'Selfie' is 2013 word of the year - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

'Selfie' is 2013 word of the year

Josh Malcek Josh Malcek

There was a time - not all that long ago - when a school picture was it. That one day of the year when your personal history would be preserved forever.

"I don't like it," said a Mooresville High School student getting a picture taken. "I don't either. I think I look too stiff. And I don't think it explains who anybody is," explained another student. 

But that was before the advent of the smart phone and the ability to take a picture and transmit it instantly. 

Now your self-image is in the palm of your hand. We seem to have an incessant need to look into the lens and share. An obsession, often every day. Sometimes many times a day.

"Oh, I just woke up. Click. Oh, I look sexy. Click. Oh, I'm at the gym. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click," explained Josh Malcek. The Pendleton resident is the first to tell you: "I do actually think I have a problem. I'm gonna go to Selfies Anonymous here in a couple of days," the 26-year-old joked. 

He snaps shots and poses eight to ten times a day. 

"I got my first iPhone like three years ago and that's when it all started," said Malcek

Initially, he'll tell you, it was a superficial way of showing himself. 

"That's why I take all these selfies because I'm a beautiful freakin' person. And whether or not people agree, I don't care," he said.

His infatuation isn't unique. Just google it. Everyone's doing it:  Kanye and Kim, the president - even the Pope posed for one.  

At Decatur Central High School it made it to the classroom. A class in their School of Media arts wrote a song about selfies. 

"That really is the big thing right now, so we figured, why not make a song about it?" said one student. 

The word is so common it's now officially recognized by the Oxford online dictionary. It's so popular in everyday language, Oxford singled out the noun as its word of the year.

Narcissistic? No way!

And like every new social phenomenon, this too has its critics. It's been called "shallow," "narcissistic" even the "demise of humankind."   

Psychotherapist Will Miller and Purdue Professor Glenn Sparks have co-authored a book about relationships in our digital, plugged-in world.

"This is myself the essential me," said Miller laughing.  "I have never done this before...I have never self-shot—I am extremely uncomfortable," he said sarcastically. 

"Maybe one thing that's going on here is, I can get my face out there, I can show people how I feel," explained Professor Sparks.

In a way never possible before.

"Maybe in some way, this selfie phenomenon is altering the way we view ourselves.  Because we didn't get to look at ourselves in that way that we now can with these pictures," said Professor Sparks.   

"What we're going to conclude," continued Miller, "I have no idea! I think our conclusion is, you like selfies...have at it!"

"It can have legitimate purposes. Different ones for different reasons," said Leslie Lewis of Indianapolis. 

The 29-year-old goes by #lessyloo and has launched a fashion consulting business on Instagram.  Her daily pictures have generated clients willing to pay to have her help them shop for clothes. 

"You couldn't reach this audience. How else would you reach them? And you can do it for free," said Lewis. 

But so many people just want to be seen: In the bathroom, the bedroom, the mirror, outside, inside, the workout, the group, driving. Funny face, sad face and of course, the oh-so-popular duck face. 

For Josh Malcek, it's become about his shrinking face. 

"I thought, if I'm losing weight, people have to see it," he explained. 

He's chronicling his weight loss journey - 80 pounds so far.

"It's more about here I am, I'm losing the weight, you can too. Let me show you how." 

So he's using selfies as a vehicle. "Now I am. Before I was just vapid."

A picture has always been worth a thousand words. But this year, it seems only one word matters. Like it or hate it, meaningful or not, for now, the digital self-portrait is king.    

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