#20 Have we lost our ‘self’ in the selfie?

Did I miss something or did we ban magazines from airbrushing and photoshopping their campaign images, but not Instagram for filters?

Are filters the new photoshop? Aren’t they kind of the same thing?

I remember a time where we were so worried about brands setting unrealistic standards of beauty through campaigns with models, who despite being proclaimed genetically ‘elite’ or ‘blessed’ were still being airbrushed to have thinner arms and legs, fewer wrinkles, and no signs of breakouts.

Fast forward to today, and I’m wondering why we aren’t worried about the posts from our friends: chins chiseled, foreheads smoothed out, lips plumped, eyes widened. And why we aren’t worried about the posts from ourselves.

For the past, I don't know, a long time, I’ve been saving every ‘natural’ filter on Instagram to my camera roll.

These do not make me look natural.

Do we even recognise our faces anymore? Are we just having fun? Why, then, am I having none?

The playground.

Generally, these filters pop up on my stories courtesy of the industry people I follow doing Q&A’s and who, for some reason, feel like they would be taken more seriously(?) if their faces looked like a Kardashian. Other times it’ll be celebrities or influencers who I (still, regrettably) check in on every now and then when I want to see where they’re at in their rise to / fall from fame. It’s rare that I see my friends using these filters, but it’s also not never.

I want to acknowledge that I fit into a specific idea of western beauty standards, I have blonde (dyed) hair, blue eyes, my skin has been relatively kind to me over the years and at 32 my weight has remained relatively the same. It’s also important for me to say that I’m not against surgeries or procedures that make people feel better about themselves, just as I am not against makeup making people feel better about themselves. I run a beauty brand, after all.

But we have always said that it’s ok to feel more with makeup so long as you don’t feel less without it. And we have always asked ourselves and our audience to think about why they wear makeup to begin.

So I’ve been asking myself:

What is at the core of this? Why do I wear makeup? Why do I want to get that procedure? Why would I be using that filter? Will it make me feel better about myself?

More importantly, why don’t I feel good about myself? As I am. Unfiltered.

No makeup. Good lighting. RHS Dewy sweaty post-yoga or crying or something.
LHS I actually have makeup on here (no filter) RHS the flowers are fun and so are the overt freckles but why this filter needed to airbrush my skin I don’t know.
RHS: Fucking lol.

Three filters I enjoy, but probably shouldn’t:

LHS: I mean, I want to change my hair colour, not my face shape and complexion. Middle: I want to tell myself this is like a costume with the horns and it’s fun but it’s also photoshopping my nose and lips so yeah. Probably not great. RHS: This is just so extreme it’s funny but also not funny because this is Jocelyn Wildenstein’s reality.

My core issue.

Is it shared by anyone else?

Accounts like @celebface showcase the day-to-day celebrity filtering that we have all accepted as norm, questioning the impact on their literal millions of fans — many of which are young and still growing into themselves and their identity from both an internal and an external, aesthetic ideal.

Jessica Defino gives an incredibly insightful, confrontational, well-researched, and obviously personal take on beauty myths, norms, standards, and expectations. I enjoy her writing; it’s made me question many of my own beliefs and unconscious practices and inspired/motivated me to continue writing about many things for Fluff — including this piece.

Norway has just passed a law targeting photo editing in an attempt to address body image issues in society. The new law mandates that content creators disclose when they’ve retouched or added a filter to a photo.

Taran Ghatrora, founder of beauty brand Blume, is running her own campaign against filters, trying to get Instagram to have automatic and obvious disclaimers about the use of augmented facial technology. It’s received mixed feedback, as most discussions around the topic do.

“It’s just fun.” “If it makes people feel good about themselves, who are you to judge?” “Selfies and filters are empowering.” “It’s my choice.”

But I wonder, just because we’ve chosen to do something, does that make it right, or non-exploitive?

One thing I can’t answer is where to draw the line. And with who.

Why could Dita Von Teese get away with the art of the tease, but an 18-year today old shouldn’t? Why is this kind of selfie ok, but another one not? Bikinis are fine but lingerie isn’t? Lip fillers no - but lip liner ok? Says who?

