You look amazing on Instagram. Yes, you. I haven’t seen you around for a while, friend, but I can say with a heart full of awe (and maybe a teeny tiny sprinkle of envy) that you’ve finally come into your own. Your glow could power street lamps and those vegans out there got nothing on you. Your skin! What are you, 24? 23? Have you beaten time back with your selfie stick and a handful of kale? Yeah, I know you did, along with that cardio, which helped birth those high, tight abs. I tap “like” on your photo, but truly we both know, I’m really sending you respect across the internet. I hope you feel it. May it enhance your glow even more.
I’m sure something like this goes through people’s minds when they see an awesome selfie of someone they know on social media.
My friends and I are 30 now, and so Marie downloaded the Perfect 365 app for Instagram. On the bus back from a weekend trip, the three of us crowded around her, staring at her phone and taking in this selfie-enhancing app with jaw-sharpening, tan-giving, and imperfection-deleting capabilities that also minimize under-eye bags, all while contouring. With its facial recognition technology, it will only perfect the face of its user in group shots, which makes it quite a tool (and a slightly catty one, at that.)
Anita was pretty excited by the app and its potential: “Yes, through digital manipulation and pixel sorcery, I am hot AF!”
The app is addictive, and like a chocolate treat, hard to resist. It doesn’t turn you into someone else, exactly, it just gives you a bump and makes you feel a little special. It understands that you have a unique beauty and that this app can bring it out a little more and show it to others. Clicking on it feels like a special occasion for when you want to feel lovely.
I actually feel really relieved that superficiality has moved online. Perhaps it means that we can drop the pretense from our everyday lives and save the striving for the internet. Sure, the trend towards perfection in a profile pic is irritating and demeaning—here I am, a grown woman and worrying about having the prettiest picture. But here we are.
When I mentioned the app to my cousin Dave, he wanted to download it himself, although he didn’t get too far. The options were confusing and since he only posts about five selfies a year, it wasn’t worth the time. But I feel like my female friends post pictures of themselves constantly. I don’t want to be the ugly one. I want to keep up.
And the pressure is real. In 2015, Australian Instagram sensation Essena O’Neill was only 18, yet making $2000 for every post to her half-a-million followers. O’Neill’s photos of herself were flawless, gorgeous, seemingly effortless; a tiny figure in stylish outfits with perfect hair and a lovely smile. But after three years online, she quit social media. It was all too superficial, she said. It was exhausting having to look so perfect all the time, and each picture was contrived and time-consuming. Her exit was a media sensation and articles came out in Time, Cosmopolitan and The Guardian (and more). The obsession she felt about being “liked” in pictures is a real problem, other young women have felt it before. But O’Neill is so young, I can’t help but think that her primping and posing is only the tip of the iceberg compared to trying to maintain a “healthy glow” and 120lb weight in your third decade. Trying to look brilliant in your own self-controlled social media stream can be difficult, yes, but she only had to worry about Instagram, while out in the world all sorts of older women were running around in real time trying to mask themselves or remodel with weight watchers, botox, retinol, girdles, hair dye, facial peels, and hair volumizing techniques.
It’s hard getting older and having to watch your face begin to change. Especially if living in the post-Great Recession means you don’t have a job, house, or lifestyle that’s as grown-up as your crows’ feet. It just feels like there is a mismatch between me and my appearance. Not to mention the fact that since every social media profile is supposed to incorporate a recent photo, hundreds of others have the opportunity to look.
That’s when I decided, on the back of the bus with my buddies, looking at an app, that I should just start living like O’Neill. If I’m going to worry about looks, why not only worry about how I look on social media and stop caring about keeping up appearance IRL? It’s not my closest friends that I’m trying to trick, after all. Just the strangers and the acquaintances who I don’t know overly well, yet make up the bulk of my feed. For some reason, it’s only their judgment that bothers me.
The idea felt fantastic, affordable and painless.
And so we sat at the back of a budget travel bus on a trip we got off of Groupon—dressed in unstylish outfits and with hair that needed brushing and wearing make-up that had half-rubbed off—posting phenomenal images of ourselves online. We outsourced our need to be perfect onto the internet, and in real life, breathed out a little.
Written by: Heather Gilroy