The teenage selfie has become so normal – that self-taken photo of a teenage girl as she pouts her way onto digital film. Yes, it’s ridiculously familiar, and unfortunately extends beyond the adolescent age group too. But does that mean that it’s okay?

Last week I read an article titled “Dark undercurrents of teenage girls’ selfies”, which claims that these photos have turned boy-girl relations into a “sexual rat race”. It was definitely alarming, and maybe most of all because it was written by a Year 11 schoolgirl by the name of Olympia Nelson.

For someone so young, she certainly has a good grasp of what’s going on. She says that while narcissistic qualities are one thing, the selfie has taken vainglory to a whole new level – a big part of which is, unfortunately, about who’s the sexiest. The aim has gone from sharing part of your life and communicating joy, to yet another popularity contest. Who can get the most “likes”, admiration (often in the form of sexual interest) and evidence of popularity?

Young Olympia puts the typical thought process in the following way. First, a girl get anxious that boys are looking at other girls instead of her. She wants to be “worthy” of this attention too, so she must also post attention-grabbing photos. But with the tastes of boys generally not too sophisticated and modelled on pornography, she starts to try and “out-hot” the others, basically by porn star criteria. Is anyone else fuming in disgust?!

Some might see this kind of description as extreme, but I totally agree. What may have started as something innocent (albeit attention-seeking) has now, with the growth of social media, become a whole new phenomenon in itself – it takes what should be intimate and makes it totally public!

The selfie is not healthy. Not only does it fuel a craving for attention that will never lead to fulfilment, but it pits women against each other to be always competing and it can only be a starting point for harmful and detrimental future relationships. Even if it takes a Year 11 girl to remind us of it, maybe we should tell the young girls and women in our lives to stop and think before posting a vain photo, and think about the culture it’s adding to.

(Note: In her article, Olympia does put the blame for all of this on men – that would have to be the part that I don’t agree with.)

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.