Assessment 3 · Uncategorized

Are we representing ‘ideal self’ online?

Self-representation in social media

With the emergence and popularity of the concept of Web2.0, internet has become a public space that everyone can participate in and share their own opinions. As internet become a friendly cyberspace, the nature of users has shifted from passive acceptance to active participation. Besides, due to the pervasive of social media, people, especially young people tend to share what they do and how they think on the social media platforms to express themselves, which makes it easier for them to find people with similar interests and preferences. Social media becomes a platform for users to define themselves and demonstrate their identity. In other words, it becomes a way of self-representation.

01.What is self-representation

The concept of self-representation is coined by Erving Goffman in the book of ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’. He applied the mode of human’s face-to-face interaction in the theatrical performance situation and also referred to the theory of actor and audience in social relations. He believed an individual would tend to manage his appearance and impression when he interacts with other people. To a great extent, our presentation of self is constructed by the interaction with others. The construction of individuals’ external image is affected by public opinion and even has the purpose of pleasing the public, which is even worse within the online environment.


Figure1:The process of presentation of self

02. Self-representation and digital identity

In web2.0 era, User generated content (UGC) has become a major fundamental concept applied on social media platforms which provides a channel for self-representation. The purpose of why people represent of self

According to the theory of self-discrepancy by E Higgins (1987), there is a real self and ideal self in human’s mind. The real self is the person who we actually are and the ideal self is the person who we want to be or the person who others think we should be. E Higgins found that if the discrepancy between the real self and ideal self is huge, people will feel lost and self-doubt. Selfies which people take and share via social media is a good example to illustrate self-representation in the digital age.


Figure2: Selfie becomes usual in daily life.

The reason why people take selfie is a kind of identity affirmation. Nowadays, in the virtual community, people tend to share perfect images of them, the ideal self to attract others’ attention and recognition. The example of an Instagram famous bloggers quitting social media platform perfectly demonstrates the difference of self-representation in real life and virtual world. She announced she has created an ideal image of herself on the social media platform, yet which is not the real her. Therefore, she lost her real life to please her audience.


Figure3: the Facebook you VS the real you

It is true that digital identity that people try to create online is usually different from the person in the real life. Our self-representation on the social media including selfie pictures, political thoughts, daily blogs, and occupation status etc. constructs who we are and shapes our digital identity. However, we cannot validate the authenticity of digital identity based on our real self.

  • Dove: Real Beauty Sketches campaign


The Dove Company launched #Real Beauty Sketches campaign in 2013, which becomes the viral campaign of the year. It is a campaign that uses the concept of real self and ideal self to demonstrate the difference between self-perception and description from others. For each person, an FBI-trained sketch draws two portraits based on self-expression and strangers’ description. This campaign used the self-representation concept to describe the usual phenomenon happened frequently in our real life, in which real self is from the description of others and ideal self is a person people thought others would like. The reason why the campaign becomes viral is that audiences feel strong emotional response to this kind of situation, which is similar with what happened in the virtual world where we pretend to be a person we thought others would like and refuse to express or even negate the real self.

03. Self-representation and social media platforms

The psychologist Ulric Neisser claims that self-representation is constructed by two ways which are people’s own previous experience and reflection on the experiences respectively. From the perspective of social media platforms, each social media platform has their own cultural identity as they gather millions of users and construct a virtual community. From users’ perspective, the content users post in the platform helps the social media form its unique temperament. On the contrary, the style of this social media platform created by users will influence the content users publish. Those two sides are interconnected with each other. Once the style of a platform is constructed, users will be greatly influenced by the whole group on that social media when they want to publish their thoughts. Same things in different platforms have different expressions in diverse versions.

04. Self-representation and brand identity

The concept of self-representation is not only suitable for users, official accounts of brands, organizations, institutions also need represent themselves to followers on the social media platforms. The brand image is composed of many elements including color, texture, design, and style. Those self-representations of brands construct the unique brand identity which will has lasting impression and great influence on their users, such as Coca Cola means happiness and Tiffany & Co. means elegance. Therefore, creating perfect brand identity through systematic and comprehensive plan for representation plays a crucial position for the development of brands. However how to build brand identity, there are some approaches can help.

