In the information age, where the prevalence of platforms like Instagram and Twitter seem to influence almost every facet of life, nothing is safe. That can hold more than one meaning depending on how you look at it, but this sort of connection can affect everyone and everything to differing magnitudes.
Social media platforms play out like the open kitchen window at the tender age of 13, where one is stuck washing the stack of dishes after dinner, while the kids outside frolic and do everything else but.
How many of us are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, leaving our less-than-lucrative jobs with a coffee-stained shirt, scrolling through IG, and stumbling upon an influencer vacationing on an island somewhere? How many of us are shuffling through the discount bin while one of those "hypebeast" users show off the latest Balenciaga wear? If this applies to how we make money and how we dress, then it certainly has double the effect on how we look, see, and mold ourselves.
While it used to be merely television, magazines, and toys that did it, social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter can now be added to the list of contributors to body image issues. SM platforms, however, have the added decisions of its users, and the unpredictability, speed, numbers that affect our self-image like nothing before.
The rise of studio-quality camera settings to take studio-quality pictures and videos, on a budget of someone with a $200 smartphone, was a step forward for the working class as well as everyone that didn't fit in the box of conventional attractiveness.
Beauty has two sides, conventional and unconventional; both are results of extensive and sometimes time-consuming conditioning.
Traditional, conventional beauty as applicable to women called for slim and fit, a heart-shaped face, straight hair, small nose and thin but pouty lips, and smooth, pale, blemish-free skin without a trace of wrinkles or pores.
As time passed, so did self-image and our understanding of it. Curly hair became celebrated, brows got bigger, sharp cheeks and jawlines came into vogue, full lips and fuller figures became sought after, freckles became loved and blemish-free skin of all shades gradually found corresponding colors in makeup, and, with the turn of a new decade in the 21st century, women of larger sizes were found in magazines and fashion prints. An era of progress.
Within the World of Beauty
But with the advent of social media, showcasing these once-odd features as fashion, came the call for truth. And despite our expanding ideas of descriptors like pretty, beautiful, and gorgeous, the world of beauty and attractiveness is still very much in a box.
If a model's hair is curly or kinky, it must be styled a certain way, and many ladies with hair like that will still be pushed towards straightening despite the damage and cost. Freckles and beauty spots must be minimal and relegated to areas like the cheeks, under the eyes, and maybe over the nose. Lighter skin is still idealized, as is being shorter if you're female. Lashes and eyelid tape are used to open up the eyes of models with a 'narrow gaze'.
Fat must be shaped a certain way, with fullness in the breasts, hips, and thighs accented by an unrealistic thin waist and neck, and minimal fat everywhere else. Cellulite, stretch marks, and body rolls are unacceptable in popular brands no matter your size. Contouring with makeup, even along the body, is heavily utilized.
All this results in a cosmetic, aesthetic mix not achievable by many people, especially a person whose most valuable bit of technology is a $200 smartphone.
Nostalgia harkens images, mostly, from decades past, and are typically tied to certain chunks of time like the '20s, the '50s, the '60s, and so on. An observation from various online netizens states that certain looks, certain makeup fads, certain fashion trends, and silhouettes defined every 'era'.
At least, up until the new millennium, where the technology and advances in cosmetic surgery, body modification, and popular culture slowly shifted the popular appearance to encompass elements from every image possible, into one generally, conventionally pleasant look.
The result was magazine spreads of women with 'no-makeup' makeup looks, full-but-not-too-full lips, contoured cheeks and noses, winged eyeliner, full but shaped brows, highlighted cheekbones, eye-widening lashes, and makeup, neutral glowy tones to sell the naturalness of the 'no-makeup' makeup look. The Kardashian women are famous for spearheading this look.
It works if your unaltered appearance already gravitates towards this ambiguous, conventional look. Or if you are wealthy enough to afford treatments to gain this image. But if you don't, then your self-image takes several hits. Double whammy if you can't afford to style your hair, dress, or even eat the way many on social media do.
Filters (And the 'Dark Side' of Lighting)
Filters are fun and convey personalities when applied to certain images. From the whimsical and free Snapchat filters that come with animations or even applying cartoonish features to a picture, to the artistic and 'serious' filters that wash certain colors and light schemes onto a picture on Instagram, or even drain the color for the museum-quality of black-and-white, antique photos.
If nothing else, filters help to alter one's appearance by concealing certain flaws, emphasizing certain features, and even changing the color or shade of a model's skin. This sounds harmless and typically is until one considers how many filters lighten or wash out skin tones.
Lighter skin is considered more attractive in many cultures, which is already a disadvantage to anyone born with darker skin. There are ways to lighten skin tone, but the methods that have the most dramatic results are also dangerous.
Most notable is skin bleaching, a skin lightening method that has a long myriad of side effects including thinner, weaker skin, uneven tone, severe irritation and redness, grey spots, acne, skin cancer, bone atrophy, asthma, mercury damage to the brain and kidneys, and birth defects on newborn babies.
Even less harsh methods can result in only slightly lowered harmful effects. And the decision for extreme methods like skin bleaching comes from the small, seemingly harmless motivations; like a filter on Instagram or Snapchat that makes your skin lighter, and covers your picture in hearts, flowers, and words like 'pretty' and 'fairest of them all'.
The cherry on the top of this self image-destroying sundae are influencers, the celebrities of internet platforms that are paid by various companies to influence consumers into buying certain products and services.
What makes influencers so appealing, particularly in the self-image industry, is their 'relatability' factor. The ability to relate and build connections to the average person like no red-carpet, A-List celebrity can is a powerful testament to the way social media connects the world.
The existence of influencers also promotes the idea that "hard work pays off no matter who you are" and that people can be sufficient and well-off in a way not accessible to our grandparents. Many influencers are girls and women that promote cosmetics, food, clothing, athletic tools and equipment, procedures like Coolsculpting and gold-leaf facial treatments, technological apps and products, and other influencers and artists.
Even the presence of men and LGBTQ influencers, many who promote the same things major female influencers do, give the idea that social media and the self-image niche is welcoming, progressive, and free of religious and corporate influence.
But influencers are compensated not only to influence but to be influenced. And many influencers are unfortunately raised by money, in every possible way.
Many influencers have expendable income many of us can only dream of, and many more are heavily sponsored by companies that prey on our need to conform to what's considered attractive and happy. And influencers, much like the social media platforms we see them flaunting themselves from, are airbrushed and styled down to hide the unpredictable income and hard work that forms the base of their Hollywood-inspired appearances.
The average 9-to-5 worker has none of the expendable income or access to facilities, products, and services that influencers do, yet there is an untold expectation to do what they do to get what they have. This is unrealistic and unhealthy for many things, especially one's self-image.