I Feel Pretty Oh So Pretty...or is it something else?
May 17, 2012 10:22 AM   Subscribe

How concerned should I be about my teenage daughter's obsession with taking pictures of herself?

My 15 year old daughter is constantly taking pictures of herself. Any chance she gets, she grabs my cell phone (because hers doesn't take pictures) and takes dozens of shots. For instance, if she's in the car waiting for me while I run in to pick up my son from daycare and I've left my phone in the car, I can be assured that when I get home and look at my phone, there will be at least 10 pics of herself that she just took. And she does this all the time. She also will take them with her digital camera and then sit at the computer and edit them and stuff for what seems like forever. She doesn't make any stupid duck faces or stupid poses or anything like that...they're always just nice headshots with a nice smile. She's a very pretty girl, but of course like most girls her age, she nitpicks about herself and complains that she doesn't like her nose and this and that. When I look at all these pics she takes I seriously start to wonder if she has some sort of problem and if I should be getting her help. I've joked with her that I'm going to submit her to that show "my strange addiction" for being addicted to taking pics of herself. She tells me she just wants to have plenty of backups for her Facebook profile. I tell her that's ridiculous and to stop, but she does this just about every single day! Anyway, I'm just wondering how concerned I should be if at all. Is this just normal teenage girl behavior? And how can I get her to stop??!!
posted by daydreamer to Human Relations (61 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see the problem. It sounds like you're making a big deal out of nothing.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:28 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is some weird shit. Can you bluntly introduce her to the tale of narcissus
posted by MangyCarface at 10:28 AM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Maybe it's of concern. Or maybe, like most adolescent girls, she's going through a period of extreme self-evaluation, and this is a way to work through it that makes her comfortable. Before digital photos, a lot of people that age spent EONS in the bathroom mirror (probably still do), this is no different except she gets the opportunity to retouch the image and virtually remove any blemishes rather than simply poking at them and feeling dissatisfied.

If she starts to show symptoms of an eating disorder or anxiety problems or somesuch, maybe there's a problem, but otherwise I'd think this is pretty normal for people of her generation. But do make it clear that if she has a problem, she can talk to you...and if you have a good relationship, she will.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:31 AM on May 17, 2012 [26 favorites]

As far as I can tell from the Facebook pages of cousins & other young folks who grew up with digital cameras, this is entirely normal.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:31 AM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

At first, I thought "eh, typical teenager behavior utilizing modern technology." But, then you said "plenty of backups for her Facebook profile." I think something might be a little off. I think you are spot on to be concerned regarding the very beginning stages of something--what it is, I do not know.

You could start by having her examine superficiality vs. reality? What are her greatest influences right now? How completely-unrealistic-but-sold-as-realistic influences does she have?
posted by TinWhistle at 10:33 AM on May 17, 2012

I have nieces aged from 14 to 16, and every time I log onto Facebook it seems like not only they but all of their friends have posted three or photos of themselves. Sometimes with captions "This is me looking sad" or "Should I wear my hair this way, what do U think?" (and honestly, their hair doesn't look any different to me than in the other photos), stuff like that. I think it's just a phase girls that age go through.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:33 AM on May 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Speaking as a former teenage girl... totally, utterly, completely normal. She'll grow out of it. We didn't have digital cameras or Photoshop when I was a teenager, so I spent hours staring in the bathroom mirror doing basically the same thing. Pretty sure most of my female friends did, too.

Hell, I'm 34, and I *still* sometimes stare at my collection of Facebook profile pictures thinking things like "hmm, yep, still don't like my nose" or "okay, when I have my head tilted that way it makes my jawline look weird" or I try to figure out what I like about certain pictures so I can pose that way again in formal pictures.
posted by erst at 10:34 AM on May 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

The photos would not be a problem if there is an underpinning of other elements that make up her life and self esteem. For example, if she plays soccer, makes art, reads, loves talking to her friends, has hopes and dreams for the future that do not revolve around her internet image and how many likes her facebook profile picture get, then this is just what kids do these days when they are bored. Maybe get her a cheap digital camera and encourage her to take photos of everything!

