The Looking-Glass Selfie (why we shouldn’t feel embarrassed about loving a self portrait)

10th Feb

The world likes to poke fun at our obsession with selfies, but maybe they're not as pointless as they seem.


Back in 1902, Charles Horton Cooley defined the “Looking Glass Self” to describe the notion that our sense of self does not come from who we are, but how we believe others see us. Could this insight help explain our obsession with sharing our faces on social media platforms? Do we have an innate eagerness to cement our own self identity through people’s validations of the ‘us’ that technology now allows us create?

Sharing a photo online is a way of defining who we want to be, or even who we think we are.  As people respond to that image, ‘the looking glass’ confirms that that it is who we actually are. We are as cool as Instagram tells us.

Taking a selfie isn’t then just a vanity project, it’s helping us understand who we really are.

Is this a key reason that event photography always does so well? We are keen to show the world that we are the kind of person who attends these types of events. We are popular, liked and valid. This becomes especially true at influencer events, when they are keen to solidify their sense of self as an influencer. It isn’t enough to attend an event, you must show the world that you attended.

This also explains why photo experiences at events have a queue, despite everyone having a camera in their pocket. We all have a natural desire to matter, and having a photo taken of us, rather than by us, allows the Looking Glass Self to confirm that we mattered enough to be noticed. We become someone who has their photo taken at events. Someone who counts. The fact that the event had a photographer or booth must also mean that the event was worth photographing. The event therefore matters, and we therefore do too.

Having a professional photographer elevates an event not only because of its higher quality output, but also because it proves it’s an event (and its guests) are worth capturing.

Find out why we love the Berlin Photoautomat.