LHS me in bed with Ted. RHS: Who is she?

This is not my face.

And yet this filter existing is telling me that it should be or could be because there are procedures and products that exist that can do all of this. For an ‘affordable’ price.

Fake it till you make it has become filter it till you feel it. Or pay for it.

That’s my problem.

For decades, the beauty industry has sold us the idea that we are more when we add to our face. And now Instagram and other apps are telling us that we are more when we alter our face.

We seem to have forgotten that the Internet (and its evolution) didn’t happen by accident. Filters didn’t appear organically. Someone thought of them, someone presented them to a board, and someone approved them and published them.

Yes, Instagram is a modern version of the content we have been seeing for years. Before filters, it was magazines and TV. But let’s remember: we did eventually call that out. It’s happened before. Why are we letting it happen again? Why are we being reactive instead of proactive? Did we not learn our lesson? Are we expecting it to be magically different this time?

Identity.

Jia Tolentino and Ezra Klein recently spoke about the idea that identity is the core unit of polarisation — and I have to agree.We created these platforms as a way to express our individual identities, yet it seems we’ve ended up replacing them with a select few identities, filters titled things like ‘No Filter No Filter’ or ‘My Little Secret’.

Jia’s book, Trick Mirror, contains a timely essay, ‘Always Be Optimising’ that speaks volumes to this experience. “The ideal woman has always been generic… She looks like an Instagram, which is to say, an ordinary woman reproducing the lessons of a marketplace, which is how an ordinary woman evolves into an ideal… She is always optimising.”

There’s a general theme to these ‘natural’ filters, don’t you see? Jia makes a point of how society’s beauty standards have not decreased, but rather escalated, under a different guise. Nowadays, “Beauty work is labelled ‘self care’ to make it sound progressive.”

Maybe we’re making movement — but are we really? As Jia states, the influential model/influencer cycle goes something like this:

“A beautiful young woman who goes to great pains to maintain and perform her own beauty for an audience will eventually post a note on Instagram revealing that Instagram has become a bottomless pit of personal insecurity and anxiety. She’ll take a week long break from the social network, and then, almost always, will go on exactly as before… it’s so much easier, when we gain agency, to adapt rather than to oppose.”

Watching random dictionary words appear on my 98-year-old grandmother’s TV the other day (it’s a thing), I couldn’t help but laugh.

It got me thinking, have we all drunk too much of Instagram’s Kool-Aid?

Connection.

Instagram began as a platform to connect over shared values pertaining to different parts of our identity — or just photos of food, maybe — but that desire to connect has obviously been perverted. Or, it’s been overridden by our desire to perform, for others. Today it’s totally acceptable for a teenager to create and pursue an OnlyFans account as a legitimate career before they even consider what other skills, talents, or interest they might have.

What does that say about genuine connection? What values are we sharing if we’re just performing them? Are we doing any more than identifying? Are we just performing on the internet? Are we even giving ourselves the chance to connect? To form opinions? And hold space for others’?

I understand that putting a disclaimer on a filter or removing ‘natural’ filters is not going to solve the problem in its entirety. Comparison and optionality when it comes to beauty aesthetics is not a new issue — I’ve always been able to compare myself to a younger or idealised version of me, or my neighbour, or the girl sitting across from me at the cafe — but our insecurity wasn’t built for this scale. Now I can compare myself to millions of people, every minute, of every day.

I recognise that I’m part of and conflicted by this problem in running a beauty brand— I can only hope that Fluff is a lesser of all evils because makeup should be and can be expressive and fun and highlight your natural, individual features. It should help you discover, not cover what is intrinsically you.

Nuance.

What I’m not cool with is seeing my younger cousins or any younger Fluff customer obsessing over retinol and chemical peels, considering procedures, and applying makeup once reserved for performative drag to go to the beach, the gym, or before their partner wakes up next to them, and filtering their perfect youthful faces so that they look like a 35-year-old with botox.

