Self-denigration and the mixed messages of 'ugly' selfies in Instagram

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This paper sets out a new, multimodal account (both visual and verbal analysis) of how self-denigration is conveyed through ‘ugly selfies’ as posted to the photo-sharing site Instagram. Drawing on 226 Instagram posts categorised by the poster themselves with the hashtag #uglyselfie, the visual analysis compared the persons and setting in the selfie, the person’s facial expression (eye brow position, mouth expression), eye gaze and camera angle. The verbal analysis included the self-denigration found in the image caption and the rapport enhancing or threatening responses found in the comments to the image posted by others. Ugly selfies are found to convey various types of self-denigration, including self-deprecation and self-mockery. The difference between self-deprecation and self-mockery are explained by the types of ‘mixed messages’ generated by the images. In self-deprecation, the mixed messages arise from a contrast between the visual image and the verbal caption. In self-mockery, the mixed messages arise from contrasts within the image itself, where visual exaggeration and incongruity lead to a jocular interpretation of the ugly selfie. Although the focus in this paper is on self-denigration and selfie-taking, the analysis of mixed messages can be used to analyse many different forms of politeness strategies and many kinds of images shared with increasing frequency and importance on social media sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-205
JournalInternet Pragmatics
Issue number2
Early online date20 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • self-deprecation
  • humour
  • self-mockery
  • selfies
  • self-denigration
  • Instagram
  • ugly selfies


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