Selfies: Narcissism on Steroids

I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school, in the late 70s and early 80s, I absolutely dreaded having my pictures taken–i.e., I dreaded the thought of others being able to look at those pictures.

But it wasn’t just school pictures that wholly unsettled me.  I didn’t want anyone taking pictures of me–at any time, in any place.  Whenever someone did point a camera in my direction, I quickly turned away or ducked behind a piece of furniture or scurried out of sight.  Once, I held a flower arrangement in front of my face.

The fewer pictures or video clips of me, the better–as far as I was concerned.

As such, it never entered my head that even a few people–let alone, countless numbers of people–would want to waste their time perusing photos of me, regardless of whether I was absolutely, stunningly beautiful, or as “ugly” as that proverbial “mud fence.”  It never entered my head back then, and it especially doesn’t enter it now–considering the fact that I’m not only over the hill, but on my way down, at a fairly high rate of speed.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to imply that because I don’t like having my picture taken, I’m some virtuous, “selfless” person who doesn’t think that much about herself.  Indeed, I do think about myself.  Often.   Every day, in fact.   Throughout the day.  Until I climb into bed and fall asleep at night.

I wear makeup when I spend time with family and friends.  And I’m always hoping that those who happen to see me–people I don’t even know from Adam–will deem me at least attractive.  Further still, I hope others will think me intelligent, personable and witty.

Simply put, I desire now–and will continue to desire–the love and affection of as many people as possible, as long as I remain on this earth.  That’s human nature.  And though I’ve grown to detest it, over the decades, I won’t be completely free of it until I draw my final breath.

Occasionally snapping a few photos of oneself to share with others is fine.  Nothing wrong with that.  What completely blows my mind, however, is our younger generation’s “look at me” fascination with itself.  Far too many adolescents and teenagers spend far too much time snapping oodles of photos of themselves to post on all manner of social-media websites for the sole purpose of impressing vast numbers of other people who post cutesy, overblown responses to those photos.

Sadly, I have to admit that a few of the “post-millennials” in my family took a dive into the depths of the “me-me-and-more-me” swimming hole, a few years back, and haven’t come up for air since.  I believe it started when they began emulating others who were already posting their, “facial (and otherwise) cornucopias” online.

Very recently, in fact, I happened to be browsing one of those post-millennial’s photos–and though I really enjoyed looking at some of the photos (especially the ones that included her baby), some of the others grew “old” rather quickly–namely, the ones she’d captured of herself, fully clothed and not-so-fully clothed.

Remember when we used refer to narcissists as “big-headed” and “conceited” and “full of themselves”?  Remember when we rolled our eyes at the mention of their names?   Remember not wanting to spend time with them, not wanting to listen to them, not wanting to watch them fawn all over themselves?

My, how things have changed!  Today’s young people not only do not dislike the narcissism they see in each other, they actually encourage it.

Here are a few cut-and-pasted examples of the responses one of my nieces received regarding one of her “head shots”:

“Everything about this picture is f#@!+^g perfection.”  “Good god 😍🔥 Hottie!!! Your face just makes anything look good! 😍👌💕”  “You’re too perfect   Uh I f#@!+n love u ur like in my top 10 fav people.”   “Omggaahhh yaassss !! 🙌😍 u look amazing!!  how!!!! let me look like you!!!”   “Waah. You’re so pretty . . . These are so on point bby!! Obsessed 😍”

This is what we’ve come to.

Despite the irritation I felt, clicking on these glaring examples of self-idolization, I felt more and more compelled to keep clicking ‘til I reached the end.  You know, it was kind of like, “I’ve gone this far.  I might as well slog through the rest of it.”

There I was.  On my way to the final curtain, so to speak.  One click at a time.  Little did I realize, however, I wasn’t going to reach that final curtain.

