Selfie Fatigue

Welcome to Term 3!  I hope that over the break you were able to see family and catch up with some friends who you might not have seen for a while. You may have even been able to travel regionally before the latest border restrictions were put in place.

Right before the COVID outbreak, I was blessed to be able to take some long service leave and actually travelled to Europe with my wife, Renee. We arrived home just a couple of weeks before the travel bans were put into place.

Please indulge me for a moment while I share a travel story along with a thought on how we can take care of each other in a world where so many of our interactions are now virtual – online or through social media and where ‘selfies’ are taken and shared more than ever before.

I must admit I took a few selfies on my trip myself, add to that the amount of selfies I see on social media now, (and may occasionally still take myself) I’ve diagnosed myself with ‘Selfie Fatigue’ – can you relate?

Back to my story….

Renee and I visited the Van Gogh Museum when we were in Amsterdam.  I’m sure when you think of Van Gogh, paintings such as ‘Starry Night’ or ‘Sunflowers’ may come to mind. We were able to see those and so many of his other masterpieces but also hear about his tragic life story. It gave us a renewed appreciation for his work.

As I walked through the museum I was drawn to his self portraits. And there were many to look at. Each one of them was so similar but also so unique, giving us insight into his life and his mental heath at the time of painting. At different times in his life Van Gogh was producing one painting a day and sending them to his family, mostly to his brother Theo. The tragedy was that Van Gogh never got recognition for his work while he was alive. But he is now undoubtedly one of the greatest and well known artists of all time.

If you think about it, these self portraits are some of the earliest ‘selfies’, warranted they were not online, but they were selfies nonetheless. Van Gogh was able to produce one masterpiece per day, yet while I was exploring the beautiful towns, cities, buildings and landscapes through parts of Europe earlier this year, I was probably producing 20 selfies per day on my iPhone. Now by no means am I trying to compare my Instagram feed with the works of Van Gogh, but just like his paintings you can probably tell a lot about a person by looking at their selfies.

According to ‘The Selfie Project’ 93 million selfies are taken per day. That is 64,583 photos per minute. No wonder people get ‘Selfie Fatigue’ (I’m pretty sure people got sick of seeing photos of me after day 3 of my trip!) Of those 93 million photos 68% of them are photo-shopped or have filters added. In other words, we feel we need to enhance the way we look or we are disappointed with what we see.

Did you know that since the selfie phenomena started the rates for rhinoplasty (nose jobs) performed by plastic surgeons in the U.S has significantly increased? Surgeons believe this is because the closer the camera is to your face, the bigger your nose looks. Another disturbing statistic is that between 2011 -2017 there were 259 selfie related deaths!

Are selfies bad? No not really.

Can they impact your self esteem through comparison or an over emphasis on appearance? Absolutely.

Do I think we can drastically change this culture quickly? No, probably not.

So what role do we have to play as parents, teachers and friends in this ‘selfie culture,’ especially during a time where a lot of our interactions actually need to be online.

When I saw my first Van Gogh painting up close I marvelled at its brilliance. But by the time I had looked through all of his paintings over his lifetime I could actually see in his portraits, his struggle with mental health.

I think that can be similar with a person’s social media account. One photo might not raise any alarms, but over time we might start to have some concerns.  It’s at that point we should consider ‘stepping in’ and trying to help.

That might be with a positive comment, an encouragement, highlighting a person’s strengths or letting them know they are valued for more than how they look. It might also mean telling a teacher or trusted adult if you are really concerned about a friend.

When I returned to school after my trip, I had a wonderful conversation with our Art Teacher Mrs McKenzie and we spoke of Van Gogh’s contribution to our world and the tragedy of his life. She told me something quite profound. She said that actually Van Gogh was a difficult person to be around and even quite a challenge to his family. He was in and out of asylums, he was sending them artworks to store and he needed a lot of support. Many of them were tired of helping him, except his brother Theo. He was the one person that really did take care of Vincent and stepped in to intervene and help him on more than one occasion.

When you think about it, if it wasn’t for Theo Van Gogh, the world would never have known Vincent Van Gogh and the brilliance of his amazing art. It just took one person to believe in him, encourage him and support him.

So perhaps, like me, you have selfie fatigue. You might be sick of seeing people’s shots of themselves from the best angle with the best light, with their freckles and imperfections edited out. Or maybe your social media feed is full of your own selfies and you are feeling the pressure to be perfect.  Just be conscious that a picture can actually tell a story about how a person is travelling, and maybe you could be that one person who encourages or supports another, because quite often it just takes one person to make a difference.