Selfies and Their Impact on Pop Culture

Today, there are a lot of people that know the term “selfie.” Kids would know a selfie, teens would be very familiar with the terms, and seniors would already have an idea of what it is. Selfie is a popular term worldwide, and for a good reason. The term “selfie” is used to refer to a kind of photography technique where the lens of the camera is pointed toward the actual photographer. The selfie can be done with just one person, but some people take selfies with others, and some would call this technique “groufie” or “group selfie.”

Interestingly, the evolution of selfies enabled people to use these photos today not only for personal expression but as a way for people to leave a mark in the online world, and this is evident by the abundance of selfies in social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. ExpressVPN’s research revealed that 93 million selfies are taken each day worldwide, and Gen Z takes more selfies than any other generation. So, how did selfies become popular? Where did it all start? Let us find out as we take a closer look at selfies and their impact on pop culture.

The Origins of the Selfie

selfie by Robert Cornelius

The origins of the selfie can be traced back to 1839 when an American photographer and photography pioneer named Robert Cornelius produced a daguerreotype (a very early version of a photo) of himself, and this would become one of the first selfies ever taken. Because taking a daguerreotype was a slower process compared to taking photographs today, Robert Cornelius was able to run into the location of the shot for a minute. At the back of the daguerreotype, Cornelius wrote “the first light picture ever taken. 1839.”

One of the first teenagers to take her own picture using a mirror was Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, who took the picture when she was 13 years old. The picture was then sent with a letter to a friend in 1914. In the letter, Anastasia wrote that she took the picture of herself looking at the mirror, as it was very hard to take it since her hands were trembling.

In 1934, a Swedish couple ingeniously used a wooden stick to activate the camera from afar in order to take a picture of themselves. This wooden stick would be described as the “original selfie stick.”

The Coining of the Term “Selfie”

taking a selfie using a smartphone

Although the technique of taking photos of oneself has been around since the 1830s, the term “selfie” wasn’t actually used by many until the mid-2000s. It is believed that the first known use of the term “selfie” was in an Australian internet forum called “Karl Kruszelnicki’s ‘Dr. Karl Self-Serve Science Forum.” The particular use of the term appeared in a post published by a man named Nathan Hope, who has dismissed the idea that he was the one who coined “selfie,” as he stated that it was slang that has already been used in Australia for years.

By the early 2010s, the term “selfie” has been used commonly not only in Australia but also in other countries around the world. In 2013, the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary already added the term as an official word. Then, in November of the same year, the Oxford English Dictionary announced that “selfie” is the word of the year and declared Australia as its origin.

The Japanese Selfie Culture


While Australia coined the term “selfie”, many people credit Japan as the country that really popularized the selfie culture. In the 1990s, Japanese schoolgirls already used portable cameras to take pictures of themselves and store them in albums or give them to friends. The popularity of self-taken photo portraits inspired a young photographer named Hiromi Toshikawa (better known as Hiromix) to publish the photo diary album “Seventeen Girl Days,” which contained pictures of young women creating self-posing photos.

Due to how popular self-posing photos were in Japan during the late 1980s and 1990s, many Japanese designers and inventors tried to create cameras, tools, or accessories that could help people have a much easier time taking selfies. One of these inventions is the Minolta Disc-7 camera that was released in 1983, and this particular camera features a convex mirror on the front so that self-portraits can be taken with ease.

Another invention is a “camera stick” that was featured in a book titled “101 Un-Useless Japanese Inventions”, published in 1995. In the said book, the camera stick can help people take wider self-portraits so that they can include friends or family members in the photo, or they can showcase the view of where they are taking the photo. The book deemed the stick to be a “useless invention,” but they didn’t know that the selfie stick would become one of the best camera accessories in the 21st century.

Japanese Purikura

photo booth

The popularity of self-photos has further increased due to the creation and abundance of purikura booths in Japan. Purikura is a term used to refer to the photo sticker booths that are originally found in arcades during the 1990s. These photo sticker booths allow you to take selfies of yourself or with other people, and the booths would then enable you to edit the photos to make them look cute. Then, the booths will print your photos with your desired edits and designs.

The Japanese purikura booths were created by game designer Sasaki Miho in 1994. According to Miho, she was inspired by the growing popularity of girl photo culture in the 1990s, wherein schoolgirls will not only take self-photos but also design them using stickers. She then brought the idea of the photo sticker booth to Atlus, a gaming company where she was working during that time. Her male bosses initially rejected the idea, but they eventually approved Miho’s concept and allowed her to produce the booth with the help of another gaming company called Sega.

Sega and Atlus released the Print Club (Purinto Kurabu) booth in February 1995. They first set up the booths in gaming arcades, but due to demand, Sega and Atlus decided to set the booth up in other establishments like train stations, karaoke places, bowling alleys, and beside fast-food restaurants. Because of the success of the two company’s photo sticker booths, other gaming companies started to design and launch their own photo sticker booths as well.

Mobile Phones with Front-Facing Cameras

It was also in Japan when the first mobile phones or devices with front-facing cameras were developed. Many believe that the first hand-held device that had a front-facing camera was the Game Boy Camera, an accessory that can be attached to a Nintendo Game Boy portable gaming console. The Game Boy Camera has a built-in camera that can swivel for 180 degrees, thus allowing the player to take a picture of themselves. Nintendo even marketed the Game Boy Camera as an accessory that enables users to specifically take self-portraits, which they can then use in different games that are built into the accessory.

The first front-facing camera phone was the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210. This phone was released in May 1999 in Japan and featured a memory space that could store up to 20 JPEG images, and these images could then be sent over email or through Japan’s wireless cellular network called Personal Handy-phone System or PHS. The creation and subsequent abundance of mobile phones with front-facing cameras led to the transition of the Japanese photo culture from purikuras to camera phones.

International Popularity of Selfies

friends taking a group selfie

The popularity of self-photos would eventually spread in countries near Japan during the late 1990s. By the 2000s, selfies were popularized in other countries, particularly the ones that are outside East Asia. The concept of taking photos of oneself outside of Japan was becoming trendy in Australia during the early 2000s, as there are people in the said country that are uploading self-taken photographs to the internet using a disposable camera.

When MySpace, Friendster, and other popular social media websites of the 2000s gained popularity in different countries around the world, more people began to take self-photos that they could use as their account’s main photo or profile picture.

The Sony Ericsson Z1010 phone was the device that made front-facing camera phones known in countries outside Japan and East Asia. The camera on the said phone can be used not only to take selfies but to answer video calls. The concept of the front-facing camera would soon become common in many smartphones by the 2010s.

So, these are all the things you need to know about selfies and their impact on pop culture. You may have already taken dozens of selfies throughout your life, but now we hope that you have a newfound appreciation for selfies and how they were conceptualized.