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It’s National Selfie Day! Here’s A Brief History.

It’s National Selfie Day! Here’s A Brief History

You’d be hard pressed to find any phone-owning person who didn’t know what the word selfie meant. This photographic phenomenon has become a staple in the world of social media, with every scroll through Instagram, meander onto Facebook and new snap on Snapchat offering countless images of our friends, families and followers’ faces. Whether it’s a holiday pic, lounging in the sun, or a filtered snapshot when we aren’t feeling our best, the term ‘selfie’ and it’s resulting imagery has certainly led to quite the craze.

In celebration of National Selfie Day, we’ve had a chat with our social media experts to find out more about just how the term ‘selfie’ came about, and how it became the trend it is today.

You can contact us for more information or for help with your social media and #selfiegame on 0800 088 6000.

Who Invented The Selfie?

ADM Selfies for National Selfie Day

Determining who invented the selfie ultimately depends on your personal definition of the word. If you consider self-portraits as a form of selfie, then the first recorded ‘selfie’ would be as early as 1433, when Jan Van Eyck sat down and painted himself. Of course, the entire process would’ve taken far longer than your standard snapshot on your smartphone, but the portrait, titled Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban, was the first self-portrait on panel. A trip to the National Gallery in London is also a little more effort than scrolling through your feed, but this portrait certainly started the ball rolling, so to speak. As mirrors gained quality and artists caught on to the trend, self-portraits began to crop up across the globe.

Who Took The First Selfie?

Ask Paris Hilton, and it’s likely she’ll tell you that she and Britney spears were the ones to invent selfies.

The truth, however, is very much different. If the fact that Paris Hilton’s claim would mean the first ever selfie would’ve happened in 2005 – three years after the term selfie was even coined – history actually shows that she was over 180 years late to the proverbial party.

Taking selfie back to its photographic definition, the very first came from a man by the name of Robert Cornelius in 1839. The entire process was much more complicated than your average photograph today, requiring quite the preparation process. It required polishing silver-plated copper, exposing it to a camera and then treating it with a number of chemicals in a long process. It was the length of the process that meant photographs back in the 1830/40s weren’t overly popular. Robert Cornelius, however, had the experience with silver and chemistry to go through the entire process himself.

In order to take the selfie, he set up a camera of sorts, posed in front of it for a while – a requirement for a clear shot – and then went on to cover up the lens and process the image. It was not only the first selfie but also took the record as the first image to be taken in under a minute.

However, there is a theory that this wasn’t the first official self-image, with a man by the name of Hippolyte Bayard reportedly having been experimenting with photographic equipment not too dissimilar to a polaroid prior to this point, meaning he could very well have produced the first selfie. Due to a lack of official recognition, however, this was never confirmed.

Where Did The World ‘Selfie’ Come From?

National Selfie Day Graphic

Like many modern trends, the world selfie was introduced by someone online, and it simply took off from there. In this case, we can thank an Australian man known only as ‘Hopey’ online, posted a photo of a busted lip on an image hosting website. When you consider it’s origin, the word ‘selfie’ makes a lot more sense – the Australian dialect makes habit of utilising -ie at the end of their words.

Just like barbie for barbecue, postie for postman/woman and tinnie for a can of beer/alcohol, the word ‘selfie’ was a pretty obvious choice for a self-taken photo. This post came about in 2002 and from there, the word only grew in popularity. It was used again in 2003 and quickly went viral on MySpace, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When Did The Selfie Craze Start?

Where did selfie start?

The very start of the selfie craze as we know it today is impossible to determine. While the term may have been viral as early as 2002/3, even the popularity of selfies on MySpace in the following years didn’t quite equate to the popularity that we see today. When Flickr came about, the website utilised the term ‘selfie’ to describe the self-portraits as we know them today, but it wasn’t until mobile technology took a huge jump with the release of the iPhone 4 that we really started to see the craze at the level we do today.

The iPhone 4 saw the first high-quality front-facing camera on a smartphone, sitting at a comfortable 5MP which, at the time, was some of the best available on a phone. Despite it’s lower video quality than the back-facing camera, it was perfectly sufficient for a selfie or two and set off a craze in mobile technology that would never slow down.

