Using Selfies to Cultivate Self-Discovery and Self-Love

Believe it or not, selfies can be a tool we use to cultivate self-discovery and self-love.

I didn’t always realize this. I used to not like selfies at all because I thought they were pretty egocentric. Also, I usually hated the way I looked in pictures in general. Selfies seemed like just one more way to cause myself photographic suffering.

Let the Selfie Games Begin

And then one day in grad school, I was really stressed out after writing and grading papers all day, and I started taking taking selfies as a form of stress relief. I was surprised at what I saw in my selfies.

My selfies revealed to me different aspects of my face I had never noticed before when looking in a mirror or looking at myself in pictures taken by other people. (Note: Of course the rest of this post has selfies of me–both bad ones and good ones–but at the end, I want to talk about selfies of you, too.)

Screenshot_2020-05-02 Love is Stronger ( shelly p johnson) • Instagram photos and videos

This is a selfie I took in my car before the pandemic when I was waiting to go to hula hoop class. I think it has a vintage feel to it, and I liked it for that reason. It has a filter on it, which I will talk about shortly.

I started taking selfies in different settings and lighting, and I discovered that selfies could function like a type of grown up play-acting or dress-up. Sometimes when I take selfies, I wear specific clothes and use different props or backgrounds to create a mood.

Selfie #10 (2)

Selfie #3 (2)

These are two selfies I took the other day when I was stressed out after grading a lot papers. I took these selfies in a corner of my home office and was trying to create a vintage professor look. I was really surprised at how they turned out. Both of these photos have filters on them. 

What Selfies Show Me

I see expressions on my face that I didn’t realize I could make, and I realize that I am capable of expressing a wide range of different moods. I can look silly, sophisticated, confident, coy, daring, and dynamic.

Sometimes when I look at my selfies, I feel like I am meeting myself–or certain aspects of myself–for the first time.

Some people view selfies primarily as an exercise in egocentricity. And I understand why people think that. For me, however, selfies have become a photo journal that help me explore my personality and appearance.

I love taking pictures, and I take them of everything–my food, the walks I go on, my cat, my husband, cemeteries, the sky, flowers. I am just one of the many subjects I take pictures of.

Taking pictures of the world is one of the ways I become better friends with the world, and taking pictures of myself is one way I become better friends with myself.

Backyard Selfie (3)

This is a selfie I took in my back yard the other day. It also has a filter on it.

Becoming Friends with Ourselves

I think this kind of activity is essential. We are often taught very well as young children to be friends with others. And this is so important. Unfortunately, we are often not taught very well to be friends with our self. But this is also equally important.

Every human being carries a unique goodness that is a combination of their personality, their body, their lived experience, and their perspective on the world. We have our own unique goodness, just like everyone else. When we learn to be our own friend and to treat ourselves with kindness, compassion, and respect, we give ourselves the confidence to express our unique goodness in the world.

There are many different ways to become better friends with our self and to understand our own unique goodness. For me, selfies–I like to think of it as Selfie Games–are one such tool.

Selfies have not only helped me become better friends with myself–they have helped me in another way, too.

Feeling Peaceful in My Skin

When I was younger, I suffered symptoms of body body dysmorphia which also caused me to develop symptoms of orthorexia–an obsessive-compulsive disorder focused on healthy and clean eating.

There were many causes of this (including some painful bullying experiences in my youth). But one of the causes was that growing up, I compared images of myself in my worst moments to perfectly manicured pictures of movie stars in the media.

At the time, I didn’t understand how curated those pictures were or how much lighting, angle, and background can affect how someone looks in a picture.

When I started playing with selfies, I better understood how to take a good picture. I began taking selfies I really loved, and it helped me recognize my own unique beauty. And you have your own unique beauty, too.

Selfies helped me feel peaceful in my own skin.

Manipulated Media Images

I also realized that media images were highly manipulated and that they were not to be compared with my worst moments or my non-staged moments. In this way, selfies helped break the bad magical spell the media had cast on me.

You probably know this spell. It’s the one that says, “Look at all these beautiful people in the media. You will never look like them, and you will never be worthy of love, unless you buy all the products we tell you to buy and spend your every waking moment worried about your appearance. And even then, you probably will never be worthy.”

Selfies helped me realize that no one–not even movie stars and models–look the way they do in pictures 24/7. And increasingly as media images are more and more digitized, almost no one looks in real life like they do in pictures.

