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Selfie

How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us

By Will Storr
12-minute read
Audio available
Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us by Will Storr

Selfie (2017) takes a hard look at today’s internet-driven age of self-obsession. Asking where our ideal of the perfect person came from, acclaimed British journalist Will Storr traces the history of the self from ancient Greece to the social-media-heavy world of selfies and Instagram brunch pics. Along the way, he picks out a multitude of fascinating facts about the political, cultural and economic factors that have shaped the Western world’s notion of who we should be and what we should look like.

  • Fans and foes of social media
  • Anyone who’s wondered where our culture’s heading
  • History and politics buffs

Will Storr is an award-winning writer, journalist and photographer. The recipient of the prestigious National Press Club award, his previous books include The Heretics and The Hunger and Howling of Killian Lone. He has also written for the Guardian and Times Magazine.

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Selfie

How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us

By Will Storr
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us by Will Storr
Synopsis

Selfie (2017) takes a hard look at today’s internet-driven age of self-obsession. Asking where our ideal of the perfect person came from, acclaimed British journalist Will Storr traces the history of the self from ancient Greece to the social-media-heavy world of selfies and Instagram brunch pics. Along the way, he picks out a multitude of fascinating facts about the political, cultural and economic factors that have shaped the Western world’s notion of who we should be and what we should look like.

Key idea 1 of 7

The way we think about our bodies is heavily influenced by the cultures we live in.

What’s the quickest way to feel bad about yourself?

For the author, it’s a look in the mirror. Every time he catches sight of his own reflection, he starts judging his appearance. Why, he wonders, is his stomach so much bigger than it should be? But then again, why shouldn’t it be the size it is – where does the pressure to be slim and toned come from?

Well, our bodily ideals are shaped by the culture we’ve grown up in.

Take weight: A sleek physique is highly prized in the Western world, but that’s not the case everywhere. In Tanzania, for example, the opposite is true. Fat is valued as a symbol of high status.

The Western ideal of the perfect body has a unique history, with roots that stretch all the way back to the earliest European culture: ancient Greece.

Think of the appearance of mythical figures like Hercules or Adonis: they wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of Men’s Health with their chiseled muscles and perfect pelvic v-lines.

That means our ideas about what our perfect selves should look like are still being shaped by the thoughts and beliefs of people who lived more than two-and-a-half-thousand years ago!

But it’s not just body image that’s shaped by culture. The very way we think – our cognition – is also determined by the environment around us.

Most people in the West receive a formal education where they’re taught to analyze and measure information, meaning that they see the world a certain way. As a result, we think that everyone sees things this way, but that’s not the case.

Consider the Himba people of Namibia: They live a semi-nomadic lifestyle completely isolated from the modern world. As they don’t receive a Western education, the Himba consider information differently. When the neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott asked the Himba to analyze the emotional connection to certain sounds, for example, they couldn’t, as Himba culture doesn’t teach that form of thinking.

In short, the way we think about the world is heavily influenced by the culture and society in which we live.

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