What Is a Selfie?

What 'selfie' means and why people take them

A selfie is:

A photograph of yourself, taken by yourself.

Selfies are usually taken by activating the front-facing camera on most smartphones, holding the phone out in front of yourself with one arm, and snapping a photograph.

Another trend is to take a "bothie" using both the front- and rear-facing cameras at the same time. They're often shared on social networks.

It's not typically called a selfie if someone else took the photo. 

That’s all there is to it, really. But there’s so much more meaning behind why we do it, and why it’s become such a massive trend.

Who Takes Selfies?

Young woman taking selfie with dog
Oleksiy Boyko / EyeEm / Getty Images

Anyone who has a smartphone has the power to take a selfie, but the younger crowd seems to be especially involved in the trend — mainly because teens and the 18 to 34 demographic are heavier digital users than their older counterparts.

Photo-based social networks that are meant to be primarily used on a mobile device like Instagram and Snapchat have made selfie-taking even more intense. These users connect to their friends/audiences in completely visual ways.

Some selfies are extreme close-ups, others show part of an arm held straight outward and a few of the great ones even feature the subject standing in front of a bathroom mirror so that they can get a full-body shot of their reflection. There are lots of selfie styles, and these are some of the most common.

Many have jumped on the selfie stick trend to avoid having to extend their arm to capture better shots. Since social media is the driving force of most selfie activity, younger kids interested in staying connected to their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, crushes or colleagues are more active in sharing selfies on a regular basis.

Why Do People Take Selfies?

Who knows what kind of psychological factors drive any specific person to take a selfie and upload it to a social networking site. It could be anything. Everyone’s own situation is different, but here are some of the most common theories:

  • To genuinely express themselves: Not all selfies are driven by narcissism. Lots of people take selfies and post them online just to authentically express what they're doing or thinking.
  • To build their own self-image: Many people take selfies entirely for themselves, even though they may post them online for everyone else to see. For these people, taking selfies allows them to become more confident with their appearances.
  • To get attention from as many people as possible: Here's where the narcissistic part kicks in. People like to get noticed on social media, and all of those “likes” and comments from friends are a quick and easy way to fish for compliments and boost one’s own ego.
  • To get a specific person’s attention: People who are connected on a social network to someone they admire may be more driven to upload attractive or alluring selfies as a way to seek attention, especially if they’re too shy to do it in person. It’s a strange new flirting method that’s only been around since the rise of mobile, but it’s definitely there.
  • Boredom: Hey, there are people who are bored at work, bored at school, bored at home and bored on the go. That’s right. Some people will take selfies because they have nothing better to do.
  • Because social media is fun: Last but not least, social media is about being social! If that means uploading as many selfies as possible, then so be it. Some people don’t need a real reason to do it. They just do it because they like to do it, it’s fun, and it’s a cool way to sort of document your own life.

Selfie Apps, Filters and Mobile Social Networks

We all have the front-facing camera to thank for the number of selfies the web sees nowadays. Here are some of the most popular tools people use for their selfies.

  • Instagram: Instagram is a social photo-sharing network based on mobile devices. Filters can make your selfies look instantly aged, artsy or highlighted. Instagram and selfies go hand-in-hand.
  • Snapchat: Snapchat is a mobile messaging platform that allows users to chat using photos or videos, so it’s main activity basically relies on selfies. Messages self-destruct a few minutes after they’re opened by the recipient, so the goal is basically to take as many selfies as possible to keep the messages going.
  • Facebook: Last but not least, the Internet’s biggest social network is also a place for selfies. Maybe not as much as Instagram or Snapchat, but having access to Facebook via the mobile apps (or the Facebook Camera app) sure does make it easy to post them there for all your friends to see.
  • How do you take a good selfie?

    Many tips for taking good photographs apply to taking good selfies as well. Make sure you have good lighting, put on your best smile, find interesting angles, and take multiple shots so you can choose the best one.

  • Where is the most popular spot in the world to take a selfie?

    The Eiffel Tower is the number one spot for selfies, according to CNN. Disney World, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Big Ben in London, and the Empire State Building in NYC are also popular selfie spots.

  • Who invented the selfie?

    Amateur chemist and photographer Robert Cornelius is often credited with taking the first photographic self-portrait in 1839. He reportedly set up his camera in the back of his family store in Philadelphia and ran into frame.

  • How do selfie sticks work?

    Many selfie sticks are Bluetooth-enabled and pair with your smartphone. Some work the phone's headphone jack instead. A button on the handle, or a tiny Bluetooth remote, lets you snap the photo.

  • When is National Selfie Day?

    National Selfie Day is June 21st. Founded in 2014 by DJ Rick McNeely, National Selfie Day started as an idea; now, it's considered a holiday on social media.

Was this page helpful?