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Editing Self-Image

man holds cellphone to take selfie

Credit: Dean Drobot

Self-portraiture has become ubiquitous. Once an awkward feat, the "selfie"—a picture of one's self taken by one's self, typically at arm's length—is now easily accomplished with any smartphone, and often shared with others through social media. A 2013 poll indicated selfies accounted for one-third of photos taken within the 18-to-24 age group. Google estimated in 2014 that 93 billion selfies were taken per day just by Android users alone.10 More recently, selfie taking has begun to influence human behavior in the physical world. Museums26 have started to develop environments that cater specifically to Instagram and Snapchat users. Even facial plastic surgeons have observed an increase in the number of patients that seek plastic surgery specifically to look better in selfies (55% of surgeons had such patients in 2017, up 13% from 2016).2 Perhaps most strikingly, plastic surgeons have begun reporting a new phenomenon termed "Snapchat dysmorphia," where patients seek surgery to adjust their features to correspond to those achieved through digital filters.28

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Key Insights


Photographs have long played a role in shaping our perception, and self-portraiture has existed almost as long as photography itself. Even early analog portrait photography offered powerful opportunities for personal identity formation and expression.35 Digital photography built on these opportunities by providing new ways of capturing, disseminating, and editing personal photos. Camera-equipped smartphones greatly increased the number of people who could photograph themselves. Similarly, social media platforms amplified the ability to share personal portraits with others. Selfies represent a culmination of the personal and social dimensions of digital photography. Yet, while the selfie phenomenon demonstrated the ease of capturing and sharing self-portraits, until recently, the process of editing self-portraits has required extensive professional experience and skill.


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