Apps like FaceTune, Snow and InstaBeauty present a filtered view of ourselves. As we become more and more divorced from our online images, are we taking airbrushing too far?
The FaceTune app has been downloaded more than 60 million times. Users can smooth their skin, remove blemishes, whiten their teeth, sharpen their eyes and reshape their face. They can take in their waist and increase their curves.
The upgraded version, FaceTune 2, includes a live-editing tool so users can control how their photos will appear even before taking a pic.
Since its launch in 2013, selfie-editing apps have proliferated, with Snow, InstaBeauty and others vying to get a piece of the airbrushing app action. The applications are cheap, user-friendly alternatives to Photoshop, and they exist in the pockets of millions.
We are well aware of the effects of airbrushing on body image, with Gen Y and Gen Z growing up in a world in which this was an established aspect of advertising and media.
Consequently, there has been much discussion over the last few decades about this media’s effects. In many ways, younger generations have been the experimental subjects of this type of imagery. The next image-manipulation frontier is personal editing apps.
Rather than reducing the amount of airbrushing in media, app-creators have instead put this power into the hands of the common person. Instead of viewing images of celebrities airbrushed to perfection on the covers of glossy magazines, we scroll through edited photos of everyday people. Even people we know, work with, or go to school with.
With the ability to alter one’s appearance at the touch of a button, our own features become part of this competition. As the practice normalises, app users become more and more divorced from their online personas.
Instagram VS Reality
In 2017, FaceTune was the most popular paid app on the iTunes store. With an estimated 50 million people worldwide using the dating app Tinder alone, its no wonder that these two facets of online culture collide.
The term “catfishing” refers to a user of an online account using fake images or information to construct an artificial identity. In the era of FaceTune, it is no longer necessary to hunt for images of other people on the internet. Users can simply perfect their own photos. Now we no longer just catfish romantic partners, we catfish the world.
A popular Reddit page, r/Instagramreality, sheds light on the extend of editing that goes on in apps like FaceTune and Snow, much of it more undetectable than we might think. The average selfie-taker is now a sophisticated self-editing technician. It’s left to the viewer to decode the results.
Founder of the subreddit, Zaza9000 told Vox of FaceTune,
“It’s made editing accessible to everyone, and to the untrained eye, someone may not see the curvy walls or messed-up fence post. All they see is a body goal.”
Snapchat has been called out for its filters typically lightening the skin of users in order to “beautify” them, a practice that others dark-skinned people and forces their images to conform to white-centric ideals of beauty.
More and more, edited images on social media fit within specific aesthetic boundaries.
“Instagram Face” and Snapchat Dysmorphia
British photographer Rankin recently took natural portraits of 15 teenagers and asked them to filter their image. The intent was to alter their natural photos so they would receive more likes. This project, Selfie Harm, is one component of a larger project exploring social media’s effect on mental health.
Rankin told My Modern Met,
“My intention was to show what ANY young kid can do with an app that can be downloaded by a 13-year-old on any smartphone…
They make the idea of changing your face into a game. This, in turn, makes you “feel” like there is something wrong with you. If I could feel freaked out at 50, what would any teen feel and think?”
“Instagram face” proliferates online; an uncanny uniformity present in Instagram influencer’s selfies. Large, wide eyes; huge pouty lips; glowing skin; and teeny tiny waists are par for the course on the app. Those that don’t try to fit in get left behind.
“They were all great and had really exciting personalities, but when they filtered themselves, they all made themselves more homogeneous—larger eyes, thinner chins, brighter skin. It’s clear that they all have similar unrealistic beauty ideals that they’re trying to make themselves match up to.”
In the era before selfies and filters, public concern lay in the rise in eating disorders linked to the media’s unrealistic body standards.
In 2019, Snapchat Dysmorphia is on the rise. This refers to the increase in people requesting cosmetic procedures in order to resemble their filtered, digital image. Rather than bringing in photos of celebrities to plastic surgery clinics, patients are now bringing in filtered photos of themselves.
The Pursuit of Perfection
CEO of FaceTune’s company Lighttricks, Zeev Farbman told The Guardian,
“We did not create FaceTune for body manipulations, but I’m not sure it’s our place to decide how people use the app.
“Social media is not a reality show, it’s a director’s cut of your life. Some people are more successful in creating that director’s cut than others.”
But the enlarged eyes and poreless skin found on Instagram and Snapchat are unattainable for the real life person, who must exist and socialise in the real world.
Influencers exist within the paradox of trying to look perfect while also coming across as authentic. If they too obviously edit their images, they risk the greatest insult of all: being called “fake”.
As with all trends, as something becomes more popular, it loses its mystique. Now that these beauty ideals are more attainable through editing, perhaps they will eventually fall out of fashion. As much as we want to fit in, we also want to stand out from the crowd. If this means going against accepted beauty ideals, the brave among us might take the chance.
But humans, it seems, will continue to find new ways to chase perfection, even as it lingers forever out of our reach.
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