‘Selfie’, Oxford Dictionary’s Word Of The Year For 2013: A Disorder, Or Just A Fad?

Posted on May 22, 2014 in Specials

By Anju Anna John:

In 2013, the Oxford Dictionary chose ‘selfie’ as the Word of the Year. The dictionary defined it as, “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”. Although the earliest use of the word ‘selfie’ was recorded in the year 2002 on an Australian online forum, it rose to prominence in the era of social media and photo-sharing sites like Flickr. With the dawn of smartphones and apps like Instagram, selfies have become ubiquitous in our daily lives, what with the likes of Obama and the Pope posing for selfies! More recently, the Oscars selfie by Ellen DeGeneres turned out to be the world’s most retweeted tweet.


On March 31st of this year, it seemed liked some of our worst fears were being proven right when The Adobo Chronicles announced that the American Psychiatric Association had confirmed that selfies were a mental disorder. Terming the illness as ‘selfitis’, the website went on to define it as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy.” They further classified it into three categories — borderline, acute and chronic.

However, a closer inspection of theirAbout Us’ page allayed some of the concerns. They proclaimed that all the articles on the website are based on facts, ‘except for the lies’. Moreover, websites like Firstpost and Social News Daily were quick to speak up in defense of this latest trend by pointing out the inherent hoax in the message.

Nevertheless, Adobo had already succeeded in making us ponder upon this very pertinent question; is taking selfies a full-fledged obsession, or just a healthy dose of narcissism? In order to answer that, we must first consider the science behind why we take selfies. James Kilner, a neuroscientist from University College London attributes this recent trend of taking selfies to the fact that smartphones and mobile phone apps have allowed us, for the first time, “to take and retake pictures of ourselves until we can produce an image that come closer to matching our perception of what we think we look like.” Thus, it has allowed us to take control of how people see us. It helps us to ensure what the world sees is exactly how we think of ourselves; with all the filters and angles in place!

Giving us the driver’s seat on how the world perceives us would inevitably raise a few concerns. Foremost amongst these is whether the tendency of taking selfies would turn into an addiction? According to the International Business Times, Psychiatrist David Veal reports that 2 out 3 people who come to him with Body Dysmorphic Disorder in recent times, have a compulsion to repeatedly take selfies. Further, Danny Bowman, a British 19-year old recently became the first person to be diagnosed with selfie addiction, whereby he spent almost 10 hours a day taking almost 200 selfies in an attempt to capture a perfect self-portrait.

Psychologist Jill Weber, Ph.D., frets that with the increase in selfies being shared on social networking sites, there is an increased risk of individuals tying their sense of self-esteem to the likes and comments that their selfies attract on these sites. Therefore, there is always the underlying fear of rejection in each one of us, who post a selfie and wait for the likes and comments to pour in, and woebegone if someone decides to write something that hints of disapproval! Man is a social animal and craves for the approval of the society, but maybe the selfie trend is pushing it a tad too far?

Nevertheless, one cannot completely negate the positive aspects of the selfie-culture on the possible consequences resulting from its abuse. As Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., (faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology) rightly points out, selfies have brought about a revolution that allows for more photographs of real people rather than just models, which is an empowering act in itself. This aspect of how social media helps in redefining beauty was aptly captured in Dove’s new film titled Selfie. We now have the power to redefine what real beauty is, without photoshopping or filtering.

Therefore, although the #selfie trend has its obvious risks of turning into an obsession, there are aspects of this culture that have helped redefine beauty as we know it. Still, the society seems convinced that males taking selfies is a big ‘No’. For a detailed analysis of selfies around the world and a comparative study of 5 cities conducted by National Geographic, do check out this page.

Meanwhile, I’ll get busy working on my next piece for Youth Ki Awaaz, #butfirstletmetakeaselfie! 😛