Scrolling through my Instagram feed last week, I noticed a picture of someone I thought I recognised, but couldn’t quite place.
The woman in the image looked a bit like someone I know, but different. For a start, she was taller and thinner. Although her face was familiar, it was like a Disneyfied cartoon version of her, highlighted, luminous and smooth with more defined cheekbones and bigger eyes. She looked younger.
It was her, of course – the woman I know. I had last seen her a few weeks ago, so I was pretty sure she hadn’t had a drastic surgical makeover like in Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. But maybe what she had done was just as sinister. This woman – attractive, educated, over 30, good career, children, husband – had manipulated her photo using one of the many apps created for the purpose. There was no explanation on the post, no “What a laugh, see what I can do with a little help from the Perfect Fairy”. Just “Me, earlier today, taking a break from the kids”.
Curious as to how this worked, I downloaded a perfecting app and a few clicks later, I was gazing at the new improved me – younger, thinner, more radiant, bright-eyed. Weird.
Naturally, if I ever post a photo of myself on social media, you can be sure I will pick a flattering one (I’ll mention here I’m not fond of this byline picture but, as our award-winning staff snappers never tire of pointing out, photography is not plastic surgery, or magic). However, to take an image and run it through an app so you come out looking like Jessica Rabbit? If my social feeds are anything to go by, this is becoming the norm for normal, grown-up women and men.
Some might think personal image manipulation is harmless, playful, amusing, ridiculous. It might be all these things, but mainly it’s sad and worrying. It’s happening not because of vanity but because of fear. Fear of being scrutinised, judged and humiliated for not being perfect. Any woman who sticks her (unmanipulated) head above the fence faces this and it’s hard not to be affected, even if you know full well that those judging are pitiful, bitter trolls with chips about anything and everything.
But if we adults don’t have the courage and confidence to show the world who we are, what are we saying to our children? That they, like us, will never be good enough? That bullies can and will be allowed to take us down? That we had better make darned sure we look perfect, especially if we want to say anything, do anything, be anyone?
So step away from the perfecting apps. Even on a bad hair day, you look great already. Oh, and by the way, in real life, I am way thinner and younger looking than this picture. Totally.