Selfies: Pictures of Yourself

Unidentified woman taking her own photograph using a mirror and a box camera, around the year 1900
Photo via Wikipedia

Do you take selfies? Liz Waid and Colin Lowther look at why people like to take pictures of themselves.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

One night in 2002, the English language gained a new word. It is a word many people recognize today. But on that night, it was not common. It all began with an Australian man. On this night, the man drank too much alcohol. He fell over and hurt his face. He took a photograph of himself to show his injury. Then he put the picture on the internet. He wrote a comment describing the picture. At the end of the comment, he apologized for the poor quality of the picture. He wrote:

Voice 3 

“Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie”.

Voice 2 

Before this night, no one had ever used the word “selfie” on the internet before. But it quickly became a popular word. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary named it the word of the year. A selfie is a kind of photograph. It is when a person uses a camera to take a picture of himself or herself. But why are selfies so popular? Today’s Spotlight is on selfies.

Voice 1 

There are two common ways to take a selfie. The first is to take a picture of your reflection in a mirror. The second common way is to hold a camera in your hand and aim it at your face. You try to get a good picture, but it does not always happen. Many people use cameras in their mobile phones to take selfies. The cameras make it easy to see yourself as you take the photo.

Voice 2 

Many people may think that selfies are a new thing. But this is not true. People have been taking pictures of themselves since cameras were invented. One of the oldest selfies is from 1914, from Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaeyna. She was 14 years old. At this time, cameras were very large and difficult to use. After taking the picture, Nikolaeyna sent it to a friend. The letter with it said:

Voice 4

“I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very difficult because my hands were shaking.”

Voice 1 

Today people have much better cameras. And it is much easier to take a selfie. So selfies are more and more common. Selfies are especially popular with young people like teenagers. Many teenagers take selfies and put them on social media websites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. But why are they so popular? Why do people like to share pictures of themselves?

Voice 2 

Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Research Center. She thinks selfies are just a natural part of communicating. She told the New York Times Newspaper:

Voice 5

“We are designed to react to faces. We do not even know it. Our brains are able to process what we see very quickly, and we are more interested when we see faces. If you are looking at a whole page of photos, the ones you will notice are the close-ups and the selfies.”

Voice 1 

So, when a person shares a selfie on the internet, he or she knows that people will see it and react to it. Selfies make it easy and quick for people to share their lives with their friends.

Voice 2 

Another theory is that people take selfies as a way to show the world what they want their life to be like. Selfies usually show a person when he is looking his best or doing something fun. They show who a person wants to be. Clive Thompson is a technology writer. He told the New York Times:

Voice 6

“People are struggling with how they appear to the rest of the world. Taking a photograph is a way of trying to understand how people see you, who you are, and what you look like. There is nothing wrong with that.”

Voice 1 

But Frédéric della Faille has a different idea. Della Faille is the founder of the photo-sharing application Frontback. This app is for devices like mobile phones. People can use the app to take pictures with their camera phones easily. He told the New York Times:

Voice 7

“The idea of a selfie is that you do not need words. Your face explains the moment or tells a story. It is much more of a moment and a story than a photo. And very often it is not about being beautiful.”

Voice 2 

There is a popular saying in English that supports Faille’s idea: ‘A picture is worth one thousand words.’ So, if a person wants to share about an event in their life, they could use many words. Or they could just show the event with a selfie.

Voice 1 

But selfies can also cause problems. Selfies are so popular that sometimes people take selfies when they probably should not. American Jason Feifer noticed this. So he decided to start a blog website about it called “Selfies at Serious Places”. In this blog he shows selfies taken at important memorials.

Feifer shared a selfie from a young man at a Holocaust memorial. This memorial honors the victims of the holocaust - an event where more than 6 million people died. In the selfie, the young man has a funny smile on his face. His hand is in front of him in a “thumbs up” sign. Usually people make a “thumbs up” sign if they think something is really great.

Voice 2 

Many people reacted strongly to this blog. They thought the selfies were terrible! People even found the people in the selfies and sent them angry messages. Some people sent angry messages to the young man in the selfie in front of the Holocaust memorial. He wrote an email to Feifer to apologize. He said:

Voice 8

“I am one of the people on your blog. I have to say that you made me understand how stupid I made myself look. You have really made me think about it. I would like to thank you for that.”

Voice 1 

Feifer posted the young man’s apology, but he did not remove the picture from the blog. Feifer says that he began the blog as a way to encourage people to talk to and learn from each other. People may make stupid decisions, but they can also begin to think more deeply.

Voice 2 

Like any technology, there is a good way to use selfies and a bad way to use them. Selfies can be a way to connect with friends. But people should think about how and why they use a selfie.

Voice 1 

What do you think about selfies? Do you take selfies? Do you think they are a good thing or a bad thing? Are there places that people should not take selfies? Tell us about your experiences. Leave a comment on the script page for this program on our website. Or find us on Facebook - just search for Spotlight Radio.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Liz Waid. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, "Selfies: Pictures of Yourself".

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Do you think selfies are a good thing or a bad thing? Are there places that people should not take selfies?


Sultan's avatar
said on February 17, 2014

Most teens and young adults have indulged in the occasional selfie at some point and most of us see this as technological and societal progress. Thank you Spotlight!

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 17, 2014

i like this artice

Avatar Spotlight
Meow Swift
said on July 04, 2014

Thank you. I find this lesson is very helpful

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 23, 2015

Now I understand the nature of selfie.

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 05, 2016

That’s a great article. I really like it. Today, many people enjoy taking selfies. Because they help them show their emotions and save memories. It’s so wonderfyl when I know the story of the word ” selfies”.

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 07, 2016

Selfie pictures have become the popular trend recently, taking selfies can help keep beautiful memories for a long time or connect with friends too. In particular children just as teenagers should choose careffuly persons they want to share their selfies with because sending selfies can endanger seriously the senders in some cases. Parents have to warn children about possible danger in time. From my point of view regular consequent controlling children’s activities on Internet, Facebook or cellphone seems to be necessary at all events. As this article said ‘‘there is a good way to use selfies and a bad way as well.’’ Connection with friends through selfies is really amazing but people should perform reasonably thinking properly about how and why they use that new technology!
Thanks Spotlight for excellent topic!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 08, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Thursday 08, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Colin Lowther, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
I think selfies are a good thing to share our good emotions with other people who we have respect and consideration for them.
However, selfies can be become a bad problem if a person takes a bad quality photo and posting it on the internet to everybody sees it.
Yes, there are. Our house, work’s place, and cemetery because home is the place where we live and it is our private place, work’s place is the company where we work for and it is not correct to send photos from it and it is not permitted to do this action, and cemetery is a sad place where we are on refletion and sadness due to the dead body.
Finally, according to I said above we can share our emotions with respectful people who we have respect and consideration.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on September 09, 2016

I think that the selfies are a good thing.
Personally I always taking the selfies/photos by my mobile (alone or with friends) and put it on facebook.
Actually I enjoy with that because I see myself newly and sharing my friends.
I don’t think that there places that people should not take selfies except the personal places of people.
God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 13, 2016

Thank you!

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 13, 2016

One moment, in russian language we not use second name without first name. This phrase is rough: “After taking the picture, Nikolaeyna sent it to a friend.”
Better will be: “After taking the picture,  Anastasia Nikolaeyna sent it to a friend.”