This article was originally published by Whimn.
Is call-out culture really what we need right now?
Hands up if you’ve ever scrolled through your fave girl crush’s Instagram feed and felt increasingly awful about insecurities you didn’t even know you had? Chances are you’ve experienced this – 50% of social media users aged 18-34 admitted that flicking through the ‘Gram made them feel ugly or unattractive. It’s unsurprising, considering many of us are setting eyes on hundreds of photos of contoured noses, razor-sharp cheekbones nipped-in waists and voluminous backsides on a daily basis.
Our collective wounded self-esteem is probably part of the reason accounts like @Celebface, which uncover sneaky celebrity and influencer airbrushing, are on the rise. After all, it’s hard not to feel a little thrill upon realising the person you’ve been comparing yourself to doesn’t even look like that herself. This is how it works: the account takes a photo that appeared on the account of a Kardashian, Jenner, Hadid or Instagram It Girl, and compares it with an almost identical, unairbrushed photo from somewhere else on the web, on paparazzi sites or posted by magazines and photographers. A quick stroll through the page’s posts shows the same alterations happening over and over again: Madison Beer’s torso shrinks, Kim K’s legs elongate, Rita Ora’s cheekbones become more chiseled, Bella Hadid’s boobs get a boost and Olivia Cuplo’s neck entirely changes shape. Stars, they’re insecure just like us!
Indeed, the comment sections of these accounts are littered with iterations of the same combination of relief and schadenfreude. “F**k this has made me feel so much better,” and “Damn, I needed to see this today,” appear below recent posts. The anonymous owners of @Exposingcelebsurgery, an account of the same ilk as Celebface, used to be one of those commenters. “I hated myself, but then I came across other exposing accounts and felt better about myself. It made me aware that they’re human and have flaws just like me.” she told me.
However, not everyone is as thrilled by prospect of seeing Instagram’s digital alterations laid bare. The subjects of Exposingcelebsurgery’s posts usually untag themselves and immediately block the account. It’s not hard to imagine why: influencers, models, singers and actresses profit by building a carefully-constructed image of a conventionally hot, well groomed, clear-skinned and slim appearance. An influencer who was on the receiving end, 18-year-old Megfeather, told whimn.com.au: “I felt like the only reason they’re doing it is to bully people and make them feel s**t about themselves.” Meg, whose account boasts over 400,000 followers, added,“I feel personally targeted, like they were trying to hurt me.”
Should we discount the hurt feelings of a few rich, famous people’s hurt feelings for the greater good of our collective body image? Maybe. But here’s zinger: research shows that knowing a photo has been airbrushed doesn’t do much to improve our lousy self esteem. A study from Flinders University presented women with two images: One which was labelled as digitally retouched, and the other with no label. Women identified feeling worse body dissatisfaction after seeing the image with identified retouching. Similarly, a University of Michigan study showed that adolescents who were made aware of retouching in images felt worse about how they looked.
Likewise, when we slid into the DMs of Celebface commenters, they reported feeling disappointment – rather than a sudden spurt of self-confidence- after seeing the account’s revelations. “There were girls [airbrushing their photos] who talk about body positivity, so I thought they didn’t edit their photos,” 21-year-old Flo told me. “It did change my perspective on them because they were so beautiful and yet insecure, it make them more relatable. Still, I was disappointed.” Another woman in her 20s, Georgina, told us, “It was shocking to see that everyone does it. It made me think, is everyone doing this? And therefore, should everyone be doing this to keep up?”
The problem is, pointing out someone’s dodgy airbrushing job does very little to challenge beauty standards in the grand scheme of things. Whether we are aware of these subtle tweaks or not, they exist within a framework of Western beauty standards literally nobody, not even supermodels, can live up to. According to Fiona Sutherland, accredited dietician and Body Positive Australia activist, following Celebface et al can do us some good, in increasing awareness of how easily we can be duped into believing an image is real. However, if no attempt is made to question why we should be attempting to live up to these impossibly high standards in the first place, there’s no real change to how we see ourselves, or others. “Instead, we need to change the way that ‘beauty’ is communicated,” Fiona said. “Until we are seeing diversity in age, gender, ability, size, culture, race and more, we will not move forward in supporting people, all people, to view themselves as acceptable.”
We can’t control the advertising and images we are bombarded with, but we do gave a say in which kinds of pictures we see on the ‘Gram. With Fiona’s sentiment in mind, unfollowing people who make you feel like an ugly ogre and replacing them with body-posi accounts like @i_weigh, proclaimers of self-love, like @theslumflower and @lizzobeeating or just pictures of girls eating grub under the hashtag #WomenEatingFood might not be a bad idea.