My Selfie, Myself

Can a selfie reveal something more about ourselves than just vanity? One researcher says yes....

Can a selfie reveal something more about ourselves than just vanity? One researcher says yes.

For many of us, the word "selfie" probably conjures up a poorly-lit image of a teenage girl pouting at a camera.
This week, Oxford Dictionaries named selfie The International Word of the Year. It's based on how much use of the term increased over last year. And the term, like the practice itself, is ubiquitous. From celebrities to your pals on Facebook to Pope Francis, the selfie is everywhere. Even on this box of Girl Guide cookies we bought this week:

Although we may think of selfies as a contemporary trend, this form of self-portraiture has a history dating back to "the dawn of photography," says Aimee Morrison.

Morrison is an Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at Waterloo University ( Recently, she has delved into the history of the selfie, in the broader context of historical photographic portraiture. This week on Spark, we ask Morrison about her findings.

The selfie, she says, is a mode of expression that has long served as a way for people to "craft narratives about themselves." And while selfies may be considered vain or frivolous, they arise from a natural fascination that "all human beings" have with their own images.

Selfies, then and now

Selfies may have been around for a while, but the ways we share them have changed, Morrison says. While photographic self-portraits were at one time mainly for personal use, taking a selfie has now become an inherently social activity.

Morrison views the selfie as a way for us to engage with others online. The majority of today's selfies are taken on cellphones, using apps like Instagram, which creates "a kind of baked in sharing" element.

Further, by sharing these images of ourselves with our networks, they become a sort of "stand in" for our physical selves - even if we can't be somewhere, our images can.

"Now you can choose how you want to represent yourself."

Selfies can also be empowering for their subject, says Morrison.

She argues that there are few situations where we control how we are portrayed in an image. Morrison uses the example of the school portrait, where we are told exactly how to pose.

The selfie provides an alternative way for us to compose the image we'd like to project. "Now you can choose how you want to represent yourself. You become a producer of images of yourself, instead of one who is passively photographed and represented by others."

But if we can choose the images that we project, why do all selfies seem to look the same?

"People base their practices both on what they see their peer group doing, and also what they see in the media," says Morrison. And, if those images are homogeneous, our selfies will be too.

Have a selfie? Tag it #sparkselfie on Instagram or Twitter and we'll put it in our gallery


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?