Most people want to be seen at their best. Sure, we all have our flaws, our off days, our tired and grouchy days. But generally, that is not how we want people to remember us. So it is hardly surprising that in a world increasingly dominated by social media people are turning to the tricks of commercial advertising to market their own individual identities. Several new apps can provide instant cosmetic enhancement to Instagram and Facebook snapshots, removing blemishes and even adding digital makeup.
It has long been the ploy of advertisers to present us with aspirational images of perfection.
From airbrushed skin and erased wrinkles, to whitened teeth and slimmed waists, the images that advertise consumer products are little more than fictions. They are no more real than the mannequins standing in the windows of your local high street.
Fiction exists to inspire us, to engage our imaginations and feed our dreams. In context there is nothing wrong with fantasy. However, recent evidence suggests that the pressures of social media, combined with increasing exposure to idealised images at an ever younger age, has had an impact upon how people see themselves. Increasingly, it seems that people are aspiring to biologically impossible ideals.
Personally, I like to use a variety of images. I am also both a keen photographer and an avid photoshopper and I enjoy the creative potential of digitally altered images. However, if like me you are of a certain age you will remember that advertising images from the 1970’s and early 1980’s generally had more natural looking models. The images were still aspirational, and the models clearly beautiful, but they also had things like pores, hair that didn’t gleam like running water, and maybe even the odd freckle or two.
Possessed by a sudden nostalgia, I decided to do a bit of research on photographs of models before and after photoshopping. The results are below. I was struck by how natural the photoshopped versions have come to seem to me.
Recent studies highlight some interesting facts. One study found that one in four people are depressed about their body, another found that almost a third of women say they would sacrifice a year of life to achieve the ideal body weight and shape, and almost half of girls in a recent survey think the pressure to look good is the worst part of being female. Given such negative body image, the recent rise in use of apps to instantly airbrush and touch up Facebook and Instagram pictures is not surprising. With digital enhancement, we too can erase our ‘flaws.’
Yet while there is nothing wrong with wanting to be our best, and surely visible health and radiance is an acceptable goal, maybe it is actually our notion of what is a ‘flaw’ that has become flawed. It seems inevitable that we’ll face ever more fictions from each other online. Should we view this as a way of taking charge over how we tell our own stories? Or is the truth that by creating such an unbridgeable gap between fact and fiction, we are setting ourselves up to fall?