"Know Thy Selfie"- A Modern Take on Identity

Posted by Megan Doherty-Smith on February 17, 2017

“Kim Kardashian published a book of them, Russia banned them, and at the Oscars last year Ellen took the most liked one of all time: Selfies.  And love them or hate them, there’s no denying the impact their proliferation has had on modern society.”  When I came across this statement in a magazine (Elle: Selfie Culture and Female Identity), I for the first time, appreciated the value of a ‘Selfie.’ Indeed, a Selfie can shed light on attitudes, values, allegiances, cultures, and pursuits – and all of this in a tiny, square screen.

While many dismiss the Selfie as frivolous and self-indulgent, in truth they can offer a powerful and insightful lens into the way we see ourselves as well as the way we want to be seen.  The selfie gives a person, as both the picture-taker AND the subject, total power to capture one’s true and authentic self.  It is also a language that students today understand – and poll any class, most students have taken – and posted – a selfie.  This is why we thought this would make a great Identity Unit assignment. There are several excellent resources available to open up this conversation. Click here to access the minds-on task that I used to prep students for their Selfie Assignment.

Some resources that I consulted include:

  • Video – Dove Selfie: Redefining Beauty
  • #iftheygunnedmedown
  • Clips from Kate Warfield’s TedX Talk, “The Treachery and the Authenticity of Images”
  • Chimamanda Adichie, TedTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story”

Know thy Selfie (the Assignment)

The students are asked to take two Selfies: one is capturing how they see themselves, and the second asks them to capture how they think they are seen by others OR how they want to be seen by others.  They are required to also submit a written reflection that describes both Selfies and explains the disconnect between the two images. Click here to access the assignment.


I think that, at times and depending on the population of a school, students can  have a difficult time connecting with the Identity Unit.  Certainly in my classes, few students feel that they are able to relate to the stories of frustration of being labeled by others like Jennifer Wang of “Orientation Day,” or not fitting into the tidy categories like Anthony Wright of Little Boxes.  The intention of this assignment is to help them see that every day they - intentionally or unintentionally - are crafting an identity.  Parts of themselves that they may take for granted actually speak volumes about who they are and the way that they want to be understood.  Equipped with this deeper understanding, students are able to better reflect and appreciate more complex issues of identity that have shaped the past and dominate the discourse of the present.

And who doesn’t love a Selfie?!?

To learn more about how and why Facing History teachers explore identity in the classroom, click here!

Check out the the new 2017 Holocaust and Human Behaviour Resource Book free PDF for new Identity readings.

Topics: Identity, CHG, CHC


This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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