If instead, her self image is made up of kind of a meta-collage of internet and self referential facebook and text communication and what her pinterest board says, then you might have a problem. This might be a good time to actively parent her and explain that healthy internet representation is like an iceberg, with the bulk of a person below the surface existing in real life, and not a pretty oil slick on a puddle. Then help her find some real life outlets to gain self esteem.
posted by cakebatter at 10:34 AM on May 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

Why are you teasing her about this and telling her it's ridiculous? That sort of snarky response won't help anything, and you're giving her a reason to be insecure about her insecurities.

Buy her a camera for her birthday, and stop paying so much attention to it if you don't have anything nice to say about it. This is either an ignore-it or a have a little talk about how you hated your own nose or whatever at 15 but now [reassuring sharing of feelings] and anyway you're there if she wants to vent, and then drop it.
posted by kmennie at 10:35 AM on May 17, 2012 [34 favorites]

IDK, when I was 13 or 14 my favorite thing to do after school was to sit in front of my dresser, put on makeup and stare at myself for hours. Why? I don't know. I didn't wear a lot of makeup and didn't think I was pretty, but damn if I wasn't making up stories in my head. It was like playing dolls, only with my face.

I think I turned out fairly well-adjusted. It's probably a phase, but keep a close eye out for obsession with looking perfect, skinny or whining for a nose job.

On preview, also perhaps encourage photography and / or design as hobbies.
posted by mibo at 10:36 AM on May 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

My cousin is 15 and if her facebook and instagram pictures are anything to go by, she and her friends take a LOT of pictures of themselves.

I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by sutel at 10:36 AM on May 17, 2012

Does it disturb her? Does it seem compulsive, ie she becomes uncomfortable if she can't? Does she have time for her other activities and do this only when she's bored/at a loose end? Does she seem unusually unhappy with her appearance? Does she have reasonably happy friendships? Does she get her schoolwork/hobbies/chores/paid work done? Has she stopped doing a lot of other things in order to take pictures?

If it's not making waves in the rest of her life, well, everyone goes through compulsive phases as teens.
posted by Frowner at 10:36 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sounds like normal teenage kid in the digital age stuff to me. She'll grow out of it.

Hell, I'm well out of teenager-dom and I still have fun playing with PhotoBooth on my Mac. It's not negatively impacting my life - I'm not skipping work to take photos of myself with PhotoBooth, or ignoring my SO in favor of self-portraits, or forgetting to eat or anything. Is this behavior so distracting that it's impeding her ability to function? Doesn't sound like it. Don't pathologize this. That's going to make her feel worse about herself when she's already going through a (very normal for her age) insecurity phase.

If anything, maybe just tell her to stop using your phone to take pics, since it's kind of irritating and takes up memory or whatever. But let the rest of it go.
posted by thereemix at 10:38 AM on May 17, 2012

Sounds pretty normal to me, maybe a bit excessive but not that much. My teenage nieces take tons of pictures of themselves that they post on Facebook. So did my daughter... I found a particularly amusing set where she was trying out different poses, including some down the cleavage and up the nose shots. Hilarious (and also some of my favorite shots of her.)

My other teenage nieces preened and posed the entire time we had the family on Skype. Teenage girls are vain and insecure, it's just the nature of the beast.

But, then you said "plenty of backups for her Facebook profile." I think something might be a little off.

Eh, typical teenage lame excuse. What's she going to say... "I'm vain and insecure like every other girl my age?"

In the absense of other signs of trouble, I don't think this is worrisome.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't personally be concerned at all, except to the extent that she might be annoying you by commandeering your phone at inopportune times (which you of course don't have to let her do). Most teenagers I know do this sort of thing all the time, and pretty much all teenagers have some insecurity about their appearance.

