Selfies are a huge part of modern culture, a trend which has exploded onto social media in the last couple of years. They’re growing exponentially popular – in 2012, Time Magazine listed “selfie” as one of their top 10 buzzwords for that year, while the word “selfie” was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary last year. According to a 2014 study, over 1 million selfies are now taken every day around the world. According to Samsung, 30% of all photographs taken by people aged 18-24 are selfies (i.e. self-shot self-portraits). Currently, Australia is the country which takes the most selfies per capita, followed closely by North America.
Many recent celebrity selfies have been the subject of worldwide attention. Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar Selfie became the most retweeted tweet of all time soon after she uploaded it to the site. In August 2013, Pope Francis found himself at the heart of a media frenzy when he took part in a selfie with some teenagers, making it the very first Papal Selfie in history.
The question remains where exactly the selfie originated, as an exact source is impossible to pinpoint. Some state that artists’ self-portraits are technically a form of selfie, while others maintain that only modern photographs should be accounted for. Whatever you decide, it is impossible to deny that selfies are one of the most popular and influential trends of the moment. Read on to discover a brief history of the selfie, how it became mainstream and just why it’s becoming so deeply ingrained in fabric of the 21st century.
1913: The World’s First Selfie
One of the earliest selfies ever recorded was taken by Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. It was taken in the year 1913. In the photo (pictured above) the Duchess, aged just 12, stares at her reflection the a mirror as she photographs herself. The Duchess was using a Kodak brownie, which was an extremely popular camera at the time. Anastasia was known for her confidence and daring attitude at a young age, which makes her a suitable trailblazer for the selfie phenomenon. Although many self portraits were taken using cameras at this time, many agree that this photo most honestly encapsulates the qualities of a modern-day selfie.
Duchess Anastasia was the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. Her father was an incredibly wealthy man, who was worth almost $14 billion according to figures adjusted for inflation. However, modern historians often cite Anastasia’s father as the cause of the fall of the Romanov empire. Sadly, Duchess Anastasia only lived to be 17. She was executed along with her entire family in 1918 by the Bolsheviks Secret Police.
2004: Selfie Development
The selfie phenomenon sprung to life as we know it on a now largely dormant social networking site, MySpace. Between 2005 and 2008, MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the world. The popularity of MySpace facilitated the birth of the “MySpace pic”, which would typically see teenagers snapping images of themselves with a digital camera. MySpace pic themes varied quite a lot, but more often than not, they were taken in bathroom mirrors.
The hashtag “#selfie” was first recorded on Flickr in 2004. However, the first mention of the word alone appears to have been in 2002, on an Australian ABC online forum. Speaking about a photo, the person wrote “And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.” However, the use of the word and hashtag would not become common for some time. The selfie was held back by the awkwardness of digital cameras, which made getting the perfect angle difficult. Also, MySpace was not well suited for publicising images to a large audience. It would be the merging of two major companies, Facebook and Apple, that would provide the stepping stones the selfie needed.
2010: The iPhone 4 – A Game Changer
Apple’s release of the iPhone 4 was a pinnacle step in the popularisation of the selfie. The iPhone 4 was the first smartphone to feature a front-facing camera – originally intended, it seems, for face-to-face mobile video conferencing – which was revolutionary. Now, people had the ability to frame a selfie perfectly, which wasn’t a possibility with digital cameras. One of the most major elements of the selfie is how spontaneous it is, which is another reason why the iPhone 4 was fit for the purpose. Because the camera was in a phone, selfies could now be taken almost anywhere and shared within a matter of seconds. This instantaneous nature iPhone 4’s pics was an essential step in the journey of the selfie into mainstream attention. This was improved further by the iPhone 5, which has a front-facing camera offering images of much higher quality.
The selfie was also enabled by Facebook, which by 2009 had completely overtaken MySpace’s popularity. Facebook’s design and the mobile app allowed photos to be shared rapidly with friends, and encouraged users to take higher quality images. However, the popularity of Instagram was growing. When Instagram enabled hashtags in 2011, the selfie had finally found a perfect home. The fact that it offered quick editing tools along with the fact that it became popular with celebrities made it the best environment for the selfie to flourish.
By examining the ever-evolving selfie trend, it is fair to say that the selfie became part of mainstream consciousness in 2013. In January 2013, #selfie was not even listed in the Top 100 most popular hashtags on Instagram. This means that since then, its usage has grown a staggering 200%. By the end of 2013, almost 35 million photos had been uploaded to Instagram under #selfie. As Instagram’s popularity grew, so did that of the selfie. Currently, Instagram has over 150 million users, and over 1 billion ‘likes’ are given every single day across the app. The filters that Instagram offers are extremely common in the production of a selfie, but many opt for more drastic editing tools.
Facetune is an editing app which removes imperfections for the skin, and CamMe is an app which allows you to control the camera’s shutter via hand signal, freeing you from the task of holding your mobile phone. However, selfies without filters are also popular, which became part of the #nofilter trend.
2014: Celebrity Endorsement
The popularity of the selfie owes a lot to celebrity endorsement of the trend. Almost all celebrities who are active on social media have, at some time or another, posted a selfie of some description. Many want to imitate their celebrity heroes in every way possible, and what better way to do so than taking a selfie? Such endorsement has definitely worked- according to recent research – over 50% of all the people on earth born between 1980 and 2000 has taken a selfie.
The main source of celebrity selfies is both Twitter and Instagram. In 2013, 11% of celebrity Instagram posts were selfies, whereas only 2% were on Twitter. Miley Cyrus currently rules the roost on Twitter, having posted 121 selfies on the website. Tyra Banks trails behind in second place at 62. On Instagram, however, reality TV superstar Kylie Jenner is the champion, having posted over 450 selfies to date (and her account has only been active for about a year and a half!). Snoop Dogg is second with 271- a far cry from Kylie’s current number! Instagram is certainly the place to go in search of selfies, which is understandable, as the app is centred on image-sharing, whereas Twitter is more focused on text.
It was at the 2014 Oscars, when DeGeneres posted the celeb-stacked Oscar Selfie (above) which became the most retweeted picture of all time, that celebrity endorsement of the #selfie became more evident than ever before.
Uses of Selfies
Selfies have experienced various extremes in recent months. The Selfie Olympics was one of the first recorded viral trends of 2014, which saw people taking selfies to hilarious extremes, using new methods and bizarre techniques to capture the quirkiest selfies of all time.
Last month, the hashtag #nomakeupselfie began trending. The idea behind the trend was to post the bare-faced selfie on a social media platform with evidence of your donation to breast cancer research, and a tagged nomination for a friend to do the same. Since donations could be made easily by text, a massive amount of cash was donated to cancer research as a result of the hashtag going viral. Even men took part- if nominated, many men opted for a #makeup selfie, along with making a donation. In just a few days, over £2 million was raised in the UK, while €1 million was raised in Ireland.
So whats the big deal? Selfies have faced a backlash recently, as many state that these images represent the narcissistic 21st century attitude. At the very least, they can contribute to social media induced anxiety. Recently, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld berated the British supermodel Cara Delevingne for how frequently she posts selfies, calling them “a form of electronic masturbation”. Are they really an insidious form of dangerously obsessive narcissism, or are they simply a fun way to share your life with friends, family or fans? Perhaps time will tell; for now, #selfies aren’t going anywhere.