Selfies are a Process

Media pictures are a highly-orchestrated process. To illustrate this, I wanted to describe my selfie-taking process.

To get several selfies I like, I often take as many as thirty selfies at one time, and I check my pictures several times throughout the process to make sure the lighting and angles are right.

And then I go on my computer and crop the photos I like; adjust the lighting and clarity (and sometimes touch-up weird spots); and sometimes add a filter. My favorite Instagram filter is Clarendon. I also use a photo editing program that comes with the Microsoft Office programs, and my favorite filters on that are Icarus and Napa. The first three pictures in this post are filtered with Icarus, and the fourth is filtered with Napa.

An Example of Recent Selfie Games

The other day, I was stressed from grading too many papers again, and I decided to play Selfie Games again. (This is a recurring sequence of events in my life.)

I thought that for this post I would include a bunch of selfies that didn’t make the cut in my last Selfie Games. They get increasingly silly and pretty bad as they go on. I took all these selfies behind the shed in my back yard because the lighting is best there at this time of day.

Our compost bins are also behind the shed, and in some of the later pics, you can see them. Also, none of these pictures have a filter on them. You will notice arrows on some of them because I posted them on my Instagram page in a post related to this blog post.

Behind the Shed #3


It took me about twenty pictures to get some selfies I liked. Here is one of them.

Behind my shed (3)

Wood Nymph or Compost Queen?

I look like a wood nymph in this picture, but I am really standing on a pile of rocks behind my shed with rotting compost. This picture also has a  Napa filter, and you will notice that this makes the lighting in it quite different from my pictures above, even though they were all taken in the same location. In the original picture, there was also a tree branch behind my head that looked weird, so I edited it out completely.

Here is the original picture:

Behind my shed

Update: Here’s Another Recent Photo I took in a Selfie Game. My silver hair is much more grown out, and I like the sunshiny look my yellow shirt gives me:

You, Me, and Selfies

Selfie Games are just one tool people can use to become better friends with themselves. I have used other tools as well like journaling, playful movement, affirmations, visualization, and breathing.

And no one needs to feel pressured to take selfies. They aren’t for everyone. Selfie Games the way I play them take a lot of time. It’s a form of artistic express like painting or writing or playing an instrument–it requires some practice and polishing.

In case you want to play your own Selfie Games, here are some tips I have used to help me use selfies a tool of self-exploration and self-friendship:

One: Practice

Taking photos, including selfies, is an art form, and it takes a while to develop skill at it. Don’t worry if you don’t like your selfies very much at first. I didn’t like mine very much either at first. Over time, I have developed a selfie style I feel good about, and it is still developing. Give yourself time.

Two: Simplicity

The most important thing you can do to get a good selfie is to avoid cluttered backgrounds. Don’t take selfies in a cluttered areas of your house or outside in a spot in which there is a lot of “stuff”–whether natural or man-made stuff–in the background. Find a simple, uncluttered spot, such as in an uncluttered corner inside or in front of a tree outside.

Update. This is a recent picture. I like taking selfies in front of brick walls because they are simple and clean.

Three: Light

One of the other most important things you can do to get a good selfie is to take a picture in good light. Dull lighting makes for dull pictures. You are going to have to experiment to find what lighting works well for you.

For example, I take a lot selfies in somewhat shady areas. The lighting is clear and crisp, and it is not shining in my eyes, so I don’t squint. I take a lot of selfies by or under trees for this reason.

I also take a lot of inside pictures near windows. The natural lighting provides just enough sparkle to give my selfies clarity. This can be tricky, however, because too much window light will wash your pictures out. Just the right amount makes them sparkle.

Some people also take really good selfies in cars for this very same reason–just enough lighting but not too much. I usually don’t like car selfies (although my first selfie in this post was a car selfie), but you might love them.

Four: Posture and Position

The angle at which you take your selfies definitely matters. You may not know it, but you have an angle of your face and a posture in which you feel most (or more) comfortable. For example, I like taking selfies while holding my phone camera a little to the right and up at a slight angle.

Update: Here’s one like that with my silver hair grown out.

I feel most natural in this pose, and I don’t feel all scrunched up. Many people prefer taking their picture at a slight angle-up for this reason. If you take a selfie looking down at your camera (for example, holding it down in front of you), you will likely feel scrunched up as you are taking your picture, and your selfies will look scrunched.

It’s okay if you don’t know what angle or posture you feel most comfortable in. If you keep playing around with selfies, you will figure it out.  The best way to do this is to take a lot of selfies from different angles; notice the pictures you like best; and practice taking selfies from those postures and angles again.

