I’m not sure when it happened. Somewhere between Xanga, the demise of Myspace and the transition to Timeline on Facebook, social networking sites became a much bigger part of our lives than they ever needed to be. What was supposed to be a virtual marketplace of social interaction has slowly been devolving into an obsessive and mentally detrimental competition — a competition we rarely discuss with each other, a competition that produces no real victor in the end.
Similar to high school, this unspoken rivalry revolves primarily around popularity and attractiveness (and we thought we were past all that) — except now we have tools and tricks to make us appear more popular or attractive than we actually are. Exhibit A: a new friend request? “Hmmm … I vaguely remember this girl from a party. Was she the one who trolled? I have no bloody idea who this is. Good enough.” I see what you did there.
Most of us are guilty of this next one: altering our photos. I expect many of you to instantly protest and insist you’re only editing your pictures for the “artistic value.” Never mind that the effects you’ve applied have conveniently eliminated your blemishes and dark circles. But I’m no saint. Granted, while I haven’t actually taken a Photoshop knife to my body or face in any way, I looked through my photo albums and counted four pictures of myself I’ve altered with cross process, or the common “Instagram effect,” and one picture with black and white.
Honestly, digitally trimming the fat around your waist or blurring out the cellulite in your profile picture may seem relatively harmless to you. But a recent survey conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt revealed a possible correlation between Facebook usage and negative body image. Is anyone really surprised? Think about it.
In general, the only pictures of ourselves we upload and share are ones that present us in a flattering light; and these days, with Photoshop and a basic knowledge of photography, it’s becoming easier to do just that. But by enhancing and eliminating certain details of our photos, we are ultimately creating an illusion of perfection that doesn’t exist. Even worse, we are shamelessly selling this false reality to our friends without any concern for the repercussions. If we all participate in this deceiving practice, how is anyone supposed to be able to differentiate between the modified, revamped versions of people and the real deal?
Let’s think of this in terms of a magazine advertisement displaying a beautiful woman and a handsome man. When taking pictures of these models, photographers modify the lighting and the angles, positions and facial expressions of the models, not unlike what you do when you’re taking pictures of yourself in your bedroom. Afterward, the photo editor will carefully leaf through the vast array of images, meticulously inspecting each one in an attempt to find the perfect photograph. Sound familiar? Next comes photo editing. Blemishes are removed. Say goodbye to fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration and stretch marks. Let’s tone the arms, slim down those thighs and tighten up those abs. People will just assume she works out regularly or, even better, was born this way. Make her breasts bigger. Can someone get this woman a tan please? Give him a sharper jaw line. Let’s put some muscle on his calves. Hello well-endowed compression shorts in 3 … 2 … 1.
See, what I don’t understand is how quick women are to criticize this practice when fashion magazines do it, yet they are incredibly unwilling to post and share pictures of themselves in a “natural” state. Hypocrisy at its finest. By continuing to portray ourselves in a deceivingly perfect light, we’re directly contributing to the repulsive and destructive expectations set before us by a sickeningly superficial culture.
From making ourselves appear more muscular or toned to tanner or skinnier, we’ve become obsessed with eliminating the existence of our “imperfections” and any evidence we possess “flaws.” It’s like we’ve totally abandoned our own uniqueness, in all of its imperfect splendor, and traded it in for a stencil with which we will redraw ourselves to fit the norm.
I’ll leave you with this last thought. When you post a picture you’ve altered, you don’t use the caption space to list the details of the photo that you’ve edited. “I’m not really this tan. Photoshop.” You don’t mention that this picture was one of 75 that you took on Photo Booth and that you hated all the rest. No, you just write something like, “Bored” and you let people believe that’s how you really look.
It may not seem destructive, but it is.