In the dark times we call present day, an anorexic girl in a tee-shirt dress gets 50,000 likes on Tumblr. As if this isn’t disturbing enough, I recently came across an app called Perfect365 with a tagline of “The easiest way to make you look great.”
My first thought when I discovered this airbrushing app for the iPhone that lets you apply realistic makeup to your pictures while covering imperfections was, “How terrible it is to make girls think airbrushing is the solution to believing you’re pretty! You shouldn’t have to use Instagram to think you are beautiful; you should post pictures un-airbrushed because YOU believe you’re beautiful.” No one is perfect but this app implicitly suggests that perfect skin and a made-up face are necessary to be attractive. Paraded as a way to play with makeup, it’s obvious this goes well beyond in-app fun.
Then, my second thought was, “Wow! This is great, now I don’t ever have to wear makeup but can make it look like my dark circles disappeared. And since I’ve never used any eye products because of my sensitive eyes, I don’t have to suffer through the application!”
The irony of the sequence of my thoughts isn’t lost on me.
But which reaction is the correct one? Or more importantly, what does this app’s existence say about us? Harmlessly blurring that nasty zit isn’t a big deal, but when you start playing around with how big your smile is (yes, you can adjust this) or enlarging your eyes, what’s going on? Makeup exists to make you feel your most beautiful and confident. Its true purpose is to enhance your features, although many choose to cover them up.
If I asked you which picture I looked better in, without hesitation you would say the second. For the past umpteen years, we’ve been fed the “those models are Photoshopped” speech. And if someone thinks they can be fixed digitally, why can’t I?
I’m all for self improvement and wanting to be a better you. It’s crucial to our lives knowing we’re doing something to nurture and improve ourselves, whether in the form of exercise, eating better, self-affirmations, or even therapy. Yet somehow during this process, we get wrapped up in the physical aspect to the point of downloading this app to make us look pretty on our relentless social media feeds. It reeks of insecurity and self-doubt in a me, me, me culture where narcissistic #selfies are considered normal. It can even be argued that the filters of Instagram provide the same, yet less magnified, shield as Perfect365.
It’s hard to pinpoint where the problem lies. Is it rooted in our individual subconscious minds that we aren’t good enough? Or is it fueled by jealousy from obsessively looking at other people’s pictures and lives, all of which seem so much more aesthetically pleasing than our own?
It seems like just yesterday Myspace mirror pics epitomized a repugnant tackiness. What’s the difference between that and a selfie? Only now, celebrity #selfies make news. This surprises me even more than when a news network refers to a celebrity’s twitter account for a story.
Are we that starved for attention we need others to validate our self worth?
Out of curiosity, I posted my first officially tagged #selfie on Instagram using this app to hide my imperfections. 4 likes and counting acquired. No suspicions about my digitally applied makeup. I also questioned some friends about their thoughts on this trend. What shocked me the most is the selfie etiquette built up in people’s minds. For example, one person stated that taking selfies in the presence of other people is socially awkward, but taking them by yourself in the bathroom is normal. This is odd as selfies are inevitably consumed publicly.
So what warrants a selfie occasion? I’ve found that feeling particularly pretty is the main reason. No one strives to post pictures of them at their worst.
Determined to take a deeper dive into selfie culture and get to the bottom of this, I listened to a riveting interview on CBC radio with 3 authors on the subject. One theme that came up is that we are branding ourselves with the use of of selfies. Building a personal brand through articulating your story is crucial to your business, whether it’s a blog or your own company. Throwing selfies into the mix can further your professional image. However, Hal, author of The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors calls it “mass commodified imagery” that’s a part of the shift from pop culture to peep culture. He admits selfies are addictive because of their purpose to call attention to your friends and garner likes.
Susie Orbach, UK psychoanalyst, echoed my first instinct of skepticism: “It’s hard to value yourself if the whole culture is screaming at you to be beautiful. And you need to be beautiful in a particular kind of way…of course it’s very damaging. As long as you’re preoccupied by appearance then development of identity is skewed by this overvaluation on needing to look a certain way.”
Perfect 365, any similar app, or even a quick view in the mirror signals something you want to fix. You can turn this negative thought into a positive one with the right mindset. If you really want that clear skin, instead of faking it why don’t you get it for real by making healthy changes in your routine and diet? Eliminating dairy from my diet when I went vegan was the best thing I could have done for my skin. If your insecurities lie in an unchangeable piece of you, you might want to take some time away from your camera and build up self-confidence by spending time with supportive friends, not your phone. There is obviously still a lot to discuss in the way of selfie culture, but understanding the psychology behind it is a good place to start.
Sure, you can download this app and spend a few minutes playfully enhancing–or deforming–your face. But when you close it, know that you’re beautifully unique just the way you are, no “likes” or comments necessary.
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Photo: Nicole Hoffman