“Birthday selfie”: when you post a photo of yourself WITH the birthday boy or girl.
When Kim Kardashian posted a photo from John Legend's birthday party a few nights ago, the internet noticed that she had almost cropped Legend out of the photo, which focuses on her unsmiling face.
Minor internet controversies aside, the photo and Kim's Instagram prowess are far more important than porridge-brained, slobbering mortals like you and I will ever realize. Kim's a pioneer of what I'm calling the “birthday selfie”: when you post a old photo of yourself with the birthday person on Instagram in order to wish them well on their special day.
The birthday selfie (I'm calling it that because it's a secretly a selfie, and 'belfie” was already taken for butt-selfies — humans are awful and we should all be sterilized) is new, and it's almost completely native to Instagram.
Additionally (and crucially), it's a guilt-free way of posting an old flattering photo of yourself. But is the birthday selfie a tool for meglomaniacs like Kim Kardashian? Or is it just a new adaptation of the Instagram medium to do the same thing we've been doing for our friends forever?
Like all things internet culture, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Regular selfies can be a display of confidence and self-empowerment because they're pretty clear and unabashed about what they are: a selfie. But these birthday wishes are a little sneakier – it's a selfie under false pretenses.
For celebrities, though, the group responsible for the popularization of the genre, the etiquette question is a little different. The Kardashians and other celebrities didn't invent the birthday selfie, but their eager adoption of the trend accelerated its popularity, just the same as other dubious trends like formal crop-tops. However, for a celebrity on Instagram, a birthday selfie is perhaps more utilitarian. A-listers can pose next to other A-listers, thereby strengthening their status, or, better yet, next to lesser celebs and hometown friends, to amplify their stardom or demonstrate that they're in touch with their roots. It's a show of friendship, of course, but it's also a way to turn a friend's special day into a branding opportunity.