Over the next seven days, we're examining why we're so dependent upon other people's approval to get ahead. Here, writer Lizzie Cernik explains why she holds social media accountable...
Vanity is nothing new. For generations we’ve been gazing into reflective surfaces, plucking errant hairs and squeezing spots, like primates enthusiastically embarking on a flea retrieval mission.
But the widespread use of social media and front-facing camera phones has further encouraged this self-obsession, with every event in our lives becoming an opportunity for documentation. Me in a lift. Me at the gym. Me in a supermarket queue. Me standing on one leg outside a restaurant and pulling a face like a duck that's got lost somewhere and can't find its pond.
Let’s be honest- most of us are guilty of a pointless selfie or three.
But unlike in previous decades, the narcissism that drives our need for ‘likes’ is no longer a guilty human pleasure to be minimised and kept under control. At one time, pouting into a toilet mirror halfway through your sushi would make people feel sorry for you, and quietly wonder whether you’d had a small but crucial part of your brain extracted during early childhood. Now idiocy has become not only acceptable, but mandatory, with Instagram crumbling under the weight of #ObligatoryBathroomSelfie hashtags. It’s something to be celebrated and encouraged. Look at me posing in the toilet, Facebook friends. I have a fully functioning bladder. VALIDATE ME.
Smartphones aren’t the only vehicle for rampant narcissism. In today’s society it doesn’t matter whether you have the mental prowess of a potato or a singing voice like a bag of rabid warthogs being repeatedly smashed against a wall, the internet can accommodate your dreams of stardom. Websites like YouTube and Vine, seemingly created to facilitate unbearable humans in their quest to become more unbearable, are awash with pointless self-indulgence. Doe-eyed teens bleating about the merits of bubblegum-flavoured lipgloss. Boys taking challenges to see how much popcorn they can shove up their nose. Or in their ears. Or up their rectum.
In theory all this self-obsession is harmless. Who cares if we’re documenting every moment of our waking lives? Who cares if we post semi-naked pictures of our bodies online, silently begging for approval and compliments? Does it matter if we change our facial expression 37 times to achieve the perfect selfie? It’s all just a reflection of modern society and a way to pass the time.
Or is it? Whilst social media has been designed to further connect us, some experts believe it could be driving us apart. According to Anxiety UK, social media is changing people’s behaviour for the worse, with a rise in the number of people reporting feelings of inadequacy, addiction to posting and checking sites, difficulty sleeping and relationship troubles. In the short-term, the quest for the best selfies can drive people to take unnecessary risks, with more than 20 deaths reported last year.
Studies also show that despite several million people cheerily depositing buckets of water over their heads for the camera in 2014, there has been a decline in altruism throughout the Facebook era. Surprisingly, posing next to a homeless person for likes on a night out isn’t quite as effective as actually donating time or money to the cause. Since the advent of social media we’ve developed a false sense of connection, replacing conversation with frequent ‘likes’ and Whatsapp messages. And, social media charity campaigns aside, there’s no evidence to show we’re giving more back to society or developing sustainable relationships.
In moderation there’s nothing wrong with taking a few selfies. But like every new fad, it’s been taken to extremes and we’re losing the traditional values that used to shape us. We might have swapped Narcissus’ pool for something white and shiny created by the Apple conglomerate, but the Greek myth remains a reality. We are drowning in self-obsession, to the detriment of others. And in a culture where the acquisition of likes eclipses all other values, it looks like we’ve forgotten how to self-reflect.
Find out more about marie claire's #BREAKFREE campaign here.