selfies? Could snapping our ‘best’ selves be affecting our mental health?
Research published by the International Journal of Mental Health suggests that, yes, constant selfie taking can be bad for our brains. They’ve even coined a term for it: ‘selfitis’. Apparently, this is a mental condition which compels some people to constantly take and share selfies. There’s a behavioural scale for it, which ranges from borderline, to acute, to chronic.
The report suggests that selfies are mostly taken to impress others, create a personal identity in our social spaces and admire our beautiful mirrored selves (that’s narcissism – not a good trait!). More research from a fancy fella from New York University, Professor Adam Atler, shows that dopamine is produced each time we get a ‘Like’ on Instagram. Dopamine is a chemical associated with pleasure and can be pretty addictive. You can never predict how many likes you’re going to get for your Harley Quinn make-up and hair selfie, and this unpredictability is what makes selfie taking so addictive.
Feels familiar, right? We see that over ten people have liked our selfie in less than five minutes and we feel cooler than Margot Robbie at Coachella (note: no amount of filtering can achieve the Margot glow on us mere mortals).
But there are also suggestions of things going a bit deeper than simply trying to get a record number of likes. Selfie taking could be linked to loneliness, attention seeking or simply trying to fit in. I know that I’ve gone a bit mad on Instagram before because I’ve been alone for a while and felt it was the only way to reconnect and say ‘hey, I’m still here and I’m still my usual fabulous self’ to the world. It might not be the healthiest way to feel present but it’s certainly one of the quickest and cheapest confidence boosts I know of.
So, at what point does selfie taking become unhealthy and potentially dangerous?
The ‘Selfitis Behaviour Scale’ suggests that it is problematic if you strongly agree with claims such as:
- Sharing my selfies creates healthy competition with my friends
- I gain more acceptance among my peer group when I take a selfie and share it
- I feel more confident when I take a selfie
- When I don’t take selfies, I feel detached from my peer group
- By posting selfies, I expect my friends to appraise me
- I take more selfies and look at them privately to increase my confidence
- Taking selfies gives me a good feeling to better enjoy my environment
So, how can we spend less time on our phones and taking selfies?
Sometimes, it’s good to put our phones on flight mode for a few hours and remember that there is life outside of our favourite apps. But as smart phones have become such an integral part of all areas of our lives, this is often easier said than done.
Try it even if it’s just for a few hours a day while you do something that doesn’t require your phone, like going to the gym, watching a film with your family, painting, writing, juggling, sword-fighting – anything that’s fun and brings your body and mind to the real world.
These things will give you the feel-good endorphins that we all so easily rely on social media to give us a quick and easy hit of. Also, if you can’t see selfies shared by others, you’ll feel less pressured and compelled to take your own. Give it some time and you might even get bored of seeing them when you know there are better things to do with your time.
This isn’t a case for ‘selfie taking is bad’ – I’ve already pleaded guilty as charged. But let’s just take a moment to step back and realise that it’s enough to look at our true reflections in the mirror, smile and leave it at that.
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