Selfies: Narcissism in Vogue

“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?” Vanity exists from time immemorial and has been the very part of our fairy tales as you can see! Yet, I grew up in a family where modesty and modesty alone was acceptable.

I learnt the word narcissism when it was thrown at me in grade four- the word, its meaning and the etymology! All I did to deserve that was to drape myself in a dupatta (a garment worn by Indian women over their salwar kameez to cover their modesty), which for my small frame acted as a sari, with a pillow crooked in my arm (my baby) and perch myself on a stool in front of the mirror. It was my favourite pastime to act like Mrs. N (my mother) but my husband, almost always, died in the war (somehow the husband never seemed to fit into my scheme of things as a child and losing him in the war was the best way to kill the embarrassment of having one) and with my baby, I would talk to different people I’d imagine, in the mirror. On this particular day, I was flaunting my imaginary long and painted nails to the lady in the mirror when a deep, firm and displeased voice interrupted my gloating! “What are you doing in front of that mirror? Why don’t you read something and not waste your time being a narcissist?”

The shock of my father’s voice was bad enough and I looked at him dazed trying to understand what I was called. “Have you heard of Narcissus?”I shook my head meekly not looking or feeling like the hoity-toity Mrs. N anymore. I was told the story of Narcissus, the son of a God and a nymph from Greek mythology who was extremely good looking. He happened to look at himself in a pool and fell in love with his own reflection. So deep was his love of himself that he was lost to the world and died by the pool. Some believe he is a water lily, others, a daffodil. The long and short of the story was that self obsession led to his downfall. The message was clear-NO MORE MIRRORS except for brief mandatory grooming. Mrs. N would now not be able to hone her expressions to perfection (but she did, in the bathroom every now and then!!).
Yet, look at ourselves today. Have I to unlearn what I have learnt? Modesty is no longer a virtue. You are asked to sell yourself. If you don’t praise yourself or cry out your virtues from a roof top, you aren’t good enough. You won’t be noticed! Modesty is equal to under confidence! Modesty is equal to lack of self belief! “The best jokes are the ones at your own expense”, my father has often repeated but I have been chided by many a friend that I am harsh and unkind to myself. Modesty is lack of self respect!

The new rage of “selfies” is a case in point. There is a selfie for every moment, every dress, every mood; every acquisition…This self love is very confusing. I wonder what Freud would have to say?! Are the selfies on social media to profess your love for yourself or are they an effort to get endorsement from everybody as to how good you are? No doubt, it is a pleasure to see occasional pictures of those dear to you but every day?? There are times I change my display picture on whatsapp, sometimes very often, just to feel like everybody else and then it gets to me and I disappear. The best part of the whatsapp picture is that you cannot see yourself so it mustn’t be self love then surely it is looking for praise. Well, that doesn’t hurt but does it not show lack of self belief? Reminds me of the Harry Belafonte “there’s a hole in the bucket Dear Lisa” song for we are back to square one! 

I am one confused soul trapped in a world I have begun to stop understanding. It must be a bigger shock for my dad (my mother is a Leo so she has been very comfortable with adulation). I can never forget the look on his face when he gave my son (also, a Leo) a pat on his back years ago for solving a difficult maths problem with considerable ease only to hear, “Yes Muthacha (Grandfather in Malayalam), I am the Best” instead of a grateful “Thank You”. His jaw dropped for a moment before he shook with laughter leaving me to wonder whether this would have been his reaction if my brother or I had said such a thing!  

My son used to be obsessed with the selfie for nearly a year! Worse, was the fact that his expression was an uncomfortable and unpleasant one which he thought was cool! Why would a boy with a million dollar smile not want to flaunt it, I’ll never know. It’s not macho, I guess. Just like the duck pout that has spread like wild fire amongst the girls- and my daughter will reach that age shortly! Sigh!!

Everyone likes to see a handsome/pretty face, a beautiful, well toned body and well groomed overall personalities. Man, after all, is a visual creature but I believe that the charm remains only when it is not over done.  



  1. In fact the story of Narcissus is linked with the story of Echo. It is a sad tale of unrequited love. Nice article.... Loved the idea

    1. Yes indeed but I read that much later in life...Thank you :)

  2. Hello Anu
    Read thru all your blogs just now . Liked the blogs very much . Your style is very simple but catchy. Keep writing.

  3. Like the flow of thoughts and the references dear blogger. Keep this charm going!

  4. I love this article so much :) I think it's my favourite so far!


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