We’re all guilty. Since when did common sayings such as “Good morning” and “TGIF” require the obligatory, and perfectly-posed Instagram shot? Seems like social media has pushed us all into steamy love affairs with ourselves. It’s evidenced by the myriad profile shots that feature us in every possible scenario from exercising to pretending to be sleep. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become virtual runways for our best impressions of Naomi Campbell and Tyson Bedford. Funny thing is, we don’t even get paid to do it.
There’s been much research conducted about the connection between social media and narcissism in the millennial generation (those born between 1978 – 2000). In an article titled “Facebook’s ‘Dark Side,’” UK’s The Guardian dissected the growing phenomenon of Internet self-praise. According to Carol Craig, a social scientist and chief executive of the Centre for Confidence, young people in Britain are taking a cue from alleged widespread arrogance in the U.S. "The way that children are being educated is focusing more and more on the importance of self-esteem—on how you are seen in the eyes of others. This method of teaching has been imported from the US and is 'all about me.'
No surprise there. These popular sites were created for users to stay connected with college buddies, family and that long lost elementary crush, but they somehow have given life to a new method for personal expression—from posting fun hobbies to managing full-blown alter egos. “What I’m doing” is now “What I want people to think I’m doing,” and more and more users are flaunting their need for self-acceptance through pictures.
Jonathan Franzen, known social media-opponent and author of the critically acclaimed novel The Corrections, became the focus of the popular Twitter hashtag #jonathanfranzenhates after boldly declaring his thoughts about the ills of Facebook in a New York Times article last year. “Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people,” said Franzen on how social media sites weren’t necessarily created as vehicles for egotism. “They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.”
Okay, so we’re narcissistic and we feel the need to post a picture of those new pair of shoes, that fly haircut and a now vintage-style photo filter angled to make ten extra pounds disappear! But is our unyielding desire for approval and attention really harming anyone? Well umm, the headlines actually support the idea that it’s harming just about everyone. When infants desperately crave mommy’s attention, they lash out—similarly to the way un-stroked egos turn a critical eye on others. Droves of negative comments on Twitter and Facebook would lead one to believe that, as a society, critical analysis of a complete stranger’s appearance is not only warranted, it’s the new American way.
Consider Internet bullying—which mainly affects teens—placing a layer of technology between these awkward adolescents gives bullies the courage to say horrific things they would never have the nerve to utter in person. Sadly enough, children are learning from the adults. Take the blown-out-of-proportion commentary on Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas’ hair for example. Even a 16-year-old with more talent in her left thigh than in all of middle America isn’t exempt from pseudo-beauty experts. Babies aren’t even protected—as evidenced by Tia Mowry’s recent disgust over “fans” calling her baby boy Cree “ugly.” Beyonce, who’s typically fawned over by the masses, had a legion of critics offensively dismissing her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, for her facial features that resemble her rap mogul father Jay-Z. Beauty narcissism has led to a lack of sensitivity and old fashioned respect when it comes to accessing others—most apparent during awards season when people spend two to three hours dissecting any and every celebrity within a few feet of a red carpet.
Social media, however, can be a place where real beauty thrives. We’re all fond of the intimate photos the Obama family shares—reminding us that the American dream comes in brown, too. We gushed over Janelle Monae’s newest announcement and circulating ad as the latest spokeswoman for CoverGirl. Solange’s quirky photos make us all smile and a creative style blogger’s Instagram account can turn your pissy work day into an early weekend. Narcissism doesn’t have to be the driving force of picture sharing or picture commenting if we simply allow personal expression to trump ego.