Warning: this article features examples of extreme pretension and self-promotion. Readers of a weak disposition may wish to consult their GP before continuing.
We know by now that selfies have been around for longer than we have. There’s Robert Cornelius’ first effort back in 1839, the Edwardian lady with her Kodak Brownie and at least a few in the family album to prove our parents also had both cameras and arms years before Kim K used the two together.
But what you might have forgotten is that selfies were kindling a fire of narcissism on social media in a pre-Instagram, pre-Kardashian age. Before Facebook, even. And you know what? They were worse.
I’m talking, of course, about Myspace. Journey back a decade and you’d have found far more stomach-troubling displays of pouty self indulgence than the average 2014 newsfeed – and at least half of them were mine.
In the heady days of 2005, I was 17 and Myspace was the most visited social network in the world. White t-shirted Tom still ruled the internet, hashtags didn’t exist and customisation was king, as every teen with too much time on their hands learned html so we could put jazzy backgrounds on our profiles.
Selfies back then didn’t need tenuous excuses (‘new hair!’ ‘sleepy’ ‘er, there’s a cool thing behind me’), or to be snuck into your holiday snaps between benign photos of tapas and views. They were loud and proud, unashamed projects in vanity and kooky angles; usually the result of a solid hour’s bedroom shooting with a break in the middle to rest our tired arms.
There were selfies from above, selfies from below, selfies with a hat on, selfies with a teacup, even once with a packet of smoked salmon (I’m not joking, it was captioned ‘salmonchanted evening’). The rule was: anything goes, provided you never looked at the camera. I did so many coy sideways looks that I almost gave myself eye strain during my AS levels.
Both their redeeming feature and their most damning trait was creativity. In an unfiltered world with only primitive editing tools, we had to be resourceful to make ourselves look ravishing. This meant: MS Paint, mainly. I liked to turn up the contrast on every selfie until I was basically just eyes and a mouth, floating in blankness like Lady Cassandra, the talking skin graft off Doctor Who.
Sometimes I’d add text, like song lyrics or poetry – because what good was looking coquettish in a beret if people didn’t also know I was, like, really into Kings of Leon? Then I’d add a few wobbly stars or flowers just to complete the effect, sit back and wait for the friend requests to roll in.
We’d get DIY with handicrafts, too. Among my favourites were a photo I had printed out, cut around, mounted on a background made from floral cupcake cases, embellished with sequins and scanned back in again. The day I found my Dad’s old Dymo labelwriter in the loft, it was like all my hipster Christmases had come at once. I immediately set about creating ‘pieces’ like the one below, a photo of a photo with buttons stuck on it.
Like all the best youth crazes though, it didn’t last long. Within two years I was at uni, Facebook had come along and turned everything blue and white, and my labelwriter had run out of tape. Artfully edited avatars were frowned upon and replaced with grainy cameraphone pics taken in the loos at Oceana. It was sad, sort of.
Now, of course, Myspace has been fully reincarnated as a music platform and souped-up selfies are the order of the day again. Whether we’ll see a revival of the amateur Andy Warhol trend, only time will tell – but if anyone fancies it, let me know and I’ll get my buttons out.