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On becoming self-obsessed

I recently read the book “Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It's Doing to Us” by Will Storr. It was different from what I expected it to be, it challenged me, at times even made me feel uncomfortable.

I have defined myself as a person who is always searching for something new and striving to become a better version of myself. Someone who likes learning and enjoys developing herself. And there I was, reading this book and reflecting on whether that’s actually something that I voluntarily got into or whether that’s just the game we are all forced to play.

In his book, Will explains that the self naturally tries to be perfect. In the end, we are tribal animals and we have the desire to be well-perceived by others as this could help us rise up the hierarchy. Being closer to perfect helps in getting approval from the tribe. But what is that 'perfect'? Well, that is something that the culture defines for us.

What culture is telling us today is that there is no limit and you need to take responsibility for yourself to become a better person. It makes you believe that you can have control over your life. It says you can choose to be your ideal self. If you work hard and put your mind to it, everything is possible. There is immense pressure to be perfect.

Developed for conference calls, now mostly known and used as selfie-camera

I think Will puts down our current ideal self very accurately: “It’s usually depicted as an extroverted, slim, beautiful, individualistic, optimistic, hard-working, socially aware yet high-self-esteeming global citizen with entrepreneurial guile and a selfie camera. It enjoys thinking it’s in some way unique, that it’s trying to ‘make the world a better place’, and one of the traits it’ll value highly is that of personal authenticity, or ‘being real’.”

We measure our success against these impossibly high standards. Will argues that culture is trying to turn us into something we cannot really be. We might improve, but we still stay ourselves, in fact, the many versions of ourselves as “we are not one person, but many, and the people we are can be strangers to each other.”

It was really interesting to read how we, as a society, came to this standard of what ‘perfect’ is, how and why it has changed throughout history, and how being obsessed about enhancing everyone’s self-esteem (making everyone feel special, protected from failure and believing that they can achieve anything) has no scientific ground when it comes to making our society better.

Without spoiling too much, I hope this sparked some curiosity to pick up the book. Highly recommend reading it.

Not convinced? Perhaps Amazon's description for this book will help:

We live in the age of the individual. Every day, we’re bombarded with depictions of the beautiful, successful, slim, socially conscious, and extroverted individual that our culture has decided is the perfect self, and we berate ourselves when we don’t measure up. This model of the perfect self and the impossibly high standards it sets can be extremely dangerous. People are suffering under the torture of this impossible fantasy, and unprecedented social pressure is leading to increases in depression and suicide. Journalist and novelist Will Storr began to wonder about this perfect self that torments so many of us: Where does this ideal come from? Why is it so powerful? Is there any way to break its spell? To answer these questions, Storr takes the reader on a journey from the shores of Ancient Greece, through the Christian Middle Ages, to the self-esteem evangelists of 1980s California, the rise of narcissism and the “selfie” generation, and right up to the era of hyper-individualism in which we live now. Selfie tells the epic tale of the person we all know so intimately―because it’s us.
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