Our obsession with equating images of ourselves and our sense of worth is rooted in the past.

Have you uploaded an imageon Facebook recently? Or Instagram? And, if so, was ita totally spontaneous,unfiltered shot? Alarmingly, we Britsare going to ever greater lengths toproduce the perfect snapshot of ourlives. New research shows a shocking 50per cent of 18- to 25-year-olds* even havea ‘selfie stage’ in their home, a dedicatedspace for capturing ‘like’-worthy imageswith a subtext that says, ‘this is me beingamazing in everyday life’. Only it isn’teveryday life – it’s a carefully constructedarena which, the respondents of the studyconfess, has been chosen because it has‘great lighting’, ‘flattering backgroundcolours’ and an air of ‘general tidiness’.Sixty-four per cent of them will even keepthe area clean for the sole purpose ofenhancing their images.


Whether it’s our latest culinary efforts, a setof finely honed abs or a group shot with acool bunch of friends, our sense of self inthe 21st century has become closely linkedto our presence on social media – howmany friends we have, the number of likeswe get and who posts a ‘personal’message when we’ve had a difficultexperience or succeeded in our latestfitness challenge. But, of course, it wasn’talways that way.

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Our sense of identity hasits roots in a much older past, as acclaimed journalist Will Storr uncovers in his newbook Selfie (Picador, £18.99), which tracesthe concept of self from pre-history to thedigital age, and it’s well worth a read.What we often fail to realise, says Storr,is that the things we believe are acombination of stories, superstitions andphilosophies. Our interest in reputation –which, in part, fuels the selfie phenomonen– is rooted in our tribal past, for example,where the fluidity of hierarchical issuessuch as status was crucial. Meanwhile, thenotion that physical appearance and moralworth are directly linked comes from theAncient Greeks, he explains. They evenhad a word for it: kalokagathia from kalosmeaning ‘beautiful’, kai meaning ‘and’, andagathos meaning ‘good’. And if you thinkthis is just semantics, consider how theconstruct is still reinforced in popularculture more than 2,000 years later. Howoften is the heroine of a novel or moviedepicted as being physically ‘ugly’?


Of course, there’s nothing intrinsicallywrong with sharing your life online, itonly becomes an issue when youlose touch with your deeper connectionto yourself, placing more value to theway others perceive you. It’s evenpossible to confuse the two. It’s known ascognitive fusion in psychological circles:when you take on someone else’s point ofview as fact. Now that’s venturing intodangerous territory.While we all aspire to be the best versionof ourselves, instead of seeking externalvalidation for our worth, looking inside andgetting to intimately know and value ourtrue self can be deeply beneficial. Ratherthan investing in how we are seen, perhapsit’s time to ask ourselves what we reallybelieve and practise living it. What reallymatters to you? What do you deeply valueor want to experience today, this month,this year?Perhaps we’d do well to heed theadvice given to young Little by father-figureJuan in the Oscar-winning movieMoonlight: ‘There comes a time in your lifewhen you have to decide for yourself whoyou are going to be. Can’t let nobodymake that decision for you.’


Each issue, we bring you the best advice from the self-help classics

This month we look at Mindfulnessfor Beginners by Jon Kabbat-Zinn(Sounds True, $14.99)

In a nutshell: If you want tochange your life, this book mightactually help you do it. Not byaltering anything about yourself,but by giving you the toolsto be fully present in themoment – which, in turn,enables you to make moreapppropriate decisions.

A nugget: ‘Anything and everything can become our teacher – the gentle caress of air on our skin, the play of light, a fleeting thought in the mind – if it is met with awareness.’

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