Soon, other phone companies were introducing front-facing cameras, and more and more selfies began cropping up across the web. When Facebook took flight and grew in popularity, and Instagram and Snapchat went on to be released (2010 and 2011 respectively) and reach incredible popularity in a short period of time, selfies were seen here, there and everywhere across the web, with the word ‘selfie’ even earning it’s place in the Oxford Dictionary in 2013.

Studies suggest that more than 94 million selfies are taken every single day just on Android devices, even if not all of them are posted online. What’s more, a poll suggested that, for 18-24 year olds, one in every three photos taken was a selfie.

Even those with low self esteem could jump on the craze, filtering and adjusting their images to their heart’s content, uploading and hashtagging every picture they were proud of. The first ever use of #selfie on Instagram was made by @Jennlee in 2011, though only received 1,942 likes (at the time of writing). With over 390,000,000 posts live tagged as #selfie at any one time, it’s gone on to become one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram.

What Was The Most Famous Selfie Ever?

Most famous selfie

There have been some incredibly famous selfies over the past few years, but only one sits at the very top – Ellen’s Oscars selfie. When she presented the Oscars back in 2014, Ellen organised a well-taken selfie featuring a number of the industry’s hottest celebrities at the time, including Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’O, Peter Nyong’O and Angelina Jolie.

The tweeted selfie received over 3.2 million retweets and became not only the most famous selfie but the most famous tweet at the time. The tweet was later taken over by a teenager asking fast food chain, Wendy’s, for free chicken nuggets, but it remains the most popular selfie to this day.

Another selfie that stirred quite the conversation both on and offline, was a selfie belonging to a Monkey – or was it the photographer the camera belonged to? Well, that was the argument at the time. In 2011, a selfie was taken by a black macaque by the name of Naruto, after photographer David Slater handed over his camera to a group of monkeys. The selfie became the topic of hot debate and even a legal battle about who owned the rights to the photo.

The world argued as to whether Naruto should be allowed rights to what was essentially her selfie, while others argued that, due to the fact that she was indeed a monkey, she couldn’t be given the copyright. Eventually, the US Court ruled with the latter, determining that the photograph belonged to the photographer despite the fact he wasn’t the one to press the button.

There have also been a number of honourable mentions, not least including a selfie taken by astronaut Aki Hoshide when on a space walk outside the International Space Station, and Kim Kardashian’s worthy photographic response to critics who claimed that she was faking her pregnancy, which saw her pose naked to show off her very clear baby bump.

How Do Influencers Use Selfies?

Taking a selfie infographic

Engagement is everything on social media and for influencers, it can act as their bread and butter. Every like, comment, link click and more can lead to revenue, and the power that a simple photo can hold in terms of influencing an audience is incredible.

Studies suggest that social media influencers are actually more powerful than your standard celebrity endorsement and given the rise in social media use, it’s easy to understand why. The power rests in trust in engagement – over 40% of all users claimed that they had made a purchase after seeing a product or service used or endorsed by an influencer online. For businesses partnering with celebrities and influencers online, a single selfie with a product has the potential to drive sales and improve conversion rates and given how often celebrities and influencers seem to post, the potential is unrivalled.

In a study conducted back in 2016, the celebrities with the most selfies included

  1. Miley Cyrus – 191

Miley Cyrus selfie

2. Kylie Jenner – 190

Kylie Jenner selfie

3. Paris Hilton – 151

Paris Hilton selfie

4. Lindsay Lohan – 132

Lindsay Lohan selfie5. Ariana Grande – 93

Ariana Grande selfie

These numbers have changed, fluctuated and fought against one another over the years, but given that every one of these accounts can receive up to and above 2 million likes per post. That’s two million people seeing a single post and when you consider the potential behind advertisement not only for their own work and brands, but for partners and affiliates, it’s clear that social media is quite the powerful visibility tool.


The selfie craze has been ongoing for almost a decade now and shows no signs of slowing down. In a social media-based world focused on appearance, filters and more, the power of visual content online, including the selfie, is unrivalled. For businesses, this offers the chance to capture engagement and retention using imagery, whether that’s selfies of your staff in celebration of National Selfie Day, or a bespoke designed graphic to showcase your services.


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