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The selfie phenomenon: 3 reasons why people love to take selfies

By Christine M. Kowalczyk, East Carolina University, USA

Did you know, that women aged 16 to 25 spend an average of five hours a week taking selfies, and posting an average of three selfies a day? 

The selfie phenomenon, which has transformed our social culture, is commonly understood to be a photograph that has been taken by oneself, usually with a smart phone or webcam and shared on social media. Today,  people post millions of selfies each day to social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Image: selfies

Selfies are a form of self-presentation and expression, an interpersonal communication where a person conveys an image about him or herself to another individual. In addition to this, self-presentation enables a person to influence and manage the perception of themselves, by others. Every day, people present their ‘selves’, through their outfit choices, hairstyles and with brands to express themselves in a specific context.  

But what motivates people to post selfies? Research from the article, "Insight into the motivation of selfie postings: impression management and self-esteem’, published by Emerald Group Publishing, explores the growing phenomenon of selfie-postings, with a focus on what motivates female millennials to spend so much time posting selfies across social media.

Managing impressions

Female millennials are typically motivated to post selfies in order to manage their reputation.  Impression management refers to the conscious or subconscious process of influencing and potentially controlling the perceptions of others about a person, object, or event. People can attempt to create impressions of not only their personal attributes, but also their attitudes, status, physical state, and interests.

Millennial women use selfies to portray a specific image as a reflection of their life, even if it is not genuine. Social media encourage some users to show their ideal-selves because it leads others to have a more favourable impression of them, despite how accurate it may be. In our study, we found that women post both authentic and false posts to manage their reputation of being happy and physically attractive, for example.

3 reasons why we post selfies

  1. To convey happiness

    Millennial women hope that their selfies convey happiness. Women like to post selfies as a way to collect happy moments, which can then serve as a reflection of their lives. They tend not to post selfies when they are sad or upset, posting photos which only showcase the best parts of their lives. Selfies often reflect how women would like to be perceived. By posting selfies that are indicative of happiness, they develop this desired identity.
  1. To show beauty

    Millennial women post selfies when they look physically attractive to create an image of beauty. Similar to happiness, women desire to create and manage this identity through a selfie.
  1. To enhance self-esteem

    Self-esteem can be seen as a motivation for posting selfies and an outcome of selfie posting for example, just as a substantial number of ‘likes’ can positively impact a person’s self-esteem, a lack of ‘likes’ can negatively impact it.

Instant gratification

Taking photos is not a new concept, and digital technology has allowed people to take and delete images anywhere, any time; better connect with others and promote the self. Selfie-postings provide people with a channel to manage others’ impressions of them, creating and boosting their self-esteem, which can support their happiness and physical attractiveness.

The selfie phenomenon is transforming social culture.  Selfies allow the opportunity for instant gratification in the form of positive feedback, shares and likes, something which has only been made possible with the rise of social media.

This blog is based on the research paper "Insight into the motivation of selfie postings: impression management and self-esteem", Read the full article.

Don’t forget to take a look at our selfie special for more selfie research.