I have so far resisted taking a stance on the phenomenon of selfies – those snaps of oneself, taken and posted on social media, despite the fact that they are ubiquitous, a recognised word in Oxford Dictionaries Online since 2013, and increasingly institutionalised, as is evident by the development of mainstream paraphernalia to ease the selfie-taking experience. (Have you purchased your ‘Handheld Monopod Selfie Stick with Phone Adapter’ yet?)
The reason for not taking a stance is that snapping selfies is not a one-size-fits-all experience; people take selfies for all sorts of reasons. At one end of the spectrum is, no doubt, the self-obsessed narcissist; at the other is the connector of friends and family through shared visual experience. Most selfies probably result from a mixture of motivations that places them somewhere on the continuum between these two positions, and are probably relatively harmless, if (depending on the content/context/accompanying description) potentially a bit tiresome.
The recent furore about the rise in ‘brelfies’, however, has made me wonder whether there might be some way to turn selfies into a positive power for good. ‘Brelfies’ – selfies taken by women breastfeeding their infants – have caused a storm in the past week or so. Are they an important step in the empowerment of mothers, or inappropriate nakedness – sharing gone too far? This is a topic to which I do react – breastfeeding is an entirely normal activity, and – if anything – needs to be promoted and celebrated visually far more strongly than at present, to compensate for its absence. UNICEF agrees – one of their key recommendations in their Breastfeeding Manifesto is that governments should “Develop policy and practice to support breastfeeding in public places”, and they call on governments to “do all they can to protect women’s right to breastfeed in public places and encourage greater social acceptance of this important and natural practice”. Brelfies, in fact, could actually do some good.
And this got me thinking … perhaps there could be a third dimension to the motivations behind selfies – not just the narcissistic or even the communal, but the motivation of the global citizen. Far-fetched? Perhaps … but then, we learn from what we see and hear around us, and the more an idea is promulgated, the more widespread and accepted it becomes. When we enter a smoke-free bar, we register still the public health value in the smoking ban; when we recycle our newspapers, we do so not just out of habit but because we know it is good for the environment. Imagine bringing that dimension to our selfies … imagine selfies of women at work around the world, consciously posted (in part, at least) because this connects them and emphasises the importance of gender equality. Imagine selfies of 16 year old girls at school. Imagine selfies of old people being well cared for.
Think what we could achieve if we post pictures of what is possible in our world today; think how we could unite people through different but similar experiences across the globe. Imagine a virtual platform of selfies which could celebrate, motivate and inspire.
The next time you – or someone you know – takes a selfie, consider why, and remember this third dimension. After all, a dash of global citizenship will do us all good.