The Scientific Reason You Should Take More Selfies

June 3rd 2016

Tricia Tongco

Selfies are everywhere, and 3D versions of them are coming soon. But in the minds of outspoken critics, selfies have come to symbolize millennials’ self-indulgence (especially that of young women).

But, you shouldn’t necessarily feel shame for your selfie-game.

A new study has found that selfie-takers perceive themselves as more attractive and likable in their selfies than in photos taken by other people. However, external judges rated the subjects as less attractive, less likable, and more narcissistic in their selfies than in the photos taken by others.

This resulted in articles with headlines such as “Taking Selfies Make You Think You're Hotter Than You Really Are, Says Science” and “Science Says You Don’t Look As Cute As You Think You Do.” That negative tone is reflected in the report itself, titled “Selfie Indulgence: Self-Favoring Biases in Perceptions of Selfies,” which concluded:

"Individuals’ opinions of their selfies may therefore be biased toward positive impressions that are not shared by others…"

In this framework, attractiveness is defined by what other people think.

The study’s conclusion continued:

This research also has practical implications for social media users and individuals wishing to impress others. Although people participating in the selfie trend within social media may not evince any greater narcissism than those who abstain from selfie-taking, others may perceive them this way. Their liability may therefore be one of misperception not of character.

The report presents the selfie-taker as someone who values the opinion of others over his or her own self-perception.

While this might be true for some, the study glosses over the possibility that people who take selfies do so to feel better about themselves, regardless of others’ judgment, and ignores the value of that.

And it seems most people could use a healthy boost to their self-esteem, considering that both men and women are dissatisfied with their looks at similar rates. Based on the results of this study, selfies could be a powerful and important tool in boosting one’s self-esteem through self-representation.

So what does an empowering selfie look like?

Writer Rachel Syme discusses this in her expansive feature “Selfie: The Revolutionary Potential of Your Own Face, In Seven Chapters,” in which she details a scenario of when a woman snaps a picture of herself alone:

Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen. The whole process takes less than five minutes.

Syme then describes a metaphorical group of people who are affronted by the woman’s selfie-taking:

They don’t see where her image is headed, where it will take up space in the infinite. This is scary for them, this lack of control, this sense that her face could go anywhere, pop up anywhere. This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating. This is why they believe that no selfie could ever mean anything other than vanity. This is why they think selfies are a phase, something they can wish away. Whoever they are, and for whatever reason they hate selfies, they are wrong.

While people may not consciously recognize the radical power of selfies, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t engaging in it. Photographer Vivian Fu, however, is well aware.

In an interview for a paper on the visual culture of selfies in the age of social media, Fu talked about the importance of the “selfie” as a radical form of self-definition that enables for the undoing and interrogation of painful ethnic stereotypes:

“I have always been aware of racialized stereotypes. Self-portraiture became a way for me to own my identity as an Asian-American woman…My photographs, although quiet, are my rebellion.” – Vivian Fu


A photo posted by Vivian Fu (@vivianisvulgar) on

So the next time you flip that front-facing camera toward your face, you can choose to think of how other people perceive you or you can do something way more radical: Let yourself feel good about how you look.