Here’s the conversation I had with myself, in so many words, as I continued to view picture, after picture, after picture:

She looks really good there.  (Click.)   But why does she always have that aloof expression on her face?  She looks almost angry there.  (Click, click.)  Why does she stand in front of the mirror in so many of them?  (Click, click, click, click, click, click, click.)  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all.  (Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click.) They just keep coming.  (Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click.)  I really don’t have time for this–do I?  (Click, click, click.) You’ve got to be joking.  (Click, click, click.)  How is this even possible?  (Click, click, click.)  This can’t be happening.  (Click, click, click.)  I have to stop.   (Click, click, click.)

Hey, I know!  I’ll start clicking through a bunch of them, all at once, as fast as I can.  Surely, I can get to the end that way.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Keep going.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Keep going.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Keep going.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  And again, keep going.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Copy that.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Copy that copy.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Moving on.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Moving on some more.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)   Moving on some more, some more.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  I must be getting close.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Maybe not.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Apparently not.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Definitely not.

(Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick.)  Oh, for the love of Pete!  Hang it up! (Click, click.)  You’lI never reach the end.  (Click, click, click, click.)  It isn’t possible. (Click, click.)  You have to stop.  (Click, click, click.)  Really.  You have to stop. (Click, click.)  No.  I mean, REALLY, you have to stop.”

Exit photos.

As annoying as it is to witness such unabashed self-adoration, I can’t really blame the self-adorers themselves.  No.  I have to lay the blame where it belongs: on those who’ve thought it necessary, for approximately the last 20 years, to assure young people that they are remarkably bright, wonderfully unique, and deserve utmost respect–from their elders, as well as their peers.

While I have no problem with those who try to help kids and young adults develop a reasonable amount of “confidence and satisfaction in one’s self,” likewise, a “respect for one’s self,” I do have a problem with those who push–under the guise of boosting self-esteem–“an exaggerated opinion of one’s own qualities or abilities.”

What has resulted from this approach is nothing more or less than a plethora of arrogant, disrespectful, contentious, “I-can-do-whatever-I-want-whenever-I-want-and-you-can’t-stop-me” young adults. Sooner or later, these young adults are going to have to live in the real world–a world that does not tolerate such undesirable personality traits.

Truth be told, it’s when we’re challenged–not coddled and flattered–that we learn and grow the most.  Nothing in my life illustrates this fact better than something that happened to me while I was pursuing my Master’s degree at CSU, Sacramento. I was required to take an Advanced Composition course, and wouldn’t you know, I ended up taking it from the most difficult instructor I’d ever had in my life: Dr. Miles.

There I sat, on the first day of class, working on the writing sample Dr. Miles had assigned all of us.  When we turned in our writing samples, Dr. Miles read them, silently to himself, right then and there.

My writing sample didn’t fare so well.  I felt humiliated and worthless as I stared at the red-inked “D” at the top of my first page.  Nevertheless, I decided to “bite the bullet” and discuss my shortcomings with Dr. Miles, after class.  The first thing he said to me, after I asked him what I had done wrong, was: “How did you ever get your Bachelor’s degree with writing like this?”

That stung–so much so that I contemplated dropping his class.  If only I could have transferred to a class with a different–i.e., less demanding–instructor.  But I couldn’t.  There were no other Advanced Composition courses being taught that semester.  I had no choice but to stick it out.  To this day, nearly 30 years later, I’m glad I did.

Because I stuck out Dr. Mile’s back-breaking class, I not only received As in all the classes I took with him,  but  I also won first place in the college’s yearly writing competition.  (I won 2nd place in the same competition a year later.)

Had I been arrogant, disrespectful and contentious, I never would have learned how to write better; I wouldn’t have gotten As (which, of course, increased my GPA); and I wouldn’t have won any writing contests.  In other words, I wouldn’t have succeeded.

If the “self-esteemers” don’t acknowledge and correct the error of their ways–i.e., if they keep “babying” and overindulging young children and young adults, narcissism will doubtless grow more and more prevalent in our society.

Wherever things go from here, one thing is clear: we need a lot fewer “selfies” and a lot more common sense.

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