Self-Portrait psychology: the difference between selfie and self-portrait

I put the cup in the microwave, I take the green placemat, I put the cereal on it, the jam, the fruit, the biscuits, various spoons and wait for it to sound.

Biiiip Biiiiip, the milk is ready.

Soggy, not too slow, not too fast (I hate it when the biscuit crumbles in milk) and with the other hand, I start to scroll through the press review of the news on the mobile phone. What happens in the world, the new research on neuroscience, how to survive marketing, the deepening of psychology, the photographic project of T and the exhibition of C.

One quick glance at social media and immediately to the computer to work.

I may have woken up this morning in a twisted mood, or it’s probably just Saturn who’s tired of fighting me for years, too, but all the selfies I’ve seen in three minutes of social media access, They made me want to write two lines about self-portrait psychology.

I almost find it difficult to approach the word selfie to self-portrait, but it is my limit, I know, since the supreme vocabulary Treccani tells us: selfie s. m. o f. inv. Photo self-portrait generally done with a smartphone or webcam and then shared in social relations sites.

There are those who consider the selfie as the natural evolution of the self-portrait, and perhaps in some respects it is, but from my view of things, the psychological meaning is quite different. Let me tell you why.

Self-portrait psychology

Self-portrait psychology
©Leanne Surfleet

Psychologically speaking, the self-portrait is the intentional reproduction of one’s own image, which said so, could also apply to the selfie, but it is necessary to go into detail to understand the differences

Behind the intention to depict a self-portrait, there’s first of all man’s need to leave an image of himself that survives in time, that documents the essential passages of his existence and that somehow manages to ward off death.   It seems like an explanation far from our daily way of seeing and living things, but I assure you it is not. It is more likely to do everything not to ask so many things to which it is hard to answer, than to constantly question the meaning of our life or our death.

However, we can hide other intentions behind our need to create a self-portrait, such as the desire to make objective the image of our face that we can only see in the mirror. This is also a way of testifying that we exist as individuals.

Surely more shared is the intention that comes from the need to build a personal identity, identifying with that image that we see in the mirror. Here the speech becomes long and complicate and is related to the process that leads to the construction of our inner image, fundamental for the sense of identity that we have. If you want to learn more here you can find an article dedicated to the construction of the image of ourselves.

Following the self-portrait psychology, if we think of the intentions behind all the artistic production around the reproduction of one’s own image, we can identify various types of portrait: the masked self-portrait, the self-portrait in the guise of others, the mental self-portrait, the self-portrait as repair, the curative self-portrait, self-portrait with therapeutic function, the self-portrait as projective identification or as mourning. If you want to know more, here you will find the characteristics of the various examples of these types of self-portraits.

Selfie ergo sum

Let’s get back to talking about our selfie and let’s ask ourselves “What are the intentions that move people to take a portrait of themselves and share it on social media?” “How do selfies meet the need to build their own identity?” “We are witnessing our existence as individuals through selfies”? These are questions that I ask you and that I ask myself to stimulate a reflection on this “social practice” whose extreme consequence is selfie syndrome, the dependence on self-portrait through the cell phone recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. The “selfie syndrome” is a set of discomforts and altered behaviors that derive from excessive use of the mobile phone to take self-portraits.

But what are the psychological motivations that can lead a person to even develop this disorder?

Self-portrait psychologyThere are several studies on this subject that can give us an answer. One of these was led by the University of Buffalo, which revealed how people who constantly share their photographs on social networks, base their self-esteem mainly on the opinions of others. This means that their emotional state and self-image will depend on the degree of acceptance and liking their photos will have on social networks. The more “I like”, the more I’m worth, I’m known, I’m admired and approved. This becomes a source of reassurance, gratification and acceptance.

The anxiety of being imperfect, of being unsuitable to receive love for what we are, the need for acceptance, lack of self-esteem, insecurity, the desire to appear in the eyes of others as “perfect”, push us to produce a million photos in series.

We desperately seek the perfect pose, the right expression, the best light and frame to appear in the eyes of those who will look at us as we think we want to be seen.  We apply filters, effects, and retouches and only after we are ready to publish our photo. A narcissistic need often accompanied by poor values, superficial goals of beauty and power, myths of wealth and prestige.

Let’s save ourselves from selfie

In the end, what we receive gratification and acceptance for is pure fiction, has nothing to do with our true identity, we are accepted for what we show, but we forget that it is not the authentic reality.  The appreciation and gratification we receive, as ephemeral as our shared social image, strengthen our feigned and ostentatious image of ourselves and weakens our true and fragile identity concealed by our appearances.

It would be more functional to rediscover who we really are, embracing our imperfections, agreeing not to please everyone, cultivating our peculiarities without needing to seek the consensus of others, without the approval of anyone but only their own.

And if these are our intentions, then the self-portrait psychology and the examples of self-portraits in the world of art and photography can help and stimulate us in our search for our identity. If you are curious to learn more, click here.

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