If you’re not already familiar with the term “selfie,” it’s basically a shortened term for “self-portrait.” However, unlike the word ”self-portrait,” which is often associated with a variety of professional art mediums, such as painting, photography, and sculpture (to name a few), the word “selfie” is typically used to refer to holding a cell phone and extending an arm to take a photo of oneself. Most definitions narrow it down, even more, stating that it’s also a photo that gets posted on social media. (Yes, this word has been added to multiple dictionaries!) And since 2014, National Selfie Day has been celebrated on June 21st every year, invented by a DJ and radio host from Texas named Rick McNeely. In honor of the selfie and our love for photos, let’s talk #selfiefacts!
Some of the earliest known self-portraits came out of ancient Egypt, one of them being a sculpture created by Bak around 1345 BC of him and his wife. Though this is based on our modern-day evidence, self-portraiture was likely around even earlier. When it comes to oil paintings, what is believed to be one of the first self-portraits of its kind is Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self-Portrait?) created in 1433. In 1524, Parmigianino painted a self-portrait using a convex mirror, titled appropriately Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror. From there, we have many recorded and preserved self-portrait paintings and sculptures throughout our modern day.
As for the beginning of selfies as we know them today, Robert Cornelius took what is assumed to be the first-ever photographic self-portrait in 1839, 13 years after the invention of photography. (If you want to learn more about the history of photography, we discuss the highlights of that here.) Though this may seem like an 1839 mirror pic, it actually isn‘t. He took the photo, hustled into the camera‘s frame, and kept still in the pose that you see here for about a minute before running back up to the camera and covering up the lens again. If you’re now curious about the first selfie taken in a mirror, you might be surprised to find out that it was taken by a teenage girl in 1914 (at least, this is the earliest famous mirror pic), and that teenage girl was none other than Anastasia Nikolaevna, the Russian Grand Duchess at the time. That’s right, The Greatest Generation (GI) invented the mirror pic, not millennials.
Robert Cornelius, 1839
Today, selfie-taking is incredibly common, which has a lot to do with advances in technology and inspiration from past famed self-portraits.
There is a rumor that a specific Australian man named Nathan Hope coined the term “selfie” in 2002. But as much as we want to be able to pinpoint the exact time and believe a funny story of the invention of the word, unfortunately, no one really knows EXACTLY who started this term or the story behind it. It is guessed to have originated in Australia sometime before 2002 with a story as simple as just shortening the word “self-portrait“ like many other words that have been shortened throughout history. As far as internet history goes though, 2002 was the first time that the word appeared in online text.
When it comes to alternative ways to take selfies other than extending your own arm to snap a pic, the famous “selfie stick“ probably comes to mind. It may feel like the selfie stick is a product of the 2010s, but it actually dates back earlier than you may think. Though the idea of taking a self-portrait using an extended stick was talked about and was (sort of) done prior, what we think of as a selfie stick was officially patented for the first time in 1985 by Hiroshi Ueda and Yujiro Mima, which they referred to as an “extender stick”. The patent ended in 2003, never resulting in much popularity. (Remember, this was before smartphone cameras.) By 2005, Wayne Fromm patented the selfie stick, which he named “Quik Pod”. Once smartphones grew in popularity and front-facing cameras became common, selfie sticks began to take the world by storm. By 2014, this invention was raving in popularity, which is when most of us became aware of it. Since then, selfie sticks have become a bit controversial, being banned in many museums and amusement parks due to perceived safety concerns.
Before the front-facing camera or the selfie stick, one of the most common ways to take a selfie was by using a self-timer and a tripod. Even though most phones and modern cameras have built-in self-timers, this selfie accessory is probably one of the least used for taking selfies in modern day!
The Fun Facts!
- Aside from being known as one the of very first people to land on the moon, NASA‘s Buzz Aldrin is also known for taking the first open space selfie in 1966.
- The Guinness World Records title for “Most self-portrait photographs (selfies) taken in three minutes” currently goes to James Smith, which was accomplished in 2018 with the record number being 168 (as of 2022).
- ”Selfie” was named Word of the Year by Oxford English Dictionaries in 2013.
- Ellen DeGeneres once held the title for the most retweeted tweet on Twitter (say that 10 times fast) back in 2014. The tweet was a selfie with Bradley Cooper and other celebs that was taken at the 2014 Oscars.
- The iPhone was the first smartphone that introduced the selfie camera.
- Apple has official instructions on their website for how to take a selfie on an iphone.
- Samsung also has selfie instructions.
- The first time a hashtag was used with the word selfie was on Instagram in 2011 by Jennifer Lee. #selfie
- A study that was published in 2017 concluded that the most preferred selfie pose for selfie-takers is the left cheek, after studying thousands of selfies. Apparently, research has proven that the left side of our face is the most expressive side of our face, which is likely the reason that the left side is the most preferred side (regardless of posing with the duckface or not)!
- Selfies make for great canvas prints and glossy tile prints, especially when those selfies involve you and the people you love! Get yours here.