Selfies: The World Is More Interesting Because I'm In It

Nov 20, 2013
Originally published on November 20, 2013 12:34 pm

If Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo or Romare Bearden were alive today, would they have loved the selfie?

"Selfies are just a way to show that you are part of the world," says NPR's Social Media Project Manager Kate Myers. "Here I am, and the world is more interesting because I'm in it."

The word "selfie" rose to new prominence this week after it was unanimously picked as word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.

As the staff at Tell Me More gets into the selfie craze, who do you think made the most famous #selfie in history? Post your comments here or follow the conversation on Twitter at @TellMeMoreNPR.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


Finally today, a word about the word of the year, as defined by the Oxford Dictionaries. It's a word that's risen to new prominence. And the word is selfie. The Oxford people define it as, quote, a photograph that one has taken of oneself - typically, one taken with a smart phone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website, unquote. Since the announcement, people have been going selfie crazy on Twitter and Facebook. So we wanted to talk more about that. So we called Kate Myers, NPR's social media project manager. Welcome back, thank's so much for joining us once again.

KATE MYERS, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: So how did the word start? Do you remember?

MYERS: Selfie, according to the Oxford Dictionary, came around 2002, I think, on the Internet as sort of a self-deprecating way to say here I am, and here I am and the rest of the world.

MARTIN: Though, I think some people think it's rude. Like, it has an association with some rather untoward pictures that some have taken. Particularly people in the public view who are giving a little bit more of a public view than perhaps many of us would want. Former congressman, Anthony Weiner, comes to mind. But is that kind of the norm or is it really - most people aren't taking pictures of their underwear or whatever?

MYERS: Luckily for us, most people are not taking such infamous pictures. Selfies are just a way to show that you are part of the world. Show here I am and the world is more interesting because I'm in it. Before, photographs and portraiture were only limited to a certain number of people. Now everybody has a camera in their pocket - almost everyone has a camera in their pocket all the time. She you can take a picture of yourself doing any number of different things. So it's a natural extension of an impulsive we've had for a long time.

MARTIN: Have you noticed any kind - well, it's true. I mean, the Oxford Dictionaries people do make the point that self-portraiture has been around forever. And that this is something that, you know, the wealthy used to do to kind of show that they had arrived. They would commission portraits or they'd - painters would make portraits of themselves. Photographers - artists have always made, you know, art of themselves. Probably often 'cause they couldn't afford to pay, you know, models, right?

MYERS: Well, exactly. That was one of the reasons that van Gogh was such a great self-portrait artists because he didn't have the money to pay models to actually model for him. The other thing that you saw, you saw a large rise of self-portraiture in the Renaissance because mirrors came out. So now you could see yourself and actually depict yourself out to the world.

MARTIN: Have you noticed a trend in the kinds of pictures people like to send? For example, we were trying to coax one of our colleagues into posting a selfie and he said, nah, that's not a guy thing. Do you agree?

MYERS: There's definitely some gender - ways that you can look at selfies from a gendered lens. And to have an ability for a woman to say I am going to put myself out there versus seeing myself through the lens of a man.

MARTIN: Are there any surprising selfies that you've come across?

MYERS: I certainly think the last few days have certainly covered a lot of those in the news. You've seen the selfie of the Pope, the Obama's in the White House, lots of celebrity selfies.

MARTIN: Can we get through this conversation without mentioning Kim Kardashian? Can we? Can we?

MYERS: I don't actually...

MARTIN: Probably not.

MYERS: I think that we're contractually required as soon as we start talking about selfies.

MARTIN: Talk about Kim Kardashian and her images, pre-baby, especially, you know, post-baby.

MYERS: It is a great way for someone to - especially someone who is photographed a lot by people not themselves - to say here I am and I am putting myself out into the world in the way that I see myself.

MARTIN: And finally, why do we spell it -ie instead of -y.

MYERS: The Oxford English Dictionary pointed out that they believe that it has - originally this spelling of selfie came out from Australia - that they originally sourced it to a 2002 message board posting. But the -ie ending is something that is common in Australian slang. Also now you've seen it be a little bit self-deprecating. When you're talking about taking a selfie, selfie connotes that it's a throwaway. And...

MARTIN: A kinder, gentler self-portrait?

MYERS: Exactly.

MARTIN: Thanks Kate. Kate Myers is NPR's social media project manager. And some of us here at TELL ME MORE have posted our own selfies. Just go to to check them out. And while you're there, tell us who made the most famous selfie in history - Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Romare Bearden? Tell us. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.