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Response: Smith and Watson and #selfie in South Korea

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson’s characteristics of the “autobiographical subject” can be applied to the use of selfies in photo sharing apps such as Instagram to construct a narrative bound in cultural beauty standards. Recent news has stated that 70.14% or 35,000,000 people of the South Korean population owns a smartphone. The country, prideful of its ultra-fast networks and advanced Samsung smartphone technology has made them a key player in the digital consumer world. It is important to consider South Korea’s cultural practices with smartphone, and more specifically, camera technologies due to the high percent of the population who own them.

Selca (셀카) or “selfie” in Korean is a term created by combining self (셀프) and camera (카메라). Currently on Instagram, there are 6,634,611 photos under #selca and 9,971,545 under #셀카. Although not everyone who uses these tags are native Koreans, most of the images employ certain trends that differ from those found in the #selfie. While many of the hangul tag users also use #selfie, including both employs a certain level of, as Smith and Watson describe, “a ‘right’ to speak…directly in the narrative” and (237), an authority authority over selfie trends and an identity surrounding the South Korean culture. In fact, the smartphone affordance for using multi-language keyboards makes the authority of Korean tags more viable to non-Koreans.

Selcas often adhere to the South Korean beauty standard and reflect cultural standards for public bodies. Smith and Watson talk about how “cultural meanings are attached to the narrator’s body” to show competency and authority within a narrative (240). One of the most common examples in the #selca and #셀카 categories on Instagram is the emphasis of the V-line on the face. Due to the popularity of plastic surgery in Korea, women and men are drawn to getting work done to less the roundness of their jaw. Subjects of selfies will remedy this perceived flaw by using hair, hands and objects to create a “V” shape around their jaw. Clear, white skin is also a major standard of beauty and Popular Korean apps such as Candy Camera allow users to alter their face shape, erase pores and whiten their face.

Using Smith and Watson characteristics only get more complicated when technology is used to manipulate the digital author. Do we consider the constructed author we see in #selcas to be an artistic representation? Or does the technology of the smartphone allow users to falsify their authority?

About Alexandra Orlando

A game critic, freelance writer and Twitch streamer. My writing mainly focuses on e-sports, streaming, game narrative and performance in gaming spaces



  1. Pingback: Response: Smith and Watson and #selfie in South Korea | Alexandra Orlando - March 30, 2015

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