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Selfie power: Humans have always liked a good self-portrait

  • President Obama and Vice President Biden in a selfie from the vice president.

    President Obama and Vice President Biden in a selfie from the vice president.

  • This January 2014 screen grab shows a photo collage provided by Brandi Koskie of her daughter, Paisley, 3, in selfies that Paisley shot on her mother’s phone in an unsupervised moment at her Wichita, Kansas home. An increasing number of parents of toddlers are finding their tech-savvy 2- and 3-year-old kids are obsessed with selfies. (AP Photo/Brandi Koskie)

    This January 2014 screen grab shows a photo collage provided by Brandi Koskie of her daughter, Paisley, 3, in selfies that Paisley shot on her mother’s phone in an unsupervised moment at her Wichita, Kansas home. An increasing number of parents of toddlers are finding their tech-savvy 2- and 3-year-old kids are obsessed with selfies. (AP Photo/Brandi Koskie)

  • This combo image of six undated images shows self-portraits taken by Nikki Anderson, 19, of Massachusetts. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition.(AP Photo/Nikki Anderson)

    This combo image of six undated images shows self-portraits taken by Nikki Anderson, 19, of Massachusetts. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition.(AP Photo/Nikki Anderson)

  • This June 14, 2013 photo released by Chelsea Clinton shows former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, posing with her daughter Chelsea at a Clinton Global Initiative America event in Chicago. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Chelsea Clinton)

    This June 14, 2013 photo released by Chelsea Clinton shows former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, posing with her daughter Chelsea at a Clinton Global Initiative America event in Chicago. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Chelsea Clinton)

  • This photo taken and provided by Ali Luthman, left, of Worcester, Mass., shows her with Bryant University President Ronald Machtley on the school's campus in Smithfield, R.I. on Friday, April 18, 2104. Although Machtley, who is active on social media, loves posing for pictures with the students, the university has asked graduates to resist the urge to take a selfie with him when receiving their diploma this year, saying it will greatly prolong the graduation ceremony. Machtley says he is happy to take some after the service though. (AP Photo/Ali Luthman)

    This photo taken and provided by Ali Luthman, left, of Worcester, Mass., shows her with Bryant University President Ronald Machtley on the school's campus in Smithfield, R.I. on Friday, April 18, 2104. Although Machtley, who is active on social media, loves posing for pictures with the students, the university has asked graduates to resist the urge to take a selfie with him when receiving their diploma this year, saying it will greatly prolong the graduation ceremony. Machtley says he is happy to take some after the service though. (AP Photo/Ali Luthman)

  • Lady Gaga, Bill Murray and David Letterman in a selfie.

    Lady Gaga, Bill Murray and David Letterman in a selfie.

  • Rembrandt van Rijn <br/>*oil on copper <br/>*15.5 x 12 cm <br/>*inscribed t.l.: R[...] 1630

    Rembrandt van Rijn
    *oil on copper
    *15.5 x 12 cm
    *inscribed t.l.: R[...] 1630

  • Ellen Degeneres selfie at the Oscars.

    Ellen Degeneres selfie at the Oscars.

  • This June 18, 2013 photo released by Andrew Palladino shows Andrew taking a self-portrait with his 4 year old daughter at their home in Weston, Conn. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Andrew Palladino)

    This June 18, 2013 photo released by Andrew Palladino shows Andrew taking a self-portrait with his 4 year old daughter at their home in Weston, Conn. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Andrew Palladino)

  • Mathew Brady self-portrait

    Mathew Brady self-portrait

  • Narcissus staring at himself in a pool.

    Narcissus staring at himself in a pool.

  • This Sept. 18, 2012 photo released by NASA shows international space station astronaut Aki Hoshide taking a self-portrait while in space. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/NASA)

    This Sept. 18, 2012 photo released by NASA shows international space station astronaut Aki Hoshide taking a self-portrait while in space. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • President Obama and Vice President Biden in a selfie from the vice president.
  • This January 2014 screen grab shows a photo collage provided by Brandi Koskie of her daughter, Paisley, 3, in selfies that Paisley shot on her mother’s phone in an unsupervised moment at her Wichita, Kansas home. An increasing number of parents of toddlers are finding their tech-savvy 2- and 3-year-old kids are obsessed with selfies. (AP Photo/Brandi Koskie)
  • This combo image of six undated images shows self-portraits taken by Nikki Anderson, 19, of Massachusetts. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition.(AP Photo/Nikki Anderson)
  • This June 14, 2013 photo released by Chelsea Clinton shows former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, posing with her daughter Chelsea at a Clinton Global Initiative America event in Chicago. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Chelsea Clinton)
  • This photo taken and provided by Ali Luthman, left, of Worcester, Mass., shows her with Bryant University President Ronald Machtley on the school's campus in Smithfield, R.I. on Friday, April 18, 2104. Although Machtley, who is active on social media, loves posing for pictures with the students, the university has asked graduates to resist the urge to take a selfie with him when receiving their diploma this year, saying it will greatly prolong the graduation ceremony. Machtley says he is happy to take some after the service though. (AP Photo/Ali Luthman)
  • Lady Gaga, Bill Murray and David Letterman in a selfie.
  • Rembrandt van Rijn <br/>*oil on copper <br/>*15.5 x 12 cm <br/>*inscribed t.l.: R[...] 1630
  • Ellen Degeneres selfie at the Oscars.
  • This June 18, 2013 photo released by Andrew Palladino shows Andrew taking a self-portrait with his 4 year old daughter at their home in Weston, Conn. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Andrew Palladino)
  • Mathew Brady self-portrait
  • Narcissus staring at himself in a pool.
  • This Sept. 18, 2012 photo released by NASA shows international space station astronaut Aki Hoshide taking a self-portrait while in space. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/NASA)

