The History Of Selfies

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If it feels like selfies have been around forever, that's because they have been. (Well, nearly.) So where did it all really start, then? Here is your 5-step guide to the history of selfies

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The modern smart phone is equipped with many useful apps and tools, but its most game changing feature is undoubtedly the digital camera that comes preinstalled with it. Camera phones have enabled us to take more pictures in more places, and of a considerably higher quality than we could in the past. That means more photos of historical monuments, the beauty of natural scenery… but more importantly, more pics of ourselves. This, my friends, is how the selfie came to be. An undisputed staple of our culture these days, the selfie has infiltrated all of our homes, our lives, and even our vocabularies – to the point where it was named 2013’s word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.

So, in honour of the selfie, I’ve taken the liberty of tracing back to where it all began…

#lol #sorandom #me – (the 1820s)

The History Of Selfies

Humankind has always been obsessed with capturing its own likeness, and this has been the true since long before the advent of photography. We are all familiar with the self portraits of the greats – Picasso, Van Gogh and so on – but this less known sketch by Louis-Léopold Boilly shows the lighthearted images we liked to see of ourselves, and still do to this day.

Selfie game strong (the 1830s)

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The general nature of the selfie means the identity of the true first photograph taken by someone of themselves will likely always be a mystery. However, according to this page at,  the above photograph was the first ever selfie, taken in 1839 in the back of a shop in Philadelphia. Robert Cornelius (pictured) removed the lens cap of his camera and then sat in its frame for a full minute to capture the image. Everyone has days where it feels like it takes a thousand tries to get a selfie halfway decent; while the people of two hundred odd years ago may not have minded the wait, I doubt many people reading feel the same way…

Shake it, Andy! (the 1970s – 2000s)

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Luckily for us though, cameras ended up getting a lot smaller, and a lot easier to operate. With disposable cameras, digitals and polaroids, selfies were as close as they ever had been to being done in an instant! Which is to say, still not very close. The chunky bricks of plastic that personal cameras used to be required you to drop your undeveloped films off to be made into pictures, meaning it would be at least a few days before you’d get to see your selfies. As for the polaroids, well, Andre 3000 already told us what to do with those.

Struggle includes – but is not limited to – reading backwards t-shirt slogans (the 2000s)

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Fast forward years later and the famous accomplice of the selfie comes into the picture. Online social networks meant that for the first time, the selfie came to exist as social capital. People were in need of profile pictures to set on their Myspace’s. These needed to be flattering, as people were aware that your picture would dictate how your web page – was judged, and by extension, how you were judged as well.

Without a digital copy of any decent picture, or a spare helping hand to take a new one for you, some improvisation was often needed. This improvisation spawned  the mirror selfie – otherwise known as the Myspace selfie, or as I prefer to call it, ‘the no front camera struggle.’

Believe it or not, there was a time where most devices did not come equipped with both forward and rear facing cameras, which lead to selfies like these becoming very common. These days, the mirror selfie is taken for extra throwback style points (as can be seen by Miley in the pic above).

Look good, but also cherish the moments that make the snapshots (the 2010s/present day)

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In the year 2014, it’s become possible to take a picture of ourselves and have it coloured, cropped and online within minutes, largely thanks to Instagram. An element of competition seems to have come with the picture sharing website, where our value has become attached to how many likes we can get or who is following us – an even more daunting feat considering our ‘normal’ snaps now have to rub shoulders with those of the mega rich and famous.

Selfies have become a central part of humans and how we communicate with each other, and that’s because they offer a means of sharing something that’s completely unique and special with the world — ourselves. Sometimes it’s not obvious just how far we’ve come to get to this point, but be glad that we have, because it means we get to enjoy gems like these.


Images of Louis-Léopold Boilly, Robert Cornelius, Andy Warhol, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian.

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