Woman Taking a Selfie

Selfie. It was the word of year in 2013, as decided by Oxford dictionaries. Research done by Oxford Dictionaries editors revealed that the frequency of the word selfie in the English language increased by 17,000% between 2012 and 2013.

According to the dictionary, Selfie is defined as:

A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media:
occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary

To say that selfies are everywhere would be an understatement. At the time of writing this post, there are over 150 million images tagged #selfie on Instagram. It seems like everyone has at least one selfie in their social profile portfolio. My current Facebook photo is a selfie I snapped the other day.

Taking a selfie is easy, it can be done quickly, shared instantly and you can receive responses to them almost immediately. But what happens when people start altering their bodies, or worse, end up dying, in the pursuit of the perfect selfie? Some recent headlines leave me wondering: is social media making us more vain or is it just a vehicle to show how vain we’ve always been?

The Woman who had Plastic Surgery to Have Better Selfies

Triana Lavey, a talent manager based out of Los Angeles, was tired of using filters to improve her selfies. Instead, she opted for plastic surgery as she really didn’t like the picture staring back at her on Facebook and Skype.

Lavey underwent work on her cheekbones and chin, as well as a nose job and fat grafts. After the procedures were completed she she said, “I feel like I look like myself, but Photoshopped.”

Lavey isn’t alone in her efforts to improve her profile photos; in India, people in their 20s and 30s are undergoing procedures like laser skin treatment, chin augmentation and rhinoplasty to enhance their romantic chances.

I understand the motivation behind wanting to look good in pictures. Who hasn’t had a picture posted of them by a friend where they dislike how they look? It’s very easy to find faults in ourselves. Knowing that those pictures are readily available for others to see can add to the vulnerability we feel. But plastic surgery?

When did it become acceptable to physically alter your body so that you look good in your selfies and other photos?

The Woman who Underwent Plastic Surgery for Better Hand Selfies

Christa Hendershot's selfie worthy hands

ABC 7 New York

When 33-year-old Christa Hendershot got engaged, she took pictures of her hand to show off her ring on social media. After posting the photos, Hendershot was unhappy with how her hand looked. Rather than taking the photo down or using filters to improve it, Hendershot spent more than $3,000 for “hand rejuvenation” surgery.

She wanted her hands to be “selfie worthy.” She thought her hands were veiny and that her knuckles were red. Within minutes of having the procedure done, Hendershot was happier with the appearance of her hands. “The veins are not as blue,” she said.

Dr. Ariel Ostad, Hendershot’s surgeon, says that he has seen an increase in the number of his clients who bring selfies into his office to point out their flaws to him: “I’ve noticed over the last six months (that) patients actually bring a selfie in the examining room. They show me what bothers them and what they would like to fix.”

I really don’t understand the desire to have surgery on hands – or other body parts – to ensure better pictures for posting on social media. I fully believe that people have the right to do as they wish to their bodies, whether that’s tattoos, piercings or plastic surgery. What I don’t understand is going through body modifications because of social media.

As odd as I find the plastic-surgery-for-better-selfie trend, what really boggles my mind is the stories of people dying in the midst of taking a selfie.

Death Due to Selfie

In June, 16-year-old Isabella Fracchiolla died while taking a selfie during a school trip to the seaside town of Taranto, in south-eastern Italy. While taking her selfie, Fracchiolla fell sixty feet onto jagged rocks. She was rushed to hospital where she was operated on but she did not survive.

Oscar Otero Aguilar Selfie

Facebook Screengrab

A few weeks ago, 21-year-old Oscar Otero Aguilar died while taking a selfie with a gun. According to friends, Aguilar was “selfie obsessive” and was constantly trying to take more impressive selfies to post on social media. On the night in question, Aguilar had been partying with friends when he grabbed his gun and smartphone to take a photo to share on Facebook.

While handling the gun, it went off, shooting Aguilar in the head. 911 was called and medics worked on him but he died on the way to hospital.

The week following Aguilar’s death came the news of the deaths of a Polish couple who died while attempting a selfie on the cliffs at Cabo da Roca in Portugal. The couple were on vacation with their children when they tried to take the selfie. Following the accident, the children were placed with Polish diplomats and saw psychologists after having seen their parents’ deaths.

While I may not agree with it, I can understand the motivation behind getting plastic surgery so that any photos taken and shared are ones people can feel comfortable with. We are our own harshest critics and it’s easy to pick ourselves a part when looking at our photos online.

What I can’t understand is the lack of caution being used when taking selfies, especially in situations where people are standing on cliff sides or handling guns. It’s as if all reason is tossed aside in the pursuit of the perfect selfie. Is it because people feel a need to post a more intriguing selfie than their friends? Or is it some personal achievement to out-do the previously posted selfie?

It’s a mentality I don’t understand but will continue to try to wrap my head around.

Selfie photo courtesy of Paško Tomić