And ancedatally, I'm 33 now but when I got my first digital camera (in my 20s) you can bet I took a bajillion pictures of myself, just because I *could* (and didn't need to worry about "wasting film"). Not because I was narcissistic or because I had any sort of pathological self-image problem in the other direction, but because of the novelty of being able to do so. Until that point, most of the pictures I had of myself were ones my parents had taken, and the majority of the ones taken after the cute-kid years were...exceedingly unflattering. There's a kind of power in being able to take pictures of onesself on one's own terms, rather than having one's photo-representation to the outside world being the product of a parental gaze, so to speak. So unless she's angsting in front of the mirror all day in addition to the self-portrait thing I wouldn't be inclined to worry. Kids today, they do this sort of thing, and it's largely just a product of the technology they have available to them.
posted by aecorwin at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would not worry about this at all.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:40 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like the profile pictures of my teeange cousins change every day, sometimes multiple times per day. So yes, I think this behavior is probably normal.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:41 AM on May 17, 2012

This is 100% normal. I'd bet that virtually any teenage girl who doesn't demonstrate this behavior is just hiding it (I know I did).
posted by telegraph at 10:43 AM on May 17, 2012

I don't think it's weird. In some way, it's useful to figure out how others perceive you since you can't watch yourself while having the interaction. I never learned to smile correctly and exude warmth until my late 20s (I was taught that looking at yourself is vain) and being aware of myself has been helpful.

So long as she's not taking naked pictures to send to people, it's fine. She's probably just figuring out how she looks to other people and how she wants to look.
posted by discopolo at 10:45 AM on May 17, 2012

Is this just normal teenage girl behavior?

There is a Starbucks next to my office. Sometimes, for a change of pace I bring my laptop or a notebook over there and work there for a few hours instead of at my desk. This Starbucks also happens to be in an area where there are a number of high schools. Since Starbucks is essentially the modern incarnation of an old-time drugstore soda fountain, when school's in session, loads and loads of teenage girls go there when school lets out and they order those pink or yellow milkshake things that Starbucks makes. You'd think where there's teenage girls, teenage boys would follow, but no, around 4pm, it's just hundreds of high school girls (there's also a large patio) with their milkshakes.

What these girls do once they get their milkshakes is take out their phones, take pictures of each other, and pass the phones around so they can all look at the pictures. They will do this 20 times in a row. The same two girls will press their heads together and take a phone cam pic, over and over again. Then they look at the photo, laugh, show it to somebody else in their group. I'm assuming they're uploading the pics to instagram or facebook the whole time as well, but I can't say I'm privy to that level of detail. I have literally seen hundreds of teenage girls do this.

To me, this behavior is fascinating and insane, but as far as I can tell it is absolutely normal teenage girl behavior.
posted by jeb at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2012 [31 favorites]

Also, she's pretty and a part of her, despite her judgment of her specific feature, knows it. I always suspected I was pretty but never ended up doing much with it (I regret this) until recently. You know, because everyone implies that spending too much time on your appearance is wrong and vain and bad, etc.
posted by discopolo at 10:50 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

wouldn't consider myself a expert but I'd contribute the following:

* i know plenty of girls that do the same, take LOADS of photos of themselves. I know someone who always fills up their camera with self photos - she used to keep 200-300 self photos on file, all updates on a rotating basis :P

* there's a rule in photography (I think the photo website Flickr computed this) that 1 out of 200 photos taken by a average person will be very good. A person who stands between the normal and pro levels will achieve an average of 1 out of 50. A pro photographer is someone who can do 49/50

* girls, especially young girls, and SUPER picky about photos. The slightest things can be a major problem :P now granted alot of that is because they are used to fashion magazines and other sources of perfect photos, but I have to admit this is a pretty common attitude by teens to early 20s girls. (and some guys too, thankfully not as many)

* the above attitude does result in better photos in use by that age group

I'm a hobbyist in photography, (you can see some here) have been printed in travel guides, and I will tell you right now girls in that age group are the most critical about their photos. They care about their looks, and like @Oriole Adams said, many times I can't see the difference in hairstyle or look that they are looking at.

I would say it's just a phase. They do grow out of it (well... mostly :P), and remember than unlike before when film cost money, today taking 400+ photos costs less than a penny. The whole imperative many of us have regarding what's "too much" is different for them - the digital world means they grew up with different ideas of what's normal than we have.

