History Of The Selfie

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When ‘selfie’ was made Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013, we would be lying if we didn’t admit how many stuck up their noses to the weird news. How could a word so closely related to a trivial and self-centered trend end up in the same sentence as ‘Oxford Dictionaries’ (not to mention ‘Word of the year’)?

I am also sure I am not the only one who was helped to break some sort of Facebook addiction – no less than by the endless stream of selfies, which floods my wall at every time of the day.

However, in spite of the love/hate aura which selfies are well known to emanate, the tradition of self-portraits have way nobler roots. In his book ‘How we got to now’, Steven Johnson mentions the mirror as the very first ancestor of the selfie.

 “At the exact moment that the glass lens was allowing us to extend our vision to the stars or microscopic cells, glass mirrors were allowing us to see ourselves for the first time. […] The mirror played a direct role in allowing artists to paint themselves and invent perspective.”

Maybe we could consider self-portraits taking place during the Renaissance the first selfies; however, if the definition of selfie includes the necessary presence of a photo camera, then the first selfie ever was made way later, in 1839.


The debut of the Kodak portable camera at the beginning of the 20th century gave space to cheaper (and easier) self-portraiture, but it was the advent of the digital camera which made the trick.

From the 90s on, we have witnessed a constant evolution and reduction in size of our beloved photographic devices. Just think about the frontal camera of your smartphone, which, luckily, replaced self-portraits taken in front of the bathroom mirror (with flash).


Nowadays, a selfie is way more than a picture. It is a sign of the times, a way in which brands engage the public, a medium of self-expression. There are guides on how to take the perfect selfie, there are epic selfies, there are anti-selfies campaigns. Steven Johnson leaves the question open with impressive words.

“The mirror helped invent the modern self, in some real but unquantifiable way. That much we should agree on. Whether that was a good thing in the end is a separate question, one that may never be settled conclusively.”

photo courtesy: Google Images

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