XENIA — While most pop-culture trends are linked to a specific age-group, posting selfies — photos you take of yourself — has become a multigenerational communications instrument.
Selfies are photos taken at arm’s length or in a mirror, with a camera phone or digital camera and quickly posted to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram.
Selfies can show that you are out there celebrating life. The Pyramids and the Great Wall of China can form the backdrop. Or you can post 45 different views of your new hairstyle. There’s even an online calculator that will rate the popularity of your selfie. Check out www.popularity.csail.mit.edu.
“In general, ‘selfies’ are about sharing ones identity as they see themselves,” said Dr. Melissa Spirek, professor and chair of the communication department at Wright State University. “They are relating how they want people to see them, what they do, who they’re with and where they go, as if to say, ‘Look at me. Here’s what I’m doing.’ It’s a way to share a piece of themselves, their passions, interests and accomplishments, with others.”
According to Spirek, teens and young adults tend to post selfies that are altered to show how they would like to look or how they want people to see them.
“It’s a way for teens to explore who they are, by changing their hair color or features, and posting those manipulated views of themselves for reinforcement. This has led to an acceleration of the maturation process,” Spirek said.
Soon-to-be high school grad Rachel Zelnick says she’s always mindful of the selfies she and her friends post to social media.
“I don’t think a lot of people are aware of what other people can find on the Internet,” Zelnick said. “A lot of youth think it’s not going to affect them. I’m conscious of what I post.”
Zelnick also said part of the “fun” of posting selfies is the fact that it’s not planned. “A group of friends get together to hang out and someone says ‘hey, let’s take a selfie.’”
Rick Cartwright, president of newmediadayton.com in Dayton cautions young people to “be smart” with their postings.
“Social Media is great, and many individuals use it to keep up with family and friends. When posting on online, it’s important to remember that what you post may be viewed by potential employers, educators, or others. Selfies are a lot of fun too, and there is nothing wrong with a fun picture. Just remember the rule still applies — if you post a pic of yourself a compromised situation, it too may be viewed by a potential employer. In general, anything you post online may live a long time, and even after you deleted it, the potential is there for it to be found. Be smart with your posting.”
One point that Spirek finds interesting is that there are many parents encouraging and reinforcing this activity by commenting “that’s a cute outfit” or “that’s sexy,” thus helping to define how one should look and dress.
“Not only are students and young people exposed to content they wouldn’t have been 20 years ago, they are now creating that content. Young-aged children are experiencing more sexuality,” said Spirek, who cited a recent incident involving Bellbrook Middle School students and sexting as an example.
“Parents have to be a part of the audience to what is being sent out,” Spirek said. “Some schools are actually paying for content monitoring of Internet accounts because parents aren’t aware.”
Selfie postings aren’t limited to teens and young adults. A Google search reveals selfies from popular musicians Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus to Pope Francis, shown grinning ear to ear with Palm Sunday worshippers at the Vatican, to President Barack Obama taking a selfie with Bill Nye the Science Guy. And of course there’s the tweet by Ellen DeGeneres pictured with several celebrities earlier this spring — the Oscar selfie that was re-tweeted three million times.
Xenia resident Sarah Carpenter, 38, takes and posts selfies for specific reasons.
“I don’t take many,” she said. “When I do it is usually because I am having a good hair day, or am about to chop off my hair and want a record of it. Sometimes I do it to show off something I have made (earrings or headbands). Another reason would be to mark a special occasion. I posted one the other day, of my husband and I, after my step-daughter’s graduation.”
Even fewer actually make the cut when she is on the Internet.
“If I like what I take, I posted it to Facebook, otherwise, most of them get deleted when I clear out my pictures for more room,” Carpenter said. “I usually get positive comments, usually relating to why I posted the picture, ‘Hair looks great’ or ‘congratulations’. Most of the people I know wouldn’t post negative comments, but I think that comes with age.”
While middle-aged people tend to post selfies with family members or pets, adults with LinkedIn accounts are now paying for professional images to use as their profile pictures.
“Adults are now investing in professional photos to help with career advancement. The family party or sporting event shots are no longer acceptable,” said Spirek.
Another trend among selfies that Spirek’s research has shown is that men are more likely to post head shots while women post whole body photos.
“This line of research has also shown that if a person posts a full body photo, others are less likely to think of that person as intelligent or competent because the conversation becomes focused on their clothing, etc.,” Spirek said.
Susan Hartley of Civitas Media contributed to this article.