“Selfies” have been among the most controversial of technological trends. Front facing cameras have enabled people to take pictures of themselves with lighting, settings, and angles that they feel are the most flattering. These technological self-portraits have been widely associated with girls, specifically teenage girls. I believe part of the reason they are so highly critiqued is due to the fact that society still expects women to remain in the private sphere, both in reference to real life and online life. Selfies are a direct act of defiance with this because they are enabling girls to publicize themselves in a way that was not possible previously. The gender association with selfies is a stark contrast to self-portraits done by artists.
Self-portraits are talked about in higher regard than selfies, but essentially they are the same thing, one just takes longer and more skill to complete. A self-portrait is still an incomplete representation of a person, just in painted form. There are numerous examples of male artists who paint self-portraits, but no female artists, with the exception of Frida Kahlo, come to mind. Van Gogh and Freud are two prominent, highly-regarded male self-portrait painters, but their work is not seen as narcissistic even though selfies are.
There are obvious differences that prevent the discussion of selfies and self-portraits as one and the same. Some of these differences rest with the fact that paintings take skill, time, and concentration while selfies take a second to capture. Nevertheless, one could make the argument that a “good” selfie, much like a “good” self-portrait, takes time to prepare for, get good lighting, and have a deeper meaning. Perhaps one of the reasons society is hesitant to have the same discourse surrounding selfies and self-portraits because of their different associations with gender. I would be interested to see how discourse would change if selfies were stereotypically masculine and if self-portraits were stereotypically feminine.
Source: Selfies v. Self-Portraits