Side note: First introduced in 1989, to treat two eye-muscle disorders, Botox was later approved for treating severe neck and shoulder muscle contractions. In 2002, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use to temporarily smooth frown lines between the eyebrows. The toxin weakens or paralyzes the injected muscle, the effects of which can last up to 120 days. Aka It’s medical-grade poison. The work that used to be carried out by makeup is now being literally embedded into our faces. Botox injections are the fastest-growing cosmetic treatment provided by surgeons in the United States.

So, am I happy at the idea that people don’t need to get botox because they can just apply a filter instead? I don’t know. Is this just technology making things easier?

Yes, we’re still going to try and ‘filter’ our content in other ways, or present to the world a shinier view. I am no saint. Every Instagram post or story I put out is me trying to tell you about the person I want to be or the person I think I am. It’s a construction, a performance, an act. We’re constantly editing ourselves for public consumption. My personal compass is that I try to be the same online as I am offline. You can be the judge of that.

Usually, if you were to get to know me, at some point you’d see me behind closed doors. When I’m a little frizzy, controlling, a mess. When does that happen on the internet? When do we take our makeup off, online?

Have I lost my ‘self’ in the selfie?

If ‘I.e.’ is an abbreviation for the phrase id est, which means “that is” then what is Self.i.e? That is: my self. That which is me.

Is this ‘internet me’ really me at all?

I think it’s fair to say that the internet has distorted the idea of who we’re in the world for, or at least, who we are posting content for. Why are we talking to people with no reference, as opposed to fewer people with context; care, and understanding? Why am I seeking validation from a stranger — their opinion is literally none of my business.

Are these the photos I’ll want to show my kids one day? Will I be embarrassed, or proud? Does any of this even matter? Does anyone actually care?

Here is something I think we should care about. Instagram filters are less than 10 years old. The ‘social internet’ is so relatively young. We can’t possibly know the long-term effects of such —risks as depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. Risks, and statistics that we spent over a year researching before we launched Fluff:

60% of women can pinpoint that their self-esteem plummets as they go through puberty.

A fifth of girls as young as 12 won’t leave home without full make-up — and over half of under-14s wear cosmetics every single day.

At least 20 percent of girls who have ever worn makeup have negative feelings when they are not wearing makeup, reporting feeling self-conscious (20%), unattractive (17%), and naked/as though something is missing (15%).

We’re made acutely aware of our self-presentation from an early age, regardless of whether you grew up with the internet or not. I remember a model once saying: models are insecure because of other models. And it made me realise, even the most stereotypical ‘beautiful women’ are insecure too. I can’t take someone else’s personal experience away from them just because it looks different from where I’m standing.

Maybe at the core of this is the question of why beauty matters so much — and why it can’t matter less? Perhaps that’s too idealistic in a capitalist world, I’m not sure. But I am hopeful.

Perhaps what we really need to do is remember and remind ourselves and each other (especially young people), that we are worth so much more than the selfies we post, and the filters we overlay them with, and the likes and follows we receive. That real value isn’t found in what we look like, (online or offline), even if someone has made millions of dollars off their image as their brand.

Our worth ultimately lies in how we’re contributing to the world (outside of ourselves) to make it a better place, on a small or large scale, be it through our work, our art, or our relationships.

I am so sick of seeing my face in this article. I’m sorry you’ve had to. As I run out of words, I’m left asking myself what I want you, the reader to feel.

I’m not entirely sure. Maybe I just want you to question content, question consumption, question your habits: who you follow, what you like, how it serves you, what you’re trying to filter, and why.

That’s all I can seem to do.

— —

We recently put a post up on Fluff’s Instagram with excerpts of this article. It did surprisingly well, which prompted me to share the full piece.

This is my opinion. A series of imperfect sentences discussing what is happening right now in an industry and world we’re all connected to. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I don’t think I even want everyone to. Nor do I want to make anyone feel pressured about how they choose to engage with social media. I’ll do me; you do you.

If it strikes a chord however and makes you think, please let me know. And if you think someone would like to read this, please share it with them.

Thanks to Bridget, Charl, Ellen, Mirte & Tash for their feedback.

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