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Photo by Matt Hamilton/ Selfies have evolved to become a powerful means of cultivating a specific self-image.

What exactly is "selfie culture," and how did we all suddenly become so concerned with taking pictures of ourselves and posting them online?

According to Dr. Heather Palmer, associate professor of rhetoric and professional writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the selfie, like most concepts over time, has evolved.

Paraphrasing arguments made by other rhetorical theorists, Palmer notes that selfies "can be a way to gain control of how [we] are [seen online] as an act of power."

They're no longer thought of as an exercise in vanity. Now, they're an exercise in "identities and [self-narratives]," power and expression, a convenient means of cultivating a specific self-image, and showcasing the multifaceted, intersectional nature of who we are — or, in some cases, highlighting just one facet.

The selfie has evolved from "look at how pretty I was at this event" to "let me show you what is important to me" and "let me show you my creative talent with photos."

It's now all about creative self-expression.

And with the evolution of the selfie came a need for specific places to create these images.

Enter: the selfie museum.

From the mesmerizing art of Yayoi Kusama to The Museum of Ice Cream in New York, immersive, Instagram-worthy experiences in museum-like venues are all the rage. Called "selfie museums," these businesses cater to our age of social media, offering ideal locales, built in the style of museum exhibits, where you don't need a filter to get the perfect shot.

Some venues are built as pop-up experiences, others as more permanent businesses, but they first began appearing around the country in places like New York, and soon were popping up all over the place. Now, Chattanooga is in on the popular trend, as local entrepreneur Mikesha Lacy has opened up her own selfie museum in downtown Chattanooga.

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A native Chattanoogan, Lacy began her entrepreneurial journey as the owner of Luxe Spa, located just off Ringgold Road in Chattanooga, two years ago. During that time, she noticed that she and customers both loved taking photos in front of the spa's aesthetic backdrops. From there, her idea for a selfie museum began — although, it didn't initially start like that.

"I first started researching photography studios," Lacy admits, "and I thought, 'We already have a lot of those, but we don't have any selfie museums.'"

Opened in mid-September, the 3,000-square-foot Chattanooga Selfie Museum boasts an impressive array of over 25 different rooms, stations, setups and backdrops. When asked what sets her museum apart, Lacy's answer was quick: creativity.

"I took my time. I didn't just slap something together," she says. "I feel like if you take your time, you get a better vision [for what you want to do]."

The exhibits are meticulously curated, from an elegant floral wall backdrop to a 1950's diner set up. Several of the exhibits rely on props or sensory experiences, but others are standalone painted backgrounds, such as a forest mushroom scene. There's even a crescent moon swing that lights up and illuminates the back of the museum.

While the museum is open for individual and group sessions — which do have a time limit — Lacy ultimately hopes to provide an experience that's fun for the entire family.

"People love taking photos, and that's something that mom, dad, kids — they all have in common."

Know before you go

Address: 1401 Williams Street, Chattanooga

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cost: $20 admission

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