I'd also agree with @discopolo - she's figuring out how she looks to other people and how she wants to look. When you're young you worry so so much about this; I know girls that learned Photoshop (and photoshop is not exactly easy to use) just to try on different makeup styles and ideas on the computer.

Worry about crazy diets, worry about bullies, worry about social pressures and drama, but this is totally normal :)
posted by rmathew1 at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

That is super normal teenage girl behavior. Selfies (self-photographs) are default activities for teenage girls right now; maybe not ideal, but she doesn't seem abnormal at all. You could see if she's interested in taking real photography classes if you want to start diverting that energy towards something more interesting.

MangyCarface, teenagers don't need to be introduced to the tale of Narcissus; they're all living it at all times. It's kind of part of constructing your identity and separating from your parents.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did this when I was a teenager, except it was a mirror (and I had to walk uphill barefoot in the snow both ways to get to it). My friends with access to the photolab would do it with real cameras.

There is probably a lesson there about how to properly treat other people's things, but the reason she's giving lame answers is because she doesn't know why she does it, she just does it. You may or may not be ready to deal with the topic of why she should have her shirt on when she does it, but it's something you'll probably have to talk about eventually.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:58 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Ideally without the death part, but just being a teenager often does requires self-obsession to dangerous levels.)
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're old enough to have a fifteen year old then your relationship with photography was probably formed back when there was film, back before digital cameras were the norm, so some part of your brain is still thinking of pictures as a finite resource. If she's fifteen, she probably doesn't see it that way.

Which is to say: She's not taking ten pictures of herself. She's taking one picture of herself, and taking that picture ten times until it looks just how she wants and then she picks the one that looks best to her. She's then not deleting the others, so what you're seeing is ten self-portraits that to your eye look more or less identical. Hormones and the strange teenage social structure and the general awkwardness of the age mean she's weird about her appearance and is carefully cultivating an image that sets off the fewest possible of her insecurities.

And even when she's doing it on yours - that's the way of it. Give a teenage girl a camera and she'll take an arm's-length self-portrait with it. It's a weird age. She'll stop being so weird in time.

In other words, this is totally normal and not something you should worry about.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did this. I did sooo much of this. I'm a perfectly secure, healthy adult now.

Some tips:
1. Encourage her to share them sparingly. There is nothing weirder than a girl on Facebook with an entire gallery consisting of her face.
2. Find her some good photo editing documentation. This kind of skill can turn into a career (it did for me!)
3. Encourage her to make good backups and save everything. There's nothing cooler than being able to look at hi-res photos of myself from over ten years ago, even if they are slightly dorky!
posted by theraflu at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kids do seem to do this a lot in the age of ubiquitous digital photography. That said, I think it never hurts to encourage young people to remember that they're way more than just their appearances.

But your daughter seems to be acting just like a lot of her peers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:02 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Teenage girls like cats are weird. Don't worry she'll grow out of it.
posted by wwax at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm 26 and I do this all the time. It is my secret shame. I delete all the photos I take, because I have no interest in having 100 photos of myself hanging around, but still.

Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I make funny faces at myself. Sometimes I'm trying to see if the zit on my face is as visible as it feels. Sometimes I'm trying to see if I have any boogers. Sometimes I'm trying to see how far down I can tilt my face before I get a double chin. I could just use the front-facing camera on my phone, but it's not as high resolution as the one on the back, and knowing whether or not I have visible boogers is very important to me.

I don't wear makeup and have really short hair, so sometimes I even take pictures and mess around with them in photoshop or upload them to one of those try-on-this-hairstyle whatsits online to see what I'd look like blonde.


I'm generally very happy with how I look, have no intention of changing anything about myself, I just...I guess I'm a little narcissistic, and am more entertained by seeing pictures of my own mug than somebody else's. I got a digital camera (a hilariously sad one by today's standards) for my 13th birthday, and I took pictures of myself with that all the freaking time. I'm a mostly normal person with a mostly normal life, and I don't think there's anything tremendously weird about it. It's a little embarrassing admitting it, but that's the biggest problem I can see.

