To Thine Own #Selfie Be True

In June of this year, I clicked into something that had rapidly gone viral, spreading through my Facebook feed like a blazing wildfire.

Journalist Esther Honig’s project “Before & After” truly shocked me (and believe me, that’s saying a lot). It was a very straightforward concept. Esther snapped a quick, unaltered photo of herself and proceeded to send the image out to over fprty contracted graphic artists from over twenty-five countries with a simple request: Make Me Beautiful.

Journalist Esther Honig
Journalist Esther Honig

The slide show of results from places as varied as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Israel, and of course the US, bring to light different cultural perceptions of beauty and perfection. The idea for her project stems from America’s undying infatuation with Photoshop. “In the U.S. Photoshop has become a symbol of our society’s unobtainable standards for beauty. My project, Before & After, examines how these standards vary across cultures on a global level,” says Honig.

Robotic, Stepford wife images of celebrities follow us everywhere we go. From billboards to bus sides to magazine ads, unlined, flawless faces smile back at us with glossy, brilliant teeth and impossibly unwrinkled expressions. Singer Lorde fought against this when she tweeted a photoshopped picture of herself next to an unaltered one, claiming (correctly) that “Flaws are OK :-)”:

Lorde, Filtered and UnFiltered.
Lorde, Filtered and UnFiltered.

But what happens when this power is condensed, shrunk down, and packed into a handheld device? When everyday people have instant access to Photoshop-like platforms. A photo in my Instagram feed succinctly sums up this crisis:

Her Caption: “In a world where social media rules everything around us, how do we know what’s real? The internet has single-handedly made all things authentic become non-existent. Reality stars reign supreme and fake a**, ti** and lips seem the norm. Even with 16 year olds going under the knife. When will it stop? And how do I protect my daughter??”

Leah McSweeney is the CEO of woman’s clothing label Married to the Mob, which strives to empower ladies with punchy, in-your-face slogans splashed across tee shirts, sweatpants, and other various comfort wear. While their approach does tend to be rather strong sometimes, Leah’s message comes from a good place. How can she protect her daughter when these face altering apps go so far as to target children:

Is your child's complexion less than perfect?
Is your child’s complexion less than perfect?

Leah McSweeney’s vanished freckles made my eyes bug out, but they also made me realize that this was not the first time I had seen the effects of a “face changing” app. While looking at someone’s Instagram photos one nondescript day, one of my friends said, “She probably uses one of those apps that automatically photoshops your face.”

“Wait, what?” I responded, naive (and blissfully) ignorant of this alleged app to which she was referring.

This was the day I was first introduced to face perfecting applications. I googled the phrase “apps that change your face.”:


32.3 million results. Yikes.

I went a little further and searched for them in the app store, using the phrase “face editor.” Here is a quick collage of some of the results:


Enhance Your Features, Look Slim, Perfect Skin, Wrinkle Smoothing, Teeth Whitening. I didn’t realize there were so many things wrong with my selfies!

But let’s not spend the day selfie-shaming. In her blog post for the Huffington Post, writer Molly Fosco claims that selfie-taking can actually be used as a way to boost one’s self esteem.

The harshly judged practice of self picture taking, while perhaps excessive or annoying at times, can actually be a really simple way to feel really good about yourself… Although our selfies might be veiled in narcissism, self-obsession or boastfulness I think that for many it’s a genuine attempt to boost self esteem. Seeing a close up picture of your own face and willingly showing it to thousands of people with one click is a form of self-confidence that I don’t think should be quickly dismissed. It’s taking a risk and opening the door to criticism but hoping for positive reinforcement and love.

We’re all guilty of the filter effect. We test out ten different shades of lighting until we feel our photo looks its “best.” On a holiday that seems to be a perfect fit for a night packed with selfies, my digital detox challenge to you (and to me) is to lay off the constant need for unrealistic, unattainable perfection in the form of a photo. Smile lines are charming, they mean you smile a lot and often. Scars are proof of survival. Your teeth are your teeth. Slimming a photo doesn’t transfer said slimness into real life. We are all human and we are all flawed. Reconnect with yourself this weekend and embrace your aesthetic imperfections because that’s what makes you human. Presenting a false and edited version of yourself will only make self-acceptence harder. Use the selfie for good, instead of as a way to hide all of the brilliant, unique things that make you human.

Let’s make this an Unfiltered, Happy Halloween:

#NoFilter #GimmeAlltheCandy


“Digital Detox” is a weekly series written by Victoria Freyre. Every Friday, we explore different ways to disconnect, use the digital world responsibly, and rekindle human connection. To stay current with our latest posts,  follow #digitaldetox on our other platforms and check back regularly for updates.

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