No, Women Are Not Narcissists For Posting Selfies On Social Media

Photo: BONNINSTUDIO

For whatever reason, selfies have been associated with women since the era of the "MySpace angle." You know the pose—taking a photo with your arm extended outward and above your head in a kind of bird's-eye view? But men take their fair share of selfies too, but oddly it's really only women who are labeled egocentric for it.

Back in the day, "selfies" didn't even have an official name. They were just profile pictures, a photographing technique people used when they needed a headshot and didn't have a friend or family member readily available to take it. Now, selfies make up the bulk of social media. These digitized self-portraits are a kind of self-expression, if you will. They can act as literal documentation of where you are, what you're wearing, and maybe what mood you're in. But can selfies really speak to your true personality, as derogatory words thrown at selfie-posting women suggest? If you're constantly putting yourself in front of the camera, does that make you conceited or even narcissistic?

Not necessarily. According to a new study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, women who post selfies on social media aren't more narcissistic than others. Though funnily enough, there might be a little vanity behind men who regularly post photos of themselves.

To make the connection between gender, narcissism, and posting selfies, a team of researchers in Turkey analyzed data collected from a total of 448 participants between the ages of 18 and 32. Each participant answered questions about the self-portraits they were posting and their levels of narcissism. For the latter, the researchers referred to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory-16, a kind of rubric that measures subclinical narcissism. The inventory asks about whether the respondent enjoys things like showing off, being the center of attention, and having authority over others, as well as whether they see themselves as being particularly "special," "great," and "extraordinary."

In the end, the results showed that women may spend more time on social media and, yes, post more selfies in general. However, their selfie-posting behavior wasn't related to their levels of narcissism. Men who posted photos of themselves, however, did tend to be more narcissistic. What do you know?

We can leave the finding about men at that. But let's just acknowledge that it truly no longer makes sense to equate a woman's selfie-taking with being narcissistic or obsessed with oneself. Today, social media has become a primary place of social exchange and expression, and an individual's social media pages are supposed to primarily focus on themselves. These pages exist to share information about ourselves, so in such a world, people will of course post a lot of self-focused photos. In addition, the rise of social media has exacerbated the demanding expectations and norms around beauty and self-presentation for women, such that demonstrating your physical attractiveness online has become an unspoken requirement for the modern woman. So in a world where social media both encourages you to be documenting your life online and tells women they need to prove their beauty while they're doing it, why is it any surprise that a lot of women do post those selfies? In such a world, it's a little willfully ignorant to say that women who do this do it because they're particularly self-obsessed.

And by the way, what's the harm in that, really?

"Narcissistic" is pretty harsh language. In defense of anyone who's ever taken a selfie, there's nothing wrong with wanting to document the moments you feel and look your best. In a time when women should be fighting the societal pressure to look and behave a certain way by encouraging self-love and appreciation, what sense does it make to create a stigma around selfies, which are a form of self-love in and of themselves?

While there is research to suggest that some people do post selfies in hopes of receiving validation from other people, cardiologist and wellness leader Joel Kahn, M.D., tells mbg that the assumed narcissism that selfies allegedly represent can be overpowered by changing the conversation around selfies from thinking of them as a symbol of self-absorption to, instead, using them as a tool to inspire self-growth.

"Since I love spreading health messages to as many people as possible," Dr. Kahn writes, "it struck me that—rather than jump onto the slightly narcissistic selfie bandwagon—[selfies] could be morphed into a badge of honor to inspire others, capturing moments of personal growth and healthy living."

If you're going to take away any message from all this, let it be that even though a picture is worth a thousand words, unless you're the one in front of the camera, you have no way of knowing the photographer's intentions.

"On average, 93 million selfies are taken worldwide each day, and almost 1,000 selfies are posted to Instagram every 10 seconds," mental health counselor Dr. Danielle Forshee tells mbg. Sure, men are known to communicate "in order to build control and social standing," as opposed to women who tend to communicate "to focus on personal relationships and create a social group." But these are all generalizations, she explains.

More likely than not, someone, somewhere is snapping a selfie because they feel good in the skin they're in. So let's stop judging people for loving who they are and sharing that love with the world. You should be proud of who you are, and if you feel that, there's no shame in flaunting it.

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