I have a love/hate relationship with Snapchat. In some ways, the app is awesome. It keeps me updated on what my friends are doing through pictures even more quickly than Instagram. And anyone who knows me knows that I. Love. Pictures.
You have to take a picture in order to send a Snap. It is the most basic function of the app. And the most convenient thing to take a picture of is your own face because, well, it's there.
And that is my problem with Snapchat.
When I take a selfie I get completely hung up on the way I look, and I can spend minutes taking pictures before I actually send out even one Snap.
Are my eyes too squinty? Does my chin look weird? What is my hair even doing right now? I adjust and manipulate every feature until it is exactly how I want it.
By the time I’m done it isn’t even my face anymore. I’ve got my head tipped to one side, some ridiculous expression on my face, or I've just given up and half of my face is out of frame.
It doesn’t even look like me, and I have wasted a solid five minutes on something my friend will glance at for five seconds then never see again.
I get frustrated and un-install Snapchat, then grudgingly re-install it a few weeks later and take pictures of the walls and floors instead of myself. But then I realize, that defeats the purpose of Snapchat. If I'm not going to add my own facial expression to the message, I might as well just text.
My Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are no better. The last time I posted a real selfie on Instagram? October.
The funny thing is, I never used to be this self-conscious. When I was nine or ten years old and someone pointed a camera at me, I would immediately beg to see the picture afterward to know what I looked like. If it was a video? Even better. Watching how I walked and hearing how I talked was a thrill for ten-year-old me.
It has only been since I started to point the camera at myself that I feel awkward. Using the front camera, everything seems distorted. I over-analyze the way my face looks in every selfie because I know I am in control. I can adjust the lighting and angle, and other little tweaks, so my perfectionist tendencies have a field day.
We post the things we do on social media in order to influence how others see us, but could Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram make us see ourselves in different ways? How much does social media change our self-perception?
How would we think about our own appearances if the selfie had never been invented?
I'm not the first person to over-analyze myself in front of the camera. People were doing it a hundred years ago when silent movies were just starting out. Movies would eventually reshape social life and culture in a way similar to what social media is doing for us today, but in the beginning, no one could predict just how powerful they might be.
Movie directors of the grainy black and white era made their own guesses about how movies would affect society. Jean Epstein, a French filmmaker, saw the movie camera as the key to access a previously undiscovered reality.
Basically, he thought the camera could act as an objective eye that peered into a dimension people hadn't discovered yet.
The idea of an alternate reality born from a camera lens sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie...until you stop and think about it.
Before movies came along, the only way people had to document themselves was through taking pictures, which were two dimensional and not of great quality at the time. When they could see themselves on film, moving around, talking, and interacting with each other in three dimensions, it must have looked like a whole new world.
And now, thanks to social media we have our own new world with which to contend. One where we have a lot of control over the way we look. And this makes us spend a lot more time thinking about how we use that control.
Has social media created a new way for us to see ourselves? Created another reality, just like the silent movie era, where we can observe our own actions like they are coming from someone else?
Thanks to sites like Facebook, our whole life storyline, pictures, status updates, career changes, whatever is now available for us to scroll through in one long online list. Facebook can even track our past romantic relationships and the years we were born.
Have we found another alternate reality through camera lenses? We think about ourselves differently when we are submerged in this online world. We are quickly critical, and hyper-focused on fixing mistakes.
When I take a selfie I am observing myself, and that is weirdly fascinating. I spend all of this time manipulating and changing my own image, just because I can.
But then, when I look from the mirror to my "face" on social media there is a disconnect where the two don't match up. If you spend enough time altering a picture, you can make yourself unrecognizable.
That is the problem I have with Snapchat and social media in general. Walking the line between what is just a small improvement to the genuine image, and get snagged into some alternate reality.
As of this moment, Snapchat is installed on my phone. We're in a friendly phase of our on-again/off-again relationship. To save myself hours of struggle and stay somewhat authentic online, I have a new "one take" selfie rule. Whatever picture I take the first time I tap the camera button is the one I am going with.
If my eyes are closed and my hair is sticking up in six places? Too bad.
After one take, that's the picture. My friends are just going to have to deal with it.