If doing this is wrong, I don't want to be right. Leave your daughter alone.
posted by phunniemee at 11:13 AM on May 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

Add me to the chorus of people saying it's normal. It's a phase I missed out, and I never learned the (seemingly) standard life skill of knowing how to pose for photos so I don't look like a freak.
posted by altolinguistic at 11:25 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

"hey those are prtetty good, take some of me too"

why not encourage it as a creative endeavour?
offer her a camera if she takes a photography course and promises never to post nudes on the internet.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:27 AM on May 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Why do you think it's so ridiculous and strange? It's a digital camera, the only thing it's hurting is the battery. If you also have suspicions about texting as a valid form of communication, then I'm afraid the generational gap is yawning!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2012

My brother spent the ages of 13 through 15 flexing his non-existent pecs in the bathroom mirror.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:30 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Chiming in as someone who feels like she will always have a little bit of teenage girl inside her. I do this all the time. Seriously, if you were to dig through my hard drive and find all the photos I've taken of myself in Photobooth on my laptop, you would be worried about me, too.

I'm fine. Except for the fact that I STILL don't have a stock headshot/profile photo I'm happy with.

Less facetiously: I wonder if your daughter would be interested in the work of the photographers Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman. Both are famous for self portraits, and both have major retrospectives in NYC art museums right now. You should at least be able to find a book of Cindy Sherman's work; Woodman might be a little harder to find but should be google-able.
posted by Sara C. at 11:37 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Totally normal. Stop teasing her, and get her her own camera.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2012

Francesca Woodman's body of work is mostly nudes, that may not be the best role model if she is going to be putting her self portraits on the internet. (Plus, the whole suicide thing).

Rineke Dijkstra would be great for photo portraits with some substance to them as well.
posted by cakebatter at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I'm a mom of daughters and we used to say, pre-digital, they never met a mirror they didn't like. So I'm thinking it's just the next wave of that.

OTOH. I'm less inclined to be "Nothing to even think twice about." I think you need to heed all the good "don't be snarky" advice but keep your eyes open for escalation to a different place of vulnerability, and a different question. If you start seeing shots of smaller tank tops, butts in shorts, sexyfaces, well, then you're gonna have to step in.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2012

I tend to think that when a teenager (or just about anybody) displays a single "idiosyncratic" behavior it is most important to look at the person as a whole before seeing it as a problem. Are there recent changes in school work, behavior/ sleep/eating/weight/relationships with friends, leisure time etc. Health OK, absenteeism, complaints of anxiety/depression/loneliness. You get the "picture"--if all is normal and as predictable as a teenager can be I would not be concerned about the photos. Problems usually do not have a single manifestation--good luck.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:51 AM on May 17, 2012

I really, really like 5_13_23_42_69_666's suggestion. Photography is a great hobby. Instead of teasing her about her narcissism, encouraging her to expand her horizons maybe?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:58 AM on May 17, 2012

I'm 26 and I take a gazillion pictures of myself using Photobooth on my Mac. I like having a record of how I look. I think it's pretty harmless unless there are other signs of a problem.
posted by peacheater at 11:58 AM on May 17, 2012

Wow, lots of answers in such a short amount of time, thanks! Some of these made me laugh, some made me mad (mostly at myself), and some really opened my eyes.

You wouldn't know I'm a woman by reading my question, but I am, and therefore I do remember as a teenager spending lots of time in front of the mirror. I never thought to equate that with the instantaneousness of a digital camera. And now that I think of it, if we had those when I was her age I probably would have been doing the exact same thing.

It's just that I really, really, don't want her to be vain or superficial and I want her to know and understand that real beauty is on the inside. And yes, I tell her these things as well as tell her how beautiful she is and that no, she would not look better with another nose...because your nose fits you perfectly. It seems to me that one can be a teenager without being superficial and having an "it's all about me" attitude. But I know, I know...it's a phase and it's normal.

I guess it doesn't help that I'm soooo the opposite so it's hard for me to relate. I do not like taking pictures of myself and I have a love/hate relationship with getting my picture taken because sometimes I look great but a lot of times I look awful. She, on the other hand, happens to be very photogenic.

