When naming “selfie” the Word of the Year for 2013, Oxford Dictionaries said, “The word gained momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013 as it evolved from a social media buzzword to mainstream shorthand for a self-portrait photograph” (Burton). Over the last several years, the selfie has become more than just a social media tool, but a cultural phenomenon.
The word “selfie” was first used back in 2002 (Burton), but the idea of self-portraiture is one that has been around for millennia. The self-portrait is more than just “a painting or drawing of yourself that is done by yourself” (“self-portrait”), but the way you perceive yourself and the way you would like the world to perceive you.
As Haje Jan Kamps wrote in “Selfies”:
Self-portraiture is a magical world where truth and fantasy meet. There is something inherently true about the expression ‘the camera never lies,’ and yet you only have to pick up a fashion magazine to appreciate quite how much a photograph can, indeed, distort the truth. When we point the camera at ourselves, we have the same scope to stretch and distort the truth. We choose what facial expressions to adopt, our clothes, and the environment we’re photographed in…you get to be an actor in your own one-person production. (pp. 10-11)
Media studies and psychology scholars, when asked by the Oxford University Press to share their thoughts on the selfie, say that, even further, it’s a kind of “brand advertising” to “gain recognition…from the targeted social circle” or “garner social rewards” (“Scholarly reflections on the ‘selfie’”).
In this essay, I will examine this idea of the alternate online persona created, in part, by posting selfies, by drawing from both research on the virtual self and virtual personas and a comparison of the portrayal of the self in more traditional styles of self-portraiture through the work of photographer Laurel Nakadate.