Given the huge number of us who have Instagram profiles flooded with selfies and carefully constructed shots of us looking amazing on holiday, the “are we really vainer than past generations were?” seems a fair one to ask. It’s not as if our parents regularly took multiple photos of themselves each day and then showed them off to their friends and acquaintances.
It might seem as if the answer is that we’re clearly more-vain than previous generations, but it’s not that simple. It may well just be that the means to promote ourselves is just more accessible now.
Going back a few hundred years, before cameras were even invented, let alone ones small enough to fit in your pocket, the wealthy nobles and royals used to commission portraits of themselves. There were many portraits commissioned by the likes of Henry VIII, and the number of statues of herself which Queen Victoria saw made and erected during her lifetime is over fifty!
As well as showing off their handsome good looks, portraits and statues of themselves showed off their abundance of wealth and could also depict their perfect lifestyle. The main reason more of us have pictures of ourselves now and take them regularly, is because it’s so much easier and cheaper to it do it now. Back in the 50s, buying and developing a roll of film was incredibly costly, and not something to be done on a regular basis. Besides, taking a selfie on a camera back then was much harder!
As for why so many of us use filters to improve or to change our appearances in photos, well, they used to do that in previous times too! Artists would be asked to tweak things to make the paying subject look grander, or more attractive than they really were. The whole thing with Anne of Cleaves arriving to marry Henry VIII and being rejected because she didn’t look like her picture? Still a thing! Only with Photoshop and filters rather than oil paints.
Now taking images of ourselves is just easier to do, so more of us do it, and some of us on what seems like an hourly basis. Does it mean we should? Maybe not as much as we do, but wanting to have images of ourselves is certainly not a modern phenomenon!