Synopsis: We live in the age of the individual.
We are supposed to be slim, prosperous, happy, extroverted and popular. This is our culture's image of the perfect self. We see this person everywhere: in advertising, in the press, all over social media. We're told that to be this person we just have to follow our dreams, that our potential is limitless, that we are the source of our own success.
But this model of the perfect self can be extremely dangerous. People are suffering under the torture of this impossible fantasy. Unprecedented social pressure is leading to increases in depression and suicide. Where does this ideal come from? Why is it so powerful? Is there any way to break its spell?
To answer these questions, Selfie takes us from the shores of Ancient Greece, through the Christian Middle Ages, to the self-esteem evangelists of 1980s California, the rise of narcissism and the selfie generation, and right up to the era of hyper-individualistic neoliberalism in which we live now.
It tells the extraordinary story of the person we all know so intimately - our self.
As I wrote the synopsis of this book above, it happened to be the first time I read it. I went into this book blind, the only thing that caught my attention at the time of buying it was the title Selfie: How we became to self-obsessed and what it's doing to us. It sounded like the perfect book for me to use as research in my upcoming project. What I didn't know is the journey that I was about to be taken on and how once I'd finished reading it, the book was actually going to affect me. It made me think about myself and why I am the way I am - as in the things about myself that I find so frustrating and wish I could get rid of so that I can actually become happy with what I have in my life, rather than be on a lifelong chase for some sort of destined purpose that I feel I have to uncover.
Selfie begins with Book Zero: The Dying Self. Storr starts off with discussing the suicide rates bought on when an individual feels like a failure. Suicide. There's something I could relate to right away (well, attempted) and it was probably the reason why I got hooked on this book. I was able to learn right away that the reasons why self-harm rates are on the rise is because of this perfectionist self that we feel we have to aim for within our lives, just because this is what we see around us all the time. It's what we're told to be like. There's no escape from it because we're glued to our phones all the time. But who told us this is the self we should aim for? Storr takes us on a journey to find out. He dives into the many historical selves that have existed before us, including tribal, comparing our behaviours to chimpanzees, Christianity, Ancient Greece and the ideals of their culture that still live on with us today, and many many more events that have taken place in between then, up until the digital self that we're living in today.
I liked that throughout the book you'll follow Storr on his own personal journey, plus there are interviews with various individuals, psychologists, research into political figures, science, mental health, self-esteem and many other areas that I would normally have no interest in learning more about. Storr's writing style also made it easy for me to read and take in all of the information, although I did read at a very slow pace (almost a month!) Selfie has left me wanting to learn more about historical events and cultures that have been touched upon - starting with Ancient Greece.
One of the best things that I stumbled across in this book wasn't The Digital Self chapter as I had expected, it was learning the fact that the self is a 'story' but in actual fact our story is a lie. That story is told to us by the voice inside our heads, making some sort of sense out of every good/bad experience that we're going through. It's called the 'left-brain interpreter' - there's another term that I need to research more into! A question I'd been researching already, whether an authentic self actually exists, was also answered in this book, but the one question that I've been wanting to explore myself, "will I ever truly be happy?", is something that I'm yet to find out as I continue to try and live my own story.
By the end of the book, if I'm completely honest with you, I felt very sad about my existence. I've realised even more that I shouldn't push everyone away, or compare my life to that of others I see shared on social media. But I know that soon I'll go back to doing just that, and the only way I can stop it is by taking myself off social media altogether - but that's hardly going to happen any time soon.
If you've read this post up until now you can see there's so much to take in. I could really sit here and write on and on about the various things I've learnt with Selfie but I can't exactly do that! So why not Tweet me or leave a comment below if you want to discuss it?
If you're on the lookout for a non-fiction book that's going to give you an insight into how and why we have become so obsessed with the perfect self, then I highly recommend this book! I bought my copy from Waterstones.