Last weekend, a woman was attacked by a jaguar at a zoo in Arizona while attempting to take a selfie. The terrifying encounter occurred because the women deliberately crossed a barrier, putting herself in physical danger in order to capture the photo. Fortunately, both the woman and cat survived the ordeal.
According to a study published last year in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 259 people have died globally while taking selfies since 2011. By country, India tops the list, accounting for more than half of the deaths; however, the U.S. unsurprisingly leads the way in selfie deaths involving firearms.
Also not surprising, young people are more likely to be victims. More than 85 percent of those who died were younger than 30 years of age. And while women typically take more selfies, 72 percent of those killed were men — a fact researchers attribute to men being willing to take bigger risks to get a photo.
People risking their lives to take a selfie has become such an issue that countries like India and Russia have launched public awareness campaigns and created “no selfie zones” in tourist locations like mountain tops, bodies of water and the tops of buildings. But despite those efforts, selfie-related fatalities continue to rise; only three deaths were reported in 2011, but by 2016 that number had risen to 98.
The study doesn’t disparage selfies, stating, “Selfies are themselves not harmful, but the human behavior that accompanies selfies is dangerous. Individuals need to be educated regarding certain risky behaviors and risky places where selfies should not be taken.”
But while there may be nothing inherently wrong with taking a picture of yourself in a fun or interesting location, selfie culture is a troubling symptom of the narcissism born from a life increasingly lived on social media.
On Instagram and Facebook, we put our life — or at least the life we want the world to believe we’re living — on public display to be viewed and judged by friends and strangers. Then we wait for the likes to come rolling in — each little heart and thumbs up gives us a sense of validation and worth. (Research has even suggested those likes are also giving us a shot of dopamine, potentially making social media as addictive as cocaine.)
Even if most of us aren’t falling off buildings taking selfies, our obsession takes us to other unhealthy places if we enter into it uncritically. Taking a selfie is a performative act, and like any performance, there is a layer of artifice and a series of conscious choices people make. The legion of influencers on Instagram who post their experiences in photos and video are keenly aware of this process — it’s how they make a living.
However, young people may not understand that these personalities are often creating their own reality. They may measure their self-worth against the idealized and meticulously curated lives of these influencers, which can lead to body image issues, depression and risky behavior.
Adults are hardly immune to this desire to get likes and keep up appearances. Parents love to post photos of their kids — many do it quite a bit. And while seeing your friends’ families can be delightful, those who post publicly are unwittingly putting their children in potential danger from predators who lurk on social media.
Parents should also be aware of the type of social media behavior they are modeling for their children. Excessive posting, oversharing and obsessing over your physical appearance can set a bad example that children may emulate. Further, using your children to unwittingly participate in pranks like “cheesing” — literally tossing a slice of cheese on your baby’s face — is another example of bad behavior motivated by the desire for likes.
At this point, selfie culture has become so ubiquitous and normalized you can now buy chocolate Easter bunnies taking selfies. It may seem harmless, but do we want to keep perpetuating selfie culture without further critical examination of it? If we are expending so much effort curating the life we present to others, how much energy do we have left over to cultivate a rich, satisfying interior life?
While capturing a moment in a photo to share with others is perfectly fine, there’s also great value in being present in the moment and appreciating an experience for yourself and yourself alone. Often, it’s better to stop and smell the roses than to take a photo of yourself smelling them.