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Selfies, Self Esteem & Humility: Why They Matter

In recent research conducted by graduate students at Penn State University, we find increased evidence for the connection between increased viewing of selfies or groupies and a decrease in happiness:

Frequent viewing of selfies through social network sites like Facebook is linked to a decrease in self-esteem and life satisfaction, according to Penn State researchers in mass communications. "Most of the research done on social network sites looks at the motivation for posting and liking content, but we're now starting to look at the effect of viewing behavior," said Ruoxu Wang, graduate student in mass communications.

It seems that Wang and co-investigator Fan Yang, graduate students in mass communications, point us again to the negative impacts of the "lurking" behavior in social media that has so many of us tricking ourselves into a perception that everyone else's lives are better than our own.

When I read this study, I was not surprised. I have enough anecdotal life from my own (all too frequent) consumption of Facebook and Instagram to understand that the more I see my friends posting their own happy, skinny, well-lit and perfectly arranged selfies, the more likely I am to fall prey to more than one of the seven deadly sins.

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How do selfies make you feel? What motivates you to share them? Image copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey, all rights reserved

But today, I'm also pondering again the connection between selfies, self-esteem, and the virtue of humility. Is humility even possible in the era of the selfie? We read in scripture:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Philippians 2:3,4

As the "taker" of selfies, a few ways that I can be more humble of my sharing of them is to:

  1. Go unfiltered: Don't carefully curate these moments. Post "real" moments in my real life, including those where my hair is messed up and my wrinkles are showing.
  2. Share my needs: I have a tendency to post only the happy moments. As a member of the Body of Christ who uses social media to grow in faith, it's a humble "best practice" to share my more vulnerable moments too. I'm wondering what will happen next time I share one of my less than perfect days and ask my friends for prayer.

As a viewer of selfies, a few ways that I can more humbly--and with greater mental wellbeing--view my friends' photos:

  1. Recognize them in context: This involves knowing my "friends" well enough to understand the placement of a selfie in their overall life story. Is a child being married? Are my friends on a special trip or adventure? Does a selfie denote something uniquely wonderful happening in the world?
  2. Pray my feed: Rather than feeling despair or envy when I spot a "perfect" selfie, it's more humble (and better for me mentally) to genuinely offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the moment my friend is experiencing. Recognizing and thanking God for moments of joy and happiness in my friends lives is a beautiful way to pray my way through social media. I already pray intentionally for friends who are going through illness, trauma or despair. It will be nice to compliment those prayers with offerings of praise for the good times of the selfie takers.

As the selfie generation ages  and social media becomes a more thoroughly entrenched part of our lives, learning to take in social media content in a manner that is both emotionally healthy and spiritually virtuous seems more important than ever.

A question for you: How do selfies make you feel?

Copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey

Image copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey, all rights reserved

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