Selfies and sociality

In Ruth Page’s recent article Group selfies and Snapchat: From sociality to synthetic collectivisation, she extends on Zappavigna & Zhao’s (2017) taxonomy to consider how photos and sound work together on Snapchat stories to create a sense of shared perspective. She argues that:

Selfies are not just produced as images, but are a form of multimodal discourse which can include visual, aural and verbal elements when shared through video clips that can be created on smart phones. 

Page, R. (2018). Group selfies and Snapchat: From sociality to synthetic collectivisation. Discourse, Context & Media.

Similar to early research defining presented, mirrored, inferred, and implied selfies, Page describes the intersubjectivity of the selfie-taker as  present, indirect (metonymic), indirect, and ‘zero’ through a combination of the perspective of the photograph and sounds included in video “snaps”. 

With this lens, we can see how selfies can be interpreted as more than just digitally-mediated narcissistic acts but also as facilitators of sociality. Through video selfies that employ visual, textual, and auditory modes, viewers are invited to do more than just look at me; viewers are invited to look and listen with me–(or in the case of a group selfie, with us).

In online dating profiles, we can trace a variety of communicative invitations to look at me and with me through visual, textual, auditory, and technological affordances.

First, let’s consider the types of photos that users put on their dating profiles. These photos tend to be a combination of selfie-types, some that invite potential partners through visual means to look at me (and at us) and others that prompt a more social engagement to look with me

Next, let’s consider how technological affordances embedded in some apps, like Tinder and Bumble’s option to link other social media to the dating profile facilitates opportunities for sociality through both visual and auditory.  By linking one’s Instagram, for example, daters give their audience a greater view into the window of their visual life, inviting others to both look at me and look with me, depending on the types of images posted on the social photography space. With the link to Spotify, daters invite potential partners to listen with me, thus sharing their auditory perspective though musical artist preferences.

By linking one’s Instagram, for example, daters give their audience a greater view into the window of their visual life, inviting others to both look at me and look with me, depending on the types of images posted on the social photography space. With the link to Spotify, daters invite potential partners to listen with me, thus sharing their auditory perspective though musical artist preferences.

Kastrenakes, J. (2016, September 20). Tinder can now show your top Spotify tracks. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from

Lastly, dating platforms like Hinge and Zoozk’s Lively allow users to post videos in addition to images on their profile. This integration of video means that people can invite their audience to look and listen to me, to us, and with us, depending on the type of video displayed. 

Selfies and Online Dating

When we think of the “selfie” most of us imagine a close-up self-portrait, taken with a mobile phone, at arms length and just above eye-level (to hide the double chin), and posted on social media. But it turns out that isn’t the only type of selfie.

In the field of multimodal discourse analysis, researchers are pushing our understanding of what constitutes this self-portraiture.

Michele Zappavigna and Sumin Zhao have written a number of pieces on the visual genre of the selfie through their analyses of mommyblogs on Instagram, arguing that selfies are more than mere representations of a self, but also enactments of (inter)subjectivity.

Zappavigna, M. & Zhao, S. (2017). Selfies in ‘mommyblogging’: An emerging visual genreDiscourse, Context and Media (Special issue on media evolution and genre expectations). 20, 239-247.

Zhao, S. & Zappavigna, M. (2017). Beyond the self: Intersubjectivity and the social semiotic interpretation of the selfieNew Media and Society. 20(5), 1735-1754.

Zappavigna M. (2016). Social media photography: construing subjectivity in Instagram imagesVisual Communication.15(3), 271-92.

Through an examination of social photography, they developed a taxonomy, identifying four subgenres of selfies (presented, mirrored, inferred and implied selfies). These selfies are categorized by the photographer’s perspective rather than mere representations of the photographer’s face as the object to be gazed up.

Using this framework, a selfie is a photo that invites viewers to see the photographer, as captured by the self, or see what the photographer is seeing, as if through their eyes. In this way, the selfie is not a portrait of the self, but photos seen through the perspective of a self.

Screenshot (132)

One can’t research online dating and user profiles without considering the role of the selfie when it comes to connecting in the digital age as the selfie is an integral component in most dating profiles. Dating profiles are ripe with all sorts of selfies, not just the “presented selfie” that we have all come to know so well. As daters become more aware of the necessity to make more of themselves visible on profiles, the mirrored selfie has become a norm–with mixed results.

In interviews, research participants often talk about the importance of including a “body shot” so they have a better sense of the whole person and there are no surprises. Unfortunately, the “shirtless selfie in the mirror” that many men seem to think showcases their best features is consistently brought up by heterosexual women as a big turn off. In fact, even if he looks hot in that mirrored selfie, many women swipe left just because of the shirtless selfie and the connotations associated with the type of photo.

The shirtless selfie in the bathroom mirror was a problem because it was associated with vanity, but rather because it was interpreted as a reflection of the person’s focus on the physical and a desire for a perfect body–which few women felt they had.

When putting together a dating profile, people usually give some thought about which images to post as they consider how to present a desirable self to the virtual world. However, in trying to put their best face forward, people can’t predict how others will interpret the visual story they are attempting to tell.


As a narrative analysts, I am fascinated by stories, especially those we tell about who we are. These stories serve to represent ourselves to the world around us as well as provide a tool to make sense of our place in the worlds we inhabit.

Giddens (1990) suggests that self-identity is not a set of traits or observable characteristics, but rather a person’s own reflexive understanding of their biography (53). Linde (1993) refers to the such everyday narrative acts as “life stories” in which people make sense of self through the act of telling stories about who they are to others. She points out that our life story is not static, but always evolving as we tell new stories. Thus, people re-story the self with each new telling.

It should be noted that these storytelling practices do not happen in isolation such that our sense of self is defined solely by the stories we want to tell. Instead, identity is co-constructed through narrative practices, with our identity being defined in storytelling acts that rely on the interaction between the storyteller and the listener, as they negotiate meaning through telling, listening, and conversing–re-storying the self collaboratively.

When considering the case of online dating, stories about the self are an integral aspect of the communicative practices that lead to connection, as demonstrated by the advertisement for the Okcupid website. As people opt to enter the online dating world, the first step is to set up a profile–a digital life story, so to speak, that is adapted to the technological constraints of each platform.

OKC Dating Better Profile Prompt 2 Women

These m/e-stories are multimodal–integrating text, image, and technology–to represent and communicate a desirable self. This self-branding through multimodal stories is fluid, often co-constructed, and intricately mediated by digital technology as my current research intends to show. Stay tuned…


Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Linde, C. (1993). Life stories: the creation of coherence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.





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