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Selfies and the Self

Do selfies facilitate the search for the authentic self?

Key points

  • Is the selfie an image of the authentic self?
  • Is it possible that the selfie can lead us to search for the authentic self?
  • Could the selfie benefit both the identity and the search for the self?

There are real benefits to selfies, according to Yoo Jin Kwon and Kyoung-Nan Kwon, authors of new research, "Consuming the Objectified Self: The Quest for Authentic Self.” They say that the practice of using a selfie offers benefits to both identity and the quest for authenticity.[1]

It is common knowledge that adolescents and young adults are still growing psychologically and emotionally. Therefore, it stands to reason that they might be unaware of any distinctions between identity and the authentic self. The authentic self is defined differently by different researchers, but in general, looked at as acting somewhere along the lines of some kind of congruence with a deeper inner awareness.[1] While it is true that as we have evolved as a culture, “just be yourself” has taken on a more powerful meaning among young people, the question remains as to who "yourself" is.

While Kwon and Kwon acknowledge that there is a contradiction between promoting an identity and searching for the authentic self, they also contend that the selfie leads to an affirmation of the authentic self.

The study had limitations. The research team interviewed 66 people from only one country—Korea—and only in Seoul and its suburbs. We are not informed as to their religion or gender. The ages ranged from late adolescence to early adulthood.

Though there are some who would say that identity is the same as the authentic self, for the purposes of this blog, we make a distinction between the two. Identity is both how we present to the world and how we see ourselves. Of course, we can present an image to the world that we already know is false.

Andrea Mathews
The Way In
Source: Andrea Mathews

However, we might also add that sometimes, such falsehoods are necessary to real or perceived survival. A very obvious example of this is the child who is gay, transgender, nonbinary, or queer, who hides this authenticity in order to protect him/her/their self from family and society, which they know will harm them psychologically or emotionally, if not physically. So, they pretend to be straight, gender-conforming, and binary.

But we can also have an identity, that though it is not who we are as an authentic self, it is how we see ourselves and how we present to others. For example, I might believe myself to be “the strong one” in my family, that I carry all of the difficult emotions and tend to them regularly by caretaking other members of the family. I absolutely believe this to be “who I am.” But I’m also building up a great deal of resentment for all of the time and energy that I am “having” to take care of others who seemingly only want to use me.

I might ask, “Who is it in me that is doing the resenting,” and “Who is it that is caretaking?” Now, we are in a search for the authentic self.

Now that that's established, we move back to the selfie. Does it help us to ask those kinds of questions? Or does the selfie just allow us an identity to present to ourselves and to the world (which may or may not be false)?

Further, what is it that a selfie presents to the world and then back to ourselves? Is it just the physical self? If so, of course, we know that we are much more than just a body. Is it a social interaction? What does this then say to us about who we are? When we look at our own selfies, how do we feel about the image we’ve portrayed? So much of today’s self-loathing is a response to how others react to us on social media. But do I arrive at my feelings only as a reaction to others' feelings? Or do I have feelings all my own?

Perhaps, as Kwon and Kwon tell us, selfies benefit both the identity and the search for authenticity. Perhaps it is true that the more we present that selfie to the world for consumption, the more we have enough of a social platform to stand on, so that from there, we have the strength to begin to explore the internal ramifications of that identity. Or perhaps how we begin to feel internally about the image we are presenting externally might begin to facilitate the questions that begin the process of searching for the authentic self. Maybe as we get either positive or negative feedback regarding the selfie, we begin to reflect. Is it also possible that the selfie is a form of self-talk that, if we listen, can inform us more of what we are saying to ourselves, about who we are? Whatever the case, it might be true that these kinds of questions are the key to implementing that search.

But what is true is that we are far more than just an externalized entity performing for the world. We are a self. And it is from living into and from that authenticity that we can find a real place to stand inside of ourselves. From that very real platform, we can decide how to live into the external world in a way that informs and honors appropriate social interactions while we also walk freely in the inner terrain.


[1] Kwon, J.K. & Kwon, K-N. (2015). Consuming the objectified self; the quest for authentic self. Asian Social Science; Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 301-312.…

[2] Alchin, C.E., Machin, T.M., Martin, N. et al. Authenticity and Inauthenticity in Adolescents: A Scoping Review. Adolescent Res Rev (2023).

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