I bet you’ve done it. I have too. And believe me, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’m talking about taking pictures of yourself with a cell phone camera, of course. The resulting pictures, nicknamed “selfies,” have been all over the pop culture landscape. Ellen DeGeneres took one with a bunch of celebrities at the Oscars. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took one with President Obama. Joe Biden took one with President Obama, too.

But with ubiquity comes the inevitable backlash. Much of it has been directed at teens and twentysomethings, who besides being younger and better-looking than the rest of us, apparently can’t help but post constant visual evidence of the fact on social media sites. How dare they! The backlash has gotten so intense that University of New Hampshire senior Olivia Whitton recently started a website called #ForYourSelfie, which takes “back the power of the selfie for the greater good.”

Whitton told the UNH student paper, The New Hampshire, that “most people had a really negative experience with (selfies), which I found interesting. They either felt weird taking a selfie or they weren’t comfortable with themselves or whatever.” She hopes her site, which posts user-submitted selfies, will counter that perception.

In other words, over the span of a few years, the selfie has gone from harmless novelty to a fad embraced by celebrities to occasional embarrassment for young people. This is nonsense, and it’s time for it to stop.

There is nothing wrong with taking pictures of yourself. It’s human nature. The urge to document what we look like (preferably in the most flattering way possible) goes back to primitive times. The only things that have changed are the technology available to make the images, and the way in which we’re able to share those pictures with others.

Some 10 or 15 years ago, taking a picture of yourself was tricky. If you wanted an image of any quality, you’d be pointing a real camera at yourself, for one thing. Unless you had an especially fancy model, you’d then have to wait for the film to be developed to see how the pictures turned out. And if you wanted anyone to see those pictures, you’d have to have extra prints made, or scan the results into your computer and email them to friends and relatives.

Even then, I shot a few selfies during my college days. Most people did. We just didn’t use the cutesy name.

Think of how much has changed in the last decade or so. Cell phone cameras gave us an endless roll of film and an ability to review our shots instantly. We can send those shots to our Facebook or Instagram or Twitter feeds seconds after they’re taken. Our own interest in ourselves hasn’t changed – we’ve always been self-centered – but we can now share that interest with everyone else.

Let’s not claim this is a new development. A host of great artists, including da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Matthew Brady and so on, have painted or photographed themselves. Some, like Rembrandt, did so repeatedly and to great critical acclaim.

Self-portrait or selfie? You decide.

We could go all the way back to cave paintings in our search for that elusive first selfie, but let’s not stretch the point. If nothing else, the myth of Narcissus proves that we humans have liked to look at ourselves for a very long time. We can’t stop it. And frankly, we don’t want to. A culture that makes college students feel guilty for taking selfies is a culture that has lost sight of that fact.

We all enjoy looking at our reflections in the pool. It doesn’t do us any good to criticize the water.

(Clay Wirestone can be reached at cwirestone@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ClayWires.)

Legacy Comments17

Putin and President Obama are similar in personalities in my book. They are both men who feel they are infallible. They are both arrogant and they are both men who will distort the truth. Biden is a nice guy actually, but he is challenged in the area where he reacts to emotions as opposed to thinking before he speaks. He also will sell his soul for power. But that has been true of most VPs. Who a President selects as his VP speaks volumes about them. If you want someone to just agree with you all the time, then pick a guy who is a yes man.

The difference between Putin and Obama is simply that Obama is forced to govern under a Constitutional Republic. If he could, he would love to just dictate to the rest of us based on his own ideology. He tries, through executive orders but he can only go so far. Biden is amiable but just not that smart. He is, however, a "yes" man.

