At Arm's Length

Concluding Remarks

In my project, At Arm's Length, I set out to take a look at our we, as individuals, see ourselves through technology, and more specifically, though social media mediums and platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Background information on the history of the "selfie" and how young adults perceive themselves through it was also a goal of mine to discuss. My motivation for this project stemmed from wanting to investigate my own use of the "selfie" and how friends of mine utilize it as well. I was also interested in how social media and the use of the selfie is criticized and why authors believe teens post selfies. One of my main driving factors in completing this project came from the question asking ourselves how exactly do we see ourselves through technology? How do wee see our friends? How do we see celebrities? And how do others view us? More information about my project can be found here, on my Project Proposal page.

Initially, the first item I found interesting about my project and about the research I was conducting was a Ted Talk by Sherry Turkle. The talk focused on our society's obsession with technology and the habits we have formed that involve giving all of our attention to a phone as opposed to a person standing in front of us. While the information strayed a bit from exactly what I was going after, it was eye-opening to look at the larger picture of what social media has done for us, or perhaps done to us. More of what I found on what Turkle had to say can be read here.

After I re-focused myself back to my original goal and mindset of my motivation behind what I was trying to uncover, I fell deeply into discovering the truth behind the connection, or rather if there was one, between taking selfies and being or becoming narcissistic. The driving factor behind having a page of my project devoted solely to this connection was the discovery of the Ty-Lite. In short, the Ty-Lite is an LED lighted phone case that offers users three distinct light settings: Cool, Warm, and Brilliant to accommodate a selfie in any light or location. For $80.00 a pop, the Ty-Lite not only seems like the perfect tool for a narcissistic person, but to me it was so alarming that such a thing exists. In my opinion, a tool like this provides the path for which people are allowed to become obsessed with their appearance, perhaps leading to narcissistic behavior.

Ty-Lite creator, Ty Hunter, tests out his own creation.

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Within the same realm of information, it was discovered that men actually had higher levels of narcissism than women did, even though women post more selfies of all types than men. This was also extremely interesting to me and I had difficulty pinning down exactly why it was that men are believed to be more narcissistic overall. After much thought, to me, men are believed to be more narcissistic with their selfie postings because for most women, it's about increasing our self-confidence or self-esteem by posting selfies in which we feel beautiful. When it comes to men, however, their self-confidence is usually already heightened at the time they are taking a selfie and thus, with increased likes or comments, their levels of narcissistic behavior simply rises while women are perhaps humbled by the same experience.

While the contents of my research on the connections between selfies and narcissism can be read on this page, it was highly interesting to me to monitor the selfie postings of the people I am friends and acquaintances with on Facebook. As a Community Assistant (CA) in Oak Hall, working with primarily freshmen, it was intriguing and eye-opening to see which ones of my residents post frequent selfies or not at all. Though I did not delve specifically into my observations of this in my project, I did find that my freshmen women residents posted much more frequently than my men freshmen residents.

Especially as young first year's in college, students are experiencing who they are on their own for the first time and expressing that journey through their social media. At the end of my research on narcissism and selfie posting, I shared three photos of one of my female residents who had posted three selfies in the matter of a week. This behavior kept me clued in as I attempted to discover if their posting of selfies was directly linked with narcissistic behavior or simply a want for a self-esteem boost. Due to knowing the personality of the specific resident who had been posting so many photos of herself, I found that her social media use in regards to posting photos was linked more specifically with the need for a self-esteem boost through the gain of likes or comments on each photo. This realization was, however, directly correlated with the findings in the article I referenced specifically on my page regarding the connection between narcissism and selfie postings. The connection between narcissism and self-esteem seemed to be an insecurity with one's appearance, body image, and the like.

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As my project went on, I found that what seemed to be negatives following most of what taking a selfie stands for soon turned to positives. An article, focusing on how images and selfies are re-making the body, explained that images are playing an important role in how we experience being in the world and how we are shaping our world as well. Like I state on the page in my project, in the article it is discussed that women's bodies are most always and continuously seen as imperfect, however, with the use of images and selfies, there is a question of empowerment displayed in the form of pictures.

Like the article states, we build on the premise that bodies are socially constructed and invested with cultural meanings and values. Consumer culture makes all of us responsible for the surfaces of our body--failing to keep it fit, slim and young is a sign of a 'flawed self.' This is particularly poignant with regard to women's bodies, the article claims. They are always seen as imperfect and out of control. This crossfire of competing discourses over-burdens women's bodies and coerces them to fit standards that equate 'slenderness with beauty.' The article then goes on to say that personal empowerment is usually seen as consisting of intrapersonal, interactional and behavioral components motivated by goals that are related to power and which are simultaneously personally meaningful. It often relies on self-definition and approaches that focus on the social impact of one's personal sense of empowerment additionally focus on connectedness and the ability to effect change.

In the article, it was expressed that the researchers wanted to open with how selfies and partaking in the community can make women feel powerful enough to welcome body experiences that counter the normative discourses. With a limiting and normative visual economy, women's feelings are often lead to beliefs centering around inadequacy and the body-positivity of the community under scrutiny. Later in the experiment it was found that through the active strategies of taking selfies and sharing selfies, doors opened with women's potentialities of being able to experience their bodies.