She goes to an academically demanding high school and doesn't have a lot of time for hobbies, but she's seems to be a happy and secure person with lots of friends. That being said, I think I will work on encouraging photography as a hobby. She has expressed interest in that. She already has her own camera, but I need to remember to encourage her to take pictures with it when out and about.
posted by daydreamer at 11:59 AM on May 17, 2012

You know, I don't know if I totally agree with the "leave her alone!" stream of comments here.

Certainly I don't think this is something you should mock her for. But there is so much crushing pressure on women - especially very young women - to make Are They Acceptably Hot the primary life issue above all else, and I don't think this stuff is totally disconnected from that. I don't think it's wrong or anything, but I don't think it is a completely neutral activity, either.

Do you think you could use this as a way to start a conversation about how important prettiness is? I think those are probably pretty intense, maybe kind of uncomfortable conversations. But I think they are valuable for young women to have. I think thinking deeply about this stuff in a feminist context at least plants the seed that you are not your body, you are not how many people want to date you, you are not just how you look and how pretty you are or are not. But since there are a LOT of people who will insist that you are exactly your body and how hot you are, it's valuable to talk explicitly about whether or not she wants to buy into that paradigm completely.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:00 PM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm 34 now, almost 35. Digital cameras didn't exist when I was 15, but if they had, I would have been just as bad as your daughter. Probably worse, because even though I'm 34 and I should have grown out of this phase half a lifetime ago, I have an awesome DSLR and below average self-esteem. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I'll do it anyway: sometimes when I get bored I set up the camera and tripod and use a wireless remote to take pictures of myself. LOTS of them. I don't spend hours reviewing the pics, but I do look at them and Is it narcissistic? Maybe? Am I able to look at myself in the mirror now and actually like what I see? Yes. Do I still cringe and try to hide when someone whips out a camera in a social setting? Nope! And both of those things, the hating my own face and the trying to disappear in photos, those used to plague me.

(I'm also a lot more aware of what my face is doing versus how that facial expression feels to me, so I know what the "I am friendly and approachable!" face feels like when I'm making it, versus what the accidentally crazy "I'ma eat yer leg!" leer looks like, which is a good thing, because god help me, on me the two facial expressions are not that far apart.)

I don't think the act itself is a problem. It's extremely normal to get a little obsessed with your appearance at that age, or at any age really. It's if she starts acting out in certain ways or harming herself for aesthetic reasons that you need to step in -- if she's being cruel to people she perceives as unattractive or dressing too provocatively for her age, for instance, or if her eating habits or exercise habits change noticeably. But just taking pictures of herself, while annoying and a little vain, isn't going to hurt her. It may actually end up doing her some good.
posted by palomar at 12:07 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Between 1988 and 1995 or so, my mother had what she referred to as "nose pictures" on every single roll of film developed. If I had been left alone with the camera for too long, sometimes almost the entire roll was close shots of my face, trying for the life of me to find a good angle from which to take my own photo. Which is very, very hard to do without a screen to see it. In fact, the first digital camera I ever bought was filled to the brim of these proto-facebook shots as I slowly learned how to take pictures of myself without aiming the camera up my nose.

Thank god for the fancy phones and cameras that have the front facing screen options because it's a skill I never really developed.

It's perfectly normal, and way cheaper now that she doesn't have to pay for developing rolls and rolls of nose shots.
posted by teleri025 at 12:18 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you're worried about self portraiture as a reflection of superficiality, vanity, and the You Must Be Hot thing, definitely check her out a Cindy Sherman book, stat.
posted by Sara C. at 12:19 PM on May 17, 2012

I really don't think vanity comes from looking at yourself - it's far too easy to find faults and flaws. And I would give anything to feel like I was beautiful, even take 1000 shots of myself a day. We misconflate (I think) the idea of being satisfied with one's looks, with the attitude of mean girls. Let her (encourage her even) to feel good about the way she looks, but continue to educate her on the importance of compassion and empathy.

