The Selfie of Dorian Gray

Ben Barnes as the titular character in the 2009 movie adaptation of  The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ealing Studios).

Ben Barnes as the titular character in the 2009 movie adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ealing Studios).

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the tale of a beautiful, young man who trades his soul for immortal youth. While his physical visage never ages, the ugliness of his soul is reflected in a singular portrait that he hides away from the eyes of the world.

When the novel opens, Dorian is a handsome youth whose innocence and purity renders a painter spellbound enough to paint his portrait. But after his Faustian deal, this portrait turns more sinister and twisted with every depraved act Dorian commits.

If Oscar Wilde had written this story decades later,

it’d be a Black Mirror episode.

But Dorian Gray is no longer a cautionary tale. With the rise of social media and influencer culture, Dorian Grays are staring us in the face every time we open Instagram. With reality altering apps like Facetune and a million filters to choose from, a selfie can remain immortal even as the person taking it withers away.

Technology has advanced enough for us to go even beyond that. Cosmetic surgery gives us the illusion of freezing time — all the while, we become caught in how we look, we forget who we are. Never before has a comparison been so easy. To swipe open an app and see countless of beautiful humans and to see the highlight reels of their lives.

We’re glued to our phones. We take in those chiseled jawlines, those tiny button noses, those perfect abs and we attribute that beautiful life to being a beautiful human. We think, if only I could just look like that, everything will fall into place. But instead — everything falls out of place because we’re caught up in a manufactured life.

Dorian’s portrait isn’t real. It’s not flesh, blood, and tears. It never cries. It never laughs. It has no heartbeat. It’s merely a reflection of his character.

Your selfie isn’t real. It will never age. It will always be as beautiful as technology makes it. But it’s not you.

Your personality is. The fundamentals of who you are. The very human who occupies a space on planet earth, the human that interacts with countless people every day, the human that makes decisions — whether those be what filter to use or how you choose to live your life.

Dorian Gray believed outer beauty was everything. He believed it so much, he traded his soul for it. But by the end of the novel, he had nothing except a trail of murder, deceit, and scandal. The most poignant moment of the novel comes when Dorian, alarmed at the fast decline of his portrait, decides upon charity work. He rushes to the attic to see his new actions have affected his picture and instead finds a sneer of hypocrisy spread across his own face.

Spoiler alert: Dorian destroys his portrait in the end. He could no longer bear to face his own self, his true self — as repulsive as his soul had become.

Destroy your selfie now.

It’s not who you are. I don’t mean delete your entire Instagram. Delete what it represents. Don’t let it have this hold over you. Let your beauty be reflected in the actions you take, not simply how many likes you receive.