Five: Makeup and Special Effects

I find that the makeup and clothes I wear in a selfie and the filters I use often add sparkle to my picture. This isn’t surprising. If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I like to paint a lot. I find that the paints and brushes and brush strokes I use (as well as the quality of water) really make a difference in the quality of picture I paint.

Since selfies are an art form, it makes sense that the makeup, clothes, and filters we use in our selfies (combine with the other factors I have mentioned above) make a lot of difference in our final selfie product.

I am, by no means, an expert in makeup and clothes. I still don’t know how to use makeup very well, and I am still developing my clothing style. I am also not a photo-effects expert.

But here are some tips that I think anyone can use to their advantage.

Wear clothes and colors that make you feel happy, joyful, confidence, bright, energetic–or that make you feel the way you want to feel. (If you don’t have a lot of money–and I get this because I was a grad student for years–check out local thrift and consignment stores regularly. You can find awesome clothes for cheap prices there. I still shop all the time at thrift and consignment stores)

Applying some eyeliner, mascara, and a color of lipstick you like can add a lot of sparkle to your pictures. You don’t have to put on a lot–just a little to highlight different facial features.

Both Instagram and Microsoft Word Office Suite have some really cool photo editing features. (I am sure Mac does, too.). Find these photo editing programs or a free online editing app and start experimenting with it. They are pretty easy to figure out.

Six: Play

You know how you used to dress up as a little kid, and you didn’t really worry about what other people thought of your costume because, after all, you were a kick-ass princess or pirate or ghost or witch or monster?

That’s the attitude you need to take with your selfies. You may eventually decide to share your selfies with friends or online–that is up to you. But your selfies are, first and foremost, a dress-up game for you to express yourself, explore your inner and outer world, and become better friends with yourself. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about that.

So please let yourself play.


I am on a mission to help people become better friends with themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin. Selfie Games are just one tool to help people (including me) do this.

If all the above sounds very stressful to you, don’t worry. Selfie Games may not be your game, and that is okay.

But if Selfie Games do sound fun to you, and you would like to play them, I am so excited for you and all you will discover about yourself.

By the way, here’s a recent picture of me and my silver hair process. You can read more about the process here: The One-Year Anniversary of My Silver Hair Adventure


If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on social media.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this post:

What Selfies Taught Me about Self-Love


22 thoughts on “Using Selfies to Cultivate Self-Discovery and Self-Love”

  1. I love this post!! That’s it: have fun with it and get to know yourself better It is like a dress up fun game. I’ve been weary of taking selfies. I don’t like what I see and I get so hard on myself. It’s silly and self-defeating. Must not compare with what you see on media or on instagram.
    Thanks…your post was uplifting! Your selfies are vibrant and beautiful. Love the fun ones at the end.

    1. I totally understand this, Friend. I didn’t like my selfies at first either. We don’t ever have to look like media pictures. But we can play around and experiment and find our own style we like. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  2. You have such a creative outlook. I had never thought about selfies as being a way to make friends with yourself.
    I have been video-conferencing a lot with work. Sometimes more than half my day. I have noticed that sometimes I am distracted by my own face! I can look 83 years old, or I can look better than I thought; both are distracting! I often choose to minimise the video, or consciously focus on the speaker. I wonder if I can make friends with myself through video-conferencing? Often the lighting is the most significant difference; I often choose to sit by a window so I can look away from my laptop screen onto the garden, but as a consequence I look like a ghost. Maybe I will embrace this character!

    1. Thank you so much, Ali! I totally know what you mean about Zoom conferencing. I get distracted by how I look, too. I have been playing around with how to get a good Zoom video look over the years, and I am slowly figuring it out. I think these things are important–feeling good about our pictures and videos–just like it’s important we feel good about our clothing style and house decorations. It seems especially important with pictures and videos because, given that we live in a media-saturated world–perfect media images can make us feel like there is something wrong with us. But there’s not. It’s just a matter of lighting and angle and a few other tricks.

  3. Intriguing! I’d never though about selfies like this before. My mobile is extremely basic and wouldn’t be much use for selfies but I did a lot of portrait photography at college. This showed me how different a person could look, especially with different kinds of lighting and backgrounds. It could be a useful tool for re-inventing yourself! 🙂

  4. Awwww, very lovely selfies! I have kind of a love/hate relationship with them for myself, but I do find they are very practical and fun during our many travels.

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