(I have a now 19 year old daughter who (in her earlier teens) took a million pictures - including some cleavage and up the nose shots - not at the same time - and she is not vain, far from it - in fact I saw the picture taking as a process in her identity building as a teenager - this is what I look like as a punk, am I a punk? This is what I look like as vapid mean girl, am I one of them?)
posted by b33j at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

35 year old male here and looking through my tags in Picasa one would find "self-portrait" to be one of the more popular items.
posted by mmascolino at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2012

The fact that she edits them afterwards actually seems like a great way to develop a new skill. Playing around with Photoshop in middle school has given me a huge leg up in many professional and personal projects -- I was learning a valuable skill without realizing it. I'd encourage this part of her behaviour.
posted by Pwoink at 12:58 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

In addition to the great comments above about self image, I think this speaks to how kids today use technology.

Back in the day, if you didn't have a polaroid, you'd take a picture and have to wait until you used up all 12, 24 or 36 pictures on the roll and then take it to the Fotomat and then wait a week to get it developed. And all of this cost money, so you didn't go around taking capricious pictures of the same thing. You counted how many pictures you had left on the roll of film and I even remember saying, "I only have 3 pictures left. I have to save them because I want a picture of X, Y and then Z". That was what we knew.

Nowadays, with digital cameras, kids have just adapted to the technology available to them and how to use it. I find they take a lot more pictures than kids did in my day, but mostly because they can. Almost every phone has a camera and it is INSTANT and FREE - two things teens love! Then you have all the cool photoshopish software to play with too.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:59 PM on May 17, 2012

If she is a pretty girl, she's probably been told that all her life, but now she's at the age where she's starting to understand the possible implications of being pretty. It is different than looking in a mirror because posting pictures on the internet leads to comments and validation and critiques from other people. I was a teenager at the height of the cam-girl thing and I made sure to keep my shirt on but it was totally fascinating to find out that strangers wanted to have a conversation with me on the internet just because they had seen a picture of my face. It made me feel compelling. I was too young to get what they were really after. Later I figured it out and got my picture off the internet, but I get the sense that teenagers today don't worry about that as much as they should.

I don't think there is anything wrong with being fascinated with yourself as an object at that age - basically every non-relative male in your life is doing the same thing about you starting at that time - and I specifically have a memory of looking at pictures of myself I had taken and thinking, "What are they looking at? It's just me."

To the extent that you need to be involved, I would just remind her that she is beautiful inside and out, that if you have to choose, being kind is way better than being pretty, and that she needs to keep her shirt on and the chat window closed when people say things to her she doesn't understand or doesn't like on the internet. Some of this is like, internet safety stuff, and the rest is "I KNOW MOM (but secretly I am so glad to hear it)" stuff.
posted by newg at 1:32 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's just that I really, really, don't want her to be vain or superficial and I want her to know and understand that real beauty is on the inside. And yes, I tell her these things as well as tell her how beautiful she is and that no, she would not look better with another nose...because your nose fits you perfectly. It seems to me that one can be a teenager without being superficial and having an "it's all about me" attitude. But I know, I know...it's a phase and it's normal.

I am the mom of a little girl, and while she's just a little girl I worry about these things plenty. One thing that concerns me is how often we say she looks nice. I recently realized that we sort of pepper her with compliments about appearance, because she's adorable, and because she loves playing dress up (guess the cause; guess the effect) and I'm trying to stop doing that quite so much and move to things that she has done, qualities that she exhibits, noticing when she makes an effort or tries hard at something. Not that I'm not telling my kid she looks nice anymore, but I'd like to be a little more careful about the message I might be sending.

We are living in a small place, and I'm also not nuts about her watching me painstakingly put make up on in the morning, and sometimes she'll say 'I need some lipstick!' and she's THREE. I've never said the words, 'I need some lipstick', it sounds like something some mom in the fifties would say, and yet there it is. And I say, of course, 'your lips are perfect' but then what message am I sending about myself? Aren't my lips perfect? What happened to them? And if they are perfect, why am I putting make up on?

I will also tell you she has an iPod and has taken approximately eleventy billion pictures of herself.

Sorry for rambling. I think preening is fine, and taking pictures is fine, and gazing into the mirror is fine, and make up is fine, and superficial concerns are fine. I think even a little vanity is fine. But I do think it's good to be conscious of where messages are coming from and how these things are balanced against the whole of the person and all of their qualities. Raising girls is hard.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

If my 14 year old son's Facebook feed is any indication, she is doing exactly what the majority of his female classmates are doing.