Body-Dysmorphic Disorder

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With results from the experiment in mind, it was found that women place ownership of their bodies with the photographs they post on social media. In addition, women with a difficult past or existing relations with their bodies and body-image (eating disorders, body-dysmorphism, stress from ageing) experiment with selfies and use them as knowledge devices, allowing them to become something more than unfinished projects. In my project I shared an excerpt from the article used, but here I will post a different excerpt from a different participant in the experiment.

"It surprised me how good I could look in a photograph … because from about 25 onward I hadn’t felt attractive on photos people had taken of me. I’d just look at them and see a million chins or eyebags or bad teeth or fat arms or whatever, just stupid facial expressions. So on the webcam, with the ability to take my own picture and to pose myself, it made me see that I actually don’t look as bad as I think I do. That itself was really great." -- Rachel, Australia, 40-years-old

In the article, and following the excerpt from Rachel, the researchers pointed out that it was important to note Rachel's preference in using a webcam, as opposed to photo-editing tools to alter the selfie. Through her use with a webcam, Rachel is able to experiment with her body through self-shooting, in which she can transform how her body is engaged with. Thus, she is given a specific understanding of how her body looks, that produces a body that looks good. Rachel's ability to see herself changing and moving in the webcam's screen, as well as the fact that she, like most self-shooters, takes many images in one sitting, makes selfies seem more accurate, in terms of representing what her body might look like or is capable of looking like, than photographic images taken by others. Overall, posting these selfies, which often will garner comments, likes, and interactions from others, means she can use selfies to check on her body and the posted selfie then can give reassurance. The posted selfie will now make it possible for Rachel to experience her body both in terms of a moment in the past, a potentiality of a good-looking body and a way to reassure herself and know her body differently from how she has seen it on photos that others have taken of her and that she has hated.

When it comes to body selfies, however, women have also come to terms with the fact that they don't want photos of their bodies plastered all over social media, and while some women are comfortable with posting selfies of their bodies, using it as inspiration or motivation, some women aren't, and thus, posting an image themselves, where they have full control over what the image consists of means more than most people are even aware of.

Emily knows her most flattering angles and poses, making her the best photographer for all of her photos.

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To sum it up fairly well for all, BSU graduating student, Emily Keller, sheds some light on the situation. Coming from a specific page of my project, Why We Love Selfies, she says, "I take selfies because they give me control. I hardly ever let people take pictures of me anymore because more often than not they turn out bad and I end up un-tagging myself from them. But when I'm holding the camera, I'm in control of the angle, the light, the pose, and I get to say when I click the button."

In relation to what Emily had to say about posting selfies, the article expressed that taking and sharing selfies, combined, make possible to experience a body in ways that merge elements of both how we experience our bodies in photographs taken by others and how we observe our bodies in mirrors. Thus, through self-shooting, bodies are experienced as something other than 'out of control' and posting selfies teaches the community members new ways of seeing, changing views on what is appealing or photographable, which in turn creates a productive context for more and more resistant selfies to be posted.

For someone who takes selfies herself, I honestly have never thought of it that way. Being in control of something so powerful, that can truly be an inspiration and self-esteem booster in life, really does make all the difference. While I'm not much of a professional and post semi-rarely, I take just as many flattering photos as I do un-flattering (see below), and while I see selfie taking and posting as both positive and negative, the ability of looking at it as more of an empowering action, would be, in my opinion, beneficial for all.

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With all of this in mind, a final thought on one of my favorite parts of my project would have to be in regards to the #Selfie Collage I constructed. This was a page designed to capture the selfies of people I know, along with the like and comment count and an answer to, a surprisingly daunting question, "why did you post this photo?" While some were eager to answer, stating that the lighting was good, which in turn made them feel good, or that they had recently lost some weight and were proud of that, hence the posted photo, others were not so quick to respond. A specific individual even dodged my question several times, thinking I was being mean by asking why she had posted the photo, instead of being intuitive and interested. The reason for this, in my opinion, being that no one asks why the photo was taken, they simply comment on when it is.

As a woman, to tell the truth about why you posted a flattering headshot may be a little too much to handle. Perhaps you aren't prepared, or we aren't prepared, to come to terms with the fact that this makes us feel good. The attention, the likes, comments--all of it, makes us feel good and heightens our self-esteem. Because, in short, all of that would mean that prior to posting the photo, our self-esteem was low, and that just isn't something that is talked about. While some of us on the web use selfie-posting as an opportunity to share something deep, a story perhaps, most of us do it because of the rush or high it gives us when we see that we have more likes than we ever had and 11 comments about how pretty we are.

Although my project has come to a close, I continue to see it as an opportunity to delve more deeply into different parts of the sections I have discussed as being the "highlights" of the entire semester. While I did have difficulty staying on track, it was eye-opening to learn as much as I did. One item I would specifically like to look into is my own selfie-posting habits as a way of learning more about myself and who I am as a person.
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