  • Firstly, doing research to focus on the target audience
  • Secondly, delivering consist key message to build brand persona
  • Thirdly, interacting with audience to strengthen build image

05.My campaign: I heart the blues

Back to my social media campaign, I heart the blues is a non-government organization created for the people who suffer from autism spectrum disorders. Due to its non-profit nature, the promotion of this organization on the social media platforms need create resonance with audience and attract the attention of those people caring about other people and society. The first social media campaign I heart the blues launched is called #blueisnewred tries to encourage people to express themselves actively. Incorporating the theory of user generated content and self-representation, this campaign received reaction from the audience quickly. They shared their daily life and own thoughts with the hashtag which become a part of their identity in the online community.


Besides, taking advantage of the feature that people tend to represent the ideal self in the cyberspace, this campaign use emotional words that everyone care about and have thoughts to express to engage with audience. The self-representation of target audience is all positive and therefor forms a good atmosphere within the virtual community which lets the audience participating in the campaign later adhere to the same expression mode.

i heart the blues

Overall, nowadays, smartphones is ubiquitous in our life and each person is involved in this easy-to-use device. As social media become indispensable in people’s social life and become the major way for individuals to communicate with others, the approaches of self-representation in online environment are important for either people or brands to build their digital identity. According to the theory of the real self and the ideal self and the popularity of selfie, in the virtual space, people tend to present themselves to be a person they want to be or others think they should be, and that is the ideal self. Therefore, we can say either people or brands are both presenting ‘ideal self’ online. However, there are still many interesting phenomenon of self-representation in the digital life worth to analyzing, which provides many research fields for social media scholars.

Reference List

Goffman, E. (1978). The presentation of self in everyday life (p. 56). Harmondsworth.

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: a theory relating self and affect. Psychological review, 94(3), 319.

University of Leeds. (2015). How is self-representation embedded in our digital culture? Retrieved 19 April 2016, from

Valentine, B. (2013). Year of the Selfie: Why Owning Our Self-Representation Matters. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

Stampler, L. (2013). How Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Became The Most Viral Video Ad Of All Time. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

McClimens, A., & Gordon, F. (2008). Presentation of Self in E-veryday Life: How People Labelled with Intellectual Disability Manage Identity as They Engage the Blogosphere. Sociological Research Online13(4), 1.



3 thoughts on “Are we representing ‘ideal self’ online?

  1. It is an interesting post for concise interpretation of self-presentation. I agree that for now Web 2.0 really enters into a new digital era which audiences are taking participatory role to actively interact with online media and users. Social media as participatory medium provides various forms of access for media users to produce content and express their opinions. The ways that online users generate their self-presentation are really different. Like what you wrote, selfies normally become the common identified way to present themselves in digital age. However, because we are experiencing the advanced digital techniques, so many digital tools like Photoshop or other camera tools can create an ideal looking for selfies which may have large differences than its real looking. It will make others feel confused to identify their selfies with the real person. In addition, cyberspace as virtual online space actually exists cheating, user may use fake identity, and there is no actual facial identification to verify every user’s online identity, how can we tell if the user provides trustful personal details and selfies?
    On the other hand, I think the case study you provide about the “Real Beauty Sketches campaign” is really interesting, and I watched the video of the whole process of how portraits were made from self-expression and other’s description. This “video revolution” really demonstrates the changes of point of view of self- portrait under different perceptions and perspectives.


  2. Hi wanglidan – thank you for writing such a great, thought-provoking article.

    I think the false reality of social media is a very dangerous and unhealthy paradigm that has delved its claws into this digital decade – essentially defining the way we perceive beauty and creating pressures on the individual to portray our “ideal self”. I immediately related your post to Essena O’Neill, the Instagram star who deleted all her social media accounts after declaring her images to be contrived, constructed promotional posts and not a true reflection of reality. I personally admired her exposure of the fabricated reality of her images, because she sparked such an important discussion on the pressures of social media to create a false version of ourselves.

    The Dove Beauty campaign video was an extremely insightful and fantastic look into how the false reality of social media has set unrealistic standards of beauty, and how our self-perceptions are so deeply entrenched in sociocultural standards of feminine beauty in our popular media. Such constructed and edited media images (e.g. edited and photoshopped images) can translate into very serious body image disturbance in females, and I hope more encouraging and self-esteem building videos such as above can inspire women around the world to encompass a more positive mindset when it comes to their real beauty. Human life is messy and multifaceted, and an individual’s value shouldn’t be determined by likes, followers or social media influence. I think the Dove Beauty Campaign Video was an amazing showcase of how we should start loving ourselves, our bodies, and how beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.


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