As an aside, as someone who did not spend much time looking in the mirror as a teen, to this day I struggle with figuring how to apply makeup, how to choose flattering cuts of clothing and I made a recent shocking revelation that it was possible to comb my hair in different styles without getting a stylist to cut it into a style for me. Who knew?! So yeah, probably a good idea to let her work through this now rather than discovering barrettes at 50.
posted by jamaro at 3:13 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some great answers here; this is fascinating to read. All I can add is that you might want to recognize the value of this obsession with exactly the right look and encourage her to extrapolate that attention and ability into other endeavors.

Many artists and craftspersons working in the communications and entertainment industries rise to the top of their craft by harnessing that drive toward capturing the very best of whatever it is they are crafting, be it a look, a sound, a script, a mix, the striving for perfection and making the very most of their material is key to success. Fifteen year old girls know this instinctively. It would be a shame not to harness it and use it for good.
posted by Anitanola at 4:13 PM on May 17, 2012

We joke that if my daughter (now 23) was ever kidnapped as a teenager, we would have had approximately 500 pictures of her to provide to the FBI, including every hair color she tried out during that period, every boyfriend, and the cat.
posted by tamitang at 4:57 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

For instance, if she's in the car waiting for me while I run in to pick up my son from daycare and I've left my phone in the car, I can be assured that when I get home and look at my phone, there will be at least 10 pics of herself that she just took.

if i was 15 years old, i'd be pretty bored if my dad left me in the car.

i'd just chalk this up as a teenage girl acting like a teenage girl. unless she's not doing school work, or passing up opportunities to hang out with friends, or seems worried about it, i don't think it's a problem.

She also will take them with her digital camera and then sit at the computer and edit them and stuff for what seems like forever.

you should buy her a version of photoshop and a book about photo editing on a computer.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:21 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please don't try and rid her of 'vanity'. I am always amazed at the self-esteem little girls have. That my daughter can look in the mirror and say she's beautiful, or cute, or whatever. That's not a failing - it's the truth. Yet once she's older it's apparently a problem? If she thinks she should be able to do something, or be treated a certain way, simply because of her looks then that would be a concern. Simply being uncritical of her appearance is good.

Also, introduce her to a daily self-portrait community or something like that. Encourage it as something she can do and own, not something embarrassing or silly or faintly immoral. Unfortunately the lesson of "don't be vain" often endsd up "you have nothing to be vain about" rather than the intended message.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:27 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My only concern would be making sure she is not texting those pictures to guy friends for validation, or posting tons of pictures of her face on Facebook, because that is something that would seem like she is trying to get attention, and kids her age can end up mocking her for that. Encourage her to take creative pictures of herself, such as setting a timer and jumping, or mimicking a sculpture, or something. This way she'll still have the satisfaction of taking dozens of pictures of herself and editing them, but it won't be so teenagery-narcissistic, and she might end up with a few awesome shots to show off that people can compliment without only complimenting her looks.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 1:10 AM on May 18, 2012

I used to be exactly like this at that age, because I was convinced I photographed terribly and I wanted one 'good' picture. This was pre-texting/internet, so I wanted a nice picture I could send to a penpal or something. She might feel the same and wants something nice on her profile.
posted by mippy at 9:04 AM on May 18, 2012

Thanks everyone. I feel much better after reading all this and realizing that I don't need to worry. This has been sort of an epiphany for me because I started to remember how just a few years ago she would always have sort of a mad face whenever in front of a large group of people or at social things (she's very shy and I think this was due to that). And I've noticed that she doesn't do that anymore and has learned to have a very pleasant facial expression now. So I'm starting to see that this has actually been a good thing. Thanks again. :)
posted by daydreamer at 10:24 AM on May 18, 2012

And A Terrible Llama...Raising girls IS hard. I can't agree with you enough. And I have 3 of them!
posted by daydreamer at 10:39 AM on May 18, 2012

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