Dr. Selfie-Love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love vanity

Let’s face it: there’s a ton of social scolding on the internet these days. Naturally, the prevalence of the social media selfie and its accompanying shaming has piqued our interest as a company that creates miniature 3D-printed twins of people. In an effort to understand what’s shaping up to be a shift in cultural definitions of vanity and self-centeredness, we decided to investigate the selfie. Why do we take selfies? What do they mean? Why do they get a bad rap? Are we all just becoming super vain?

Vanity, as demonstrated through representations of the human self, has been through an interesting history…most of which we won’t go into here, but you can explore here. Arguably its most interesting iteration has been since social media networking services began to increase exponentially in popularity, beginning roughly with Myspace from 2005 to 2008, and moving on to Facebook from about 2008 onward.

Profile pictures were fairly utilitarian during the early onset of Myspace, and were used mainly to match a name to a face. A spectrum of profile picture “respectability” began to emerge, with high-angle, pouty, six-pack mirror pics at the negative end, and some variety of natural, elated social scenes captured by a third party at the relative top. This “ideal” profile picture not only implied that other people considered someone aesthetically or personally exceptional enough to create a portrait of you, but offered observers an objective perspective of your appearance. Someone else chose your beauty, your angle; you may not have had time to prepare, to perfect a smile. The potential for error was delightful and honest, and the photo had a low likelihood of being doctored.

The “selfie,” in contrast, emerged at the complex center of modern social definitions. Selfies became an opportunity for you to choose the nature of your appearance by manipulating angles, Instagram filters, expressions, and contexts. An unsuspecting profile visitor came to a Facebook or Myspace page expecting representations of the subject that would prove consistent in real life. As selfies became recognized as an attempt to distort your own physicality, people who created them were interpreted as delusional and deceptive.

Considering at this point that social media users have figured out how to turn anything and everything “basic” into an effervescent photo, we might have to start assuming that nothing represented in social media is accidentally beautiful anymore.

But what’s wrong with that?

Let’s be absolutely clear: We all have the right to artifice and to a fascination with ourselves. Artifice protects our egos and shows us a better world. It’s a beautiful device that has been wrongfully accused of being a gateway drug into illusion and delusion. Rather than shaming vanity and artifice, we should see their prevalence today perhaps as a sign of suffering, and how much protection from everyday judgement we really need. Condemning selfies is implicitly refusing to allow people to seek safety in the artistry of aesthetic self-construction, and that’s just plain oppressive.

We at Twindom feel that being able to see yourself in 3D from every angle, whether it’s your printed form or a 3D rendering, is a step towards removing a deep shame we feel when we derive joy from looking at ourselves. Our miniature Twins are a vision of you, how you walk through this life, and how your physicality relates to others. Your body is a whole thing you live in with meaning and gravity, and that’s hard to remember when all you see in a mirror is a single facade.

Maybe vanity isn’t a devastating weapon of cultural mass-destruction. Maybe it’s placing greater value on human life, and teaching us to recognize and respect the cultivated personas we create to protect ourselves. Maybe we’ll begin to realize that by being gentler to each other, we could render these pieces of armor less useful, and honest transparency will reign king. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Either way, we’re all special enough to be a statue. We’re all our own little pharaohs.

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