‘Narcissism’ is a word derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome man who mocked all the women who fell in love with him, for his acute beauty. The goddess Nemesis, thus, cursed him and he had to look at his own reflection in a body of water until he wasted away. Now, would one call this a case of self-empowerment or narcissism, as his name suggests? The same applies for selfies, a photo taken by oneself of oneself. Is it done to relish in one’s own beauty or to feel stronger in one’s own skin?
Selfies are a recent phenomenon made popular thanks to social media, where several people decide to take a picture of themselves using their own arms and phones to do so, avoiding the need to ask people to take pictures of themselves. The question persists: is this practical way of taking pictures narcissistic, or a means of self-empowerment?
Taking pictures of oneself undoubtedly indicates a sense of pride in one’s own aesthetic beauty, or else one would not take such a picture in the first place. This does not necessarily imply narcissism. If one decides to snap a picture of oneself, alone, one is usually in a presentable state, with the intention of impressing the viewers or even oneself. There are cases where images of oneself are taken ironically to make fun of oneself as a type of entertainment, usually for close friends. There is no intention to look particularly attractive, but simply to humour oneself and others. In several instances, people visit attraction sites, both locally and internationally and maybe to boast or share such an experience with others they take selfies in such places, with monuments. This is neither a narcissistic approach nor an empowering action since the person would usually like to show that they were genuinely present and that the pictures are truly theirs, especially if they are alone on the trip with nobody to capture their adventures for them. Nevertheless, selfies remain popular in cases unlike these, cases of either narcissism or empowerment.
Narcissism, or rather, excessive pride and egoistic self-love is not healthy in large doses. It is of paramount value to love oneself through the self-acceptance of one’s flaws and good attributes, and still believe in one’s self-worth despite inherent human vice, as long as self-improvement is sought after without harming oneself or others in the process. Despite all this, narcissism is malign if it goes over the line. Pictures of oneself are usually taken repeatedly until the perfect picture is taken, for one to gloat in one’s own self-indulgence and self-admiration. One often gives oneself self-worth depending on how people react to the photo, since the instant gratification of social media releases Dopamine and other happy hormones, making one happy. It is good to feel confident in oneself and occasionally take a selfie, however not to the extent of being obsessed with photos, reflecting an obsession with oneself. Being narcissistic may actually derive from feeling insecure and from the need to prove oneself’s worth, which would explain why so many people do this, and why selfies are actually narcissistic.
As previously stated, an occasional selfie is of no harm. As human beings, as perfectly imperfect as we are, we have our insecurities. A lot of us don’t like the way we look. Howbeit, we do have our days when we feel good about ourselves and want to keep that in mind, especially for other less empowering days. Through the taking of selfies when we feel good about ourselves, we store the way we look on our phones and can view these pictures to feel better, to feel that it is possible for us to look beautiful on our mediocre days. Furthermore, the immediate gratification social media provides boosts our confidence as people like and comment on these photos and posts. We feel adored and our self-worth is temporarily augmented. Nevertheless, such empowerment is still, intrinsically, conceited.
Making ourselves, as individuals, feel good about who we are, especially in our weak areas, such as appearance, is not wrong. It is a means of ensuring our own happiness, for which we shouldn’t be judged as shallow or vain. If we were to be narcissistic, solely concerned with our own appearance and good traits, it would leave a good effect on neither us nor the people around our conceited selves. To look at ourselves and revel in our looks so much would simply liken us evermore to Narcissus, being inherently narcissistic – certainly not a good trait to grasp onto.
Written by: Michaela Pia Camilleri