If you suspect that people who incessantly post “selfie” photos on social media are vain and self-absorbed, you could be right.
And you might have some expert opinions to back you up.
“Selfitis” is a term coined to describe the cultural habit of taking an overabundance of photos of oneself and posting them on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media sites.
Today, most people aren’t surprised at seeing celebrities push their image into the stratosphere by posting pictures of their lives, loves, and gorgeous selves.
Pop icon Taylor Swift maintains her wholesome yet sexy edge on Instagram in frame after frame to the approval of 106 million Instagram followers.
And reality television star Kim Kardashian West became such a selfie pro that she published “Selfish,” a bestselling book packed with her self-portraits.
Not every “selfitis” sufferer concentrates on glamour shots, however.
Vitaliy Raskalov’s freaky photos atop some of the world’s tallest buildings aren’t face shots as much as they are vertigo-inducing images that include his foot or arm “photobombing” the shot. Raskalov’s antics have gotten him permanently banned from China.
At nearly 90 years of age, Helen Van Winkle has her feet firmly planted on the ground and uses selfies to poke fun at just about everything. If you visit “baddiewinkle” on Instagram, you’ll see the sassy senior playing beer pong, smiling broadly in a marijuana T-shirt and glittery cat-eye glasses, or coyly posing in a red strapless, body-hugging dress and thigh-high boots.
What if you’re not a celebrity?
Everyday people — especially teens and millennials — aren’t immune to the self-promotion available via social media.
With built-in editing software and links to numerous sharing platforms, it’s quick and easy to crop, colorize, and share.
“The teen years, especially, can be a time of social anxiety and depression,” Heather Olsen, a guidance counselor at Kootenai Bridge Academy in Idaho, told Healthline. “With all of the filters available, it’s possible to portray your ideal self. A flattering photo will make you feel good and the number of ‘likes’ you get makes you feel even better. That creates a dopamine boost and pretty soon, you’re addicted to the cycle.”
But when does sharing flattering pictures of yourself with friends and family become a “condition”? And when does that condition become a problem?
Recently, word circulated online that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) had established a new mental disorder called “selfitis” and stated that obsessive photo taking and posting is a way to gain attention, compensate for low self-esteem, and compensate for lack of intimacy.
As plausible as this may sound, the APA has not made this distinction and compulsive selfie posting is not considered a mental disorder.
However, many behavior scientists feel that extreme selfie posting is a concerning trend.
“Posting selfies is not in itself a real issue,” Elaine Ducharme, PhD, a board-certified clinical psychologist in Connecticut, told Healthline. “But, just as many other things such as gambling, drinking, and even sex can become addictive, taking and posting excessive numbers of selfies has the same potential.”
A study published in November in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction studied the selfie habits of hundreds of young people at a university in India. That country was chosen because it has the most Facebook users on the planet.
Selfie takers said they felt they were establishing individuality and presenting themselves in the best possible light. The study authors noted that “selfitis” has been linked to narcissism and lack of consideration for other people.
“A selfie addiction is when a person is almost obsessively taking selfies, multiple times a day, and posting that to whatever it might be — Snapchat, or Facebook, Instagram,” Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles, told Healthline.
She cautions that red flags are raised if more than half of your photos are selfies and you’re using filters or other enhancements to make yourself look better.
In addition to being an indication that you’re looking for love in all the wrong ways, posting an avalanche of photos might actually be annoying your friends, according to a study from the United Kingdom.
“This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,” explained Dr. David Houghton, the study’s lead author.
Not ready for your close-up
In addition, a recent study posted in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery stated that plastic surgeons reported an uptick in the number of people asking for facial reconstruction solely because they are not happy with the way they look in selfies.
Members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery say 55 percent of their patients asked for nose jobs solely because their nose looked bigger in selfie shots. Only 13 percent of those responding to the survey admitted to performing selfie-motivated surgery.
Because selfies are taken at such close range, the camera actually distorts a person’s features so the larger nose you see is simply a misrepresentation. Yet, some people readily accept the distortion as reality.
“Young adults are constantly taking selfies to post to social media and think those images are representative of how they really look, which can have an impact on their emotional state,” says Dr. Boris Paskhover of Rutgers University, a contributor to the JAMA report.
“I want them to realize that when they take a selfie they are in essence looking into a portable funhouse mirror,” he cautioned.
“So the real questions to be asking and to be concerned about are: how much time and mental energy is someone putting into posting selfies?” Ducharme said.
“What does it mean to the individual?” she asked. “Are they doing this as a healthy way of sharing or are they compulsively posting in order to count the number of ‘likes’ and base their self-esteem and even mood on other people’s responses to the photos? Is this their only connection to the outside world? And, are they avoiding real conversations and relationships?”
If you find yourself immersed in the world of obsessive selfie posting, it might be time for introspection.
Ask yourself: Why this is happening? What are you getting out of it? Are you trying to make friends or forge stronger connections? How would it feel to stop?
Find other ways to plug those holes. Put down your smartphone and start talking and listening to people face-to-face.
Your friends might even thank you for it.