“But first — let me take a selfie.” The selfie has quite the history: did you know that the first selfie was actually taken in 1839? Robert Cornelius, amateur chemist and photography enthusiast, stood in one place for as long as 15 minutes to get a photo of himself. But the selfie culture really spread like wildfire since Apple introduced the first front-facing camera module on the iPhone in 2010.
To really get a sense of who’s taking pictures of, well, themselves, researchers at Georgia Tech conducted the first large-scale study on selfies. And where better to pull their data than the ultimate selfie platform: Instagram. After studying 2.5 million Instagram posts, they were able to analyze who’s taking the most selfies and what those selfies consist of.
Who’s taking selfies?
The study found that 18-35 year olds were taking the most selfies — a whopping 57 percent of selfies were taken within that age group. Those under 18 made up 30 percent, and over 35 made up the smallest group with 13 percent. However, that may have been skewed due to the demographics on the Instagram app itself.
Women are the biggest selfie takers. The researchers found that nearly 59 percent of all selfies studied were taken by women. This remained true across most categories.
What’s in a selfie?
Actually, the answer isn’t so simple. To find selfies, researchers searched the hashtag “#selfie” and used computer vision to search for faces. Nearly half of photos using the hashtag didn’t actually include a selfie. Hashtag spam is real, y’all.
For the posts that were actual selfies, researchers separated them into common themes: appearance, social, ethnicity, travel, health and fitness, and more. Appearance was by far the largest chunk of selfies at 52 percent, with women accounting for about 35 percent, and men the remaining 17 percent, of these. Appearance was defined by the group as “pictures of people showing off their make-up, clothes, lips, etc.” Appearance actually took up a large enough percentage of selfies to equal twice as much as all the other categories combined.
Lead study author Julia Deeb-Swihart noted that our appearance selfies are still ourselves, but our carefully-tweaked selves. “Selfies, in a sense, are the blending of our online and offline selves,” Deeb-Swihart said. “It’s a way to prove what is true in your life, or at least what you want people to believe is true.”
The second largest category of selfies were social selfies. This included selfies with friends, families, pets or anyone else. Next was ethnicity (13 percent), then travel (7 percent), then health and fitness (5 percent).
What does it all mean?
The rise of social media has given us the ability to shape perceptions of ourselves, and users take full advantage of carefully curating that presentation. Physical attractiveness, health and wealth gains us the likes, comments, and retweets we crave.
“With selfies, we decide how to present ourselves to the audience, and the audience decides how it perceives you,” Deeb-Swihart said when describing the study.
So, the next time you spend 30 minutes taking 100 selfies, picking the right one, cropping and uncropping, choosing between filters, contrast and saturation — just know that you aren’t alone. The whole world is taking selfies.