An exploration into the real dangers of living life through a filter
It seems like an age ago since the term ‘photoshopped’ was first coined and the world began to realize that the airbrushed images all over fashion media were artificial double standards, impossible to replicate. We distanced ourselves from this airbrushed beauty extremism, accepting that front-cover perfection was something only to be found on billboards and magazine shelves. But as ever, technology continues to manipulate our ideals and this concept is now creeping a lot closer to home, onto a platform we all use every day. Social media applications such as Instagram essentially make all of us Editor-in-Chief of our own lifestyle publications, giving us the opportunity to alter the way we present ourselves to our friends and followers.
Surely editing photographs is just a harmless creative outlet? I hear you. Changing the colour-balance of your holiday snaps and adding the odd lens flare for a vintage feel is really the least of our problems. Sure, we’re creating something artificial, and whether it be upping the contrast to make ourselves look more tanned or dimming the background to make that hipster bar we were in look just a bit cooler, these photos don’t represent reality. But the issues with warping real life go deeper than just a lomo effect.
In fact, the level of filtering that social media enables us to do is much more than a surface level altering of exposure. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram give us a blank-canvas, the opportunity to create a profile of ourselves as we want to be seen by others. By carefully choosing which photos we share, we each have the opportunity to edit our own lives; to chop out the unglamourous parts and exaggerate the good times. Think about how we might un-tag a photo, if we don’t like the way we look. Social media allows us to create a version of ourselves where the bad bits are removed, and we only show ourselves in a particular, flattering light. We present almost an airbrushed version of our lives.
The problem here is that we don’t have the same acceptance of said warped reality here as we do with photoshopped media campaigns. We’re all guilty of so-called ‘stalking’ – where we likely procrastinate from our life-admin by looking through the Facebook feeds of friends and acquaintances. Or even worse, the classic ‘scroll though the newsfeed’ when in a public situation with no one to talk to. We look at our friends, all featured having fun and in exciting places, and immediately start to feel bad about ourselves and to compare our own, average lives to their fun filled ones. Without seeing the unpolished sides of others, we begin to feel insecure about our own imperfections.
Whilst extensive research has been done into the physical health impacts of technology and radiation, the research into the mental health implications of social media is relatively scarce. Yet an increase in cases of social anxiety could clearly be linked to the constant comparing that these platforms permit. Every photo we de-tag, or that doesn’t ever make it on to social media in the first place is equivalent to another spot airbrushed away from a billboard campaign. It’s just another imperfection we choose not to share; the difference this time around is that you don’t have to be a model or celebrity to conceal it.
Scarily, it’s not just the image of ourselves we present that becomes warped, but also the version of our lifestyles that we choose to share, and people have even become idols for their perfect lives, or natural beauty. Take insta-star Essena O’Neil for example, the 19 year old Australian model who chose to shut down her instagram account on realizing that the photos of her candid life were just ‘contrived perfection made to get attention.’ Essena was just one of many of the ‘social media famous’ cult, whose ‘lifestyle’ accounts consisted of heavily staged photos posing as spontaneous snapshots of coincidentally idyllic living made up of green juice, coffee and beach yoga.
Idolising such social media stars can have further implications than just feeling a little disheartened by our own mediocre lives where yoga is traditionally found in the village hall and filter coffee tastes a lot better when it isn’t filtered and comes from Starbucks with a lot of cream. In fact, so many of us normal folk tried to emulate the ‘clean eating’ of the tanned, thin models we saw promoting said health food crazes on Instagram that a new eating disorder was born: Orthorexia – an obsession with a so called ‘healthy’ lifestyle. Whilst models are paid £££ to promote health businesses and products on social media, many followers fail to recognize the ‘non-reality’ of such promotional shots, and end up making unfair comparisons.
The underlying issue here is the confusion between life on social media, and life in reality. What’s needed is the same serious exposure of the issue as we gave to ‘photoshopping’ to allow us to distance ourselves from this warped representation of real life. Reassuringly, accounts such as @socialitybarbie, featuring a Barbie-doll mockingly living the oh-so-hipster life of the insta-famous soared in popularity, suggesting that we have noticed the ridiculousness of our social-media self presentation. Nonetheless, it is vital that we remember that the filtering of our friends and insta-idol’s accounts goes far deeper than a simple X-pro II.