If you ask a group of first-grade girls who the best runner in the class is, they all point to themselves: I’m the best runner, they’ll say. Ask a group of sixth-grade girls, and they’ll point to the best runner.
Pride, after all, is a cardinal sin in girls’ evolving social culture. It’s a lesson learned early and sometimes with ugly consequences. Act too confident and you’ll be isolated, called “conceited” or a girl who “thinks she’s all that.”
Girls adapt by learning the language of the humble. They deflect compliments and turn strong opinions into questions.
Then came the selfie, which Oxford Dictionaries recently picked as its word of the year. As the Pew Center for Internet Research reported earlier this year, 91 percent of teens have posted one.
These days, the selfie generally attracts much adult loathing. But consider this: The selfie is a tiny pulse of girl pride — a shout-out to the self.
If you write off the endless stream of posts on Instagram as image-conscious narcissism, you’ll miss the chance to watch girls practice promoting themselves — a skill that boys are given more permission to develop.
As psychiatrist Dr. Josie Howard recently told Refinery29’s Kristin Booker, selfies “may reset the industry standard of beauty to something more realistic.”
But should we be troubled by this tendency to celebrate physical appearance? A survey by the Girl Scouts in 2010 found that girls downplayed their intelligence, kindness and efforts to be a positive influence online in favor of presenting an image that is fun and social.
Or should we be more worried about a world of parents and educators who are overly invested in seeing all social media as problematic? In the end, maybe the selfie can reposition girls not as passive targets but as agents of their own lives. □