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A Typology of Selfies

Most people I know take selfies. And some of us have the decency to be embarrassed about it. Why? Because most of them are examples of us trying to show off for the social media world –  lips pursed, hand in hair, chin down (aka jowls hidden).

poser3 poser2 poser

I just took these, but you get the idea. They’d be even better with a slutty top and tons of makeup. The dead give- away that it’s a selfie is the disappearing (usually right) hand and foreshortened arm.

We have a love-hate relationship with these kinds of photos. We take them, yet they make us cringe. But in fact, there are many kinds of selfies. And what if we knew the stories behind these different types? Would that make them more endearing?

To start, there’s the selfie that a colleague or employer asks you to take. They probably actually mean for you to send them a real professional pic, but I’m too cheap for that. I took this photo one morning for the website of a conference I help organize.

“Professional” Selfie


Not too embarrassing, yeah? I had taken a million the night before, but once you try too hard to look natural + professional + fun, but in a serious way, your face starts to hurt. For this, I was up against the deadline. I just woke up, got dressed, and snapped.

Still serious, but also self-aware of the silliness of the exercise, is what I usually put on my social media pages.

Social Media Portrait Selfie

me too

This was early last year. I was so sick that day. But I was also sick of being in my apartment. So I crawled to the Cantor Arts Center and into this Richard Serra. I like that I look grumpy. I like that I’m listening to headphones for some reason. I really like that I’m standing in a Richard Serra piece, but you probably wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you.

Sticking to the serious theme for a minute, I’ve tried the “thinky” selfie. I took this one night probably watching some shitty tv show.

The “Thinker”

me three

We can do the thinker of another flavor too. Trying harder to be arty perhaps.

The Thinker, All Thought Out

me again

So far, we’ve been professional and arty. When I say arty, I only mean that the photographs are not the most flattering, but I’m still somehow proud to show them to the world.

Now, this is where we start sliding back into asshole territory. The “I’m in a cool place and want to show the world.”

“Proof I Was Here” Selfie


This type can coexist with other categories. Here we have, I’m in a cool place and a “reflection” selfie in the Seoul metro.

Window Reflection Selfie


Mirror Reflection Selfie


(This type also commonly occurs in bathrooms). This photo is in fact a threefer, “I’m in a cool place” (Shanghai flea market), mirror reflection, and a little bit of a “where’s waldo” selfie (other examples  of this occur on cups, cutlery, faucets, anything where your reflection is hard to find or not immediately obvious.)

Faux-accidental selfie


I took this in Seoul at the Leeum Museum of Art. Ahem, that’s a cool place right? The only redeeming quality is perhaps the angle. I could title this “chin, nose, and sideburn.”

Finally, here’s a rarity for you. A truly, honest-to-god, accidental selfie.

Truly Accidental

photo me

I was taking photos out the window and took this, I guess, bringing my hand back down to my lap. Funnily, this could be in a series with the faux-accidental, entitled “chin and nose.”

There are lots, lots more types, but I think I’ll stop before we hurl, yes?

So, did the stories help? Or do we still love-hate the selfie? In any case, I got to show mine off to you. So thanks!

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For more on the social-psychology of selfies, read this Mashable article.

8 thoughts on “A Typology of Selfies

  1. Haha I think another tag should be “duckface.” Many ridicule it, I still swear by it’s flattering power.

    Love this post and it’s brutal honesty about self-indulgent selfies.

    1. I thought about that, but I think the word is gross and couldn’t bring myself to use it.

  2. I didn’t know they were called Selfies.

    1. I guess it’s been around for a few years: It feels like it exploded recently…but also I’m not that hip

  3. I always think, hang on, I don’t look like I?? But then, I think that about normal pics too. The best pics of me are taken from a significant distance away, which precludes selfies really. But yours are good.

    1. I think we all have those moments. Have you ever reached for your phone and found the front-facing camera on? It startles me every time. One, two, three chins? Wow. I think that’s why I enjoy the reflection selfies. You can make the image a bit murky. Anyway, don’t let the selfie scare you, you can always delete.

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