Right. Except you're not--again. GW Bush executive orders: 291. Obama: 178. "And where does Obama rank compared to other post-World War II presidents? Second from the bottom. At 168 executive orders in five years, he has two more than George H.W. Bush. Above him, with 169, is Gerald Ford. Then, the numbers take a leap. JFK had 214 executive orders; George W. Bush had 291; Jimmy Carter had 320, and Lyndon Johnson had 325. Bill Clinton signed off on 364 during his eight years, and Ronald Reagan came in with 381. The winners in this game are are Dwight Eisenhower with 484, Harry S. Truman with 907, and the awful tyrant Franklin Roosevelt with a whopping 3,522." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_federal_executive_orders#George_W._Bush_.282001.E2.80.932009.29

It is not about how many executive orders, it is about how many are detrimental to this country. Like, approving what amounts to the Dream Act, empowering federal agencies to dictate where people are guilty until proven innocent. Yes Roosevelt was somewhat of a tyrant but at that time in our history most of those executive orders were so that we could win WWII. Something liberals have no intent on doing, winning any war. Roosevelt is rolling over in his grave.

"...guilty until proven innocent." Is that like approving torture for detainees, as the previous administration did?

Ah, the doctor is in. Lucy the shrink charging 5 cents a visit for amateur psycho-babble.

Of course it may not be something to be "ashamed" of but people with a good self image, comfortable in their own skin with themselves don't really see a reason to brag on and on at sites like Facebook as if they are some celebrity. As for the Obama selfie, well, could we expect anything more from a person who has devastated the office through childish and demeaning behavior? probably not.

As I remember, there was one or two other world leaders in the selfie taken at the Mandela celebration. You do realize that Bush put on a flight suit and pretended to fly unto a carrier to brag about " mission accomplished" Talk about childish behavior.

Take a moment and think about how we as Americans view a selfie by a Putin or a Kim Jon Un. I chuckle...how unserious and childish...which is exactly how the rest of the world views the above photo..and rightly so.

Oh for goodness sake, is that all you have to worry about.

One big difference: neither Obama nor Biden is a Putin or Kim Un. How churlish.

^^^^...my entourage ..lol

Right. The analogy I'd use is one from an old political cartoon, showing Reagan on parade astride an elephant, and the Democrats walking behind the parade, sweeping up the mess left behind.

As if any of your posts are complaisant or classy. I recall your many comments about fellow posters, Bush, Cheney, etc. Do you ever practice what you preach?

Remind us again which posters routinely impugn the patriotism of those with whom they disagree, and constantly refer to what "real Americans" think and what "real American values" are.

Patroitism is love of one's country, what it has accomplished and what it stands for. It is not love of what could be if we just look in retrospect, feel guilty and strive for fundamental change, interpreting the Constitution and twisting the meaning to fit our ideological vision. Your view of patriotism is not patriotism is all it is retrospective shame and a constant attack on the system which allows you the right to rant on in multiple paragraph diatribes. Again, re-read your posts. You do what you accuse others of as if you are the self appointed, enlightened one on a perch high above others. Think about it, reflect.

As usual, you build tiresome straw men that have no basis in history or reality. 1. "...interpreting the Constitution and twisting its meaning..." What do you think the Supreme Court is for? There is NO single understanding of the Constitution. To claim otherwise is simple ignorance--one doesn’t need "enlightenment" to know that much. The Founders couldn't agree on what they meant when it was written. For any such document to survive for centuries, it has to be written in broad generalities. Conservatives of necessity "interpret" the Constitution as much as any others. 2.My "view of patriotism" that you describe as a constant attack is that this country is strong enough to accept the truth about its past. In fact, I believe it's YOUR oft-stated extremist views that constitute an attack on our nation's highest values of freedom and justice: birther, right wing quasi-Bircher, paranoid and conspiracy-minded, anti-science, to state just 4 of the positions you've claimed. Your Walt Disney view of American history makes heroes ands saints of the Founders, when they were just like us--they had feet of clay, they weren't deities. Acknowledging that fact would be the first step in getting over your fear that the truth will somehow weaken and destroy the nation. And to the degree that you mythologize the past, it permits history to repeat itself--those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it. We're a great country when we acknowledge our past, and vow to do better--no other country comes as close. You rewrite the past--just like the Soviets or the Chinese have done with their failures. Not acknowledging the crime of slavery and its extent, not acknowledging the crimes that we committed as a nation as we 'conquered' the west, make it all too easy to do wrong again. The crimes committed by our "boys" in the Philippines to our "brown-skinned brothers" in the Spanish--American War were an ugly precursor to what we did in Vietnam 70 years later on a much larger scale. And all you ever do in response to facts is wrap yourself in the flag, tell yourself how terrible it is to tell the truth, and think that accepting half-truths about history and science somehow make you a 'real American' (as the poster formerly known as 'sail' says) and a better patriot than I. BTW: a "diatribe" is empty rhetoric that plays fast and loose with accuracy and truthfulness, not unlike your post.

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