On Self Image
Debating the societal responsibility of my own social media usage and the wider impact of social media on self image
Along with the rest of the (privileged) world lockdown has me confined to my home with absolutely nothing to do. Along with nothing to do comes the desire for obsessive social media usage, and absolutely bugger all to share with the world. My lockdown posts so far have been a few pictures of my dog looking cute, one selfie, a compilation of little things that had made me smile, and one snapchat thirst trap of an especially booby selfie with an inane caption about managing to get dressed. While wasting away another day in lockdown I (unusually for me) decided to do a full face of makeup, which lead to wandering around my home until I found the most flattering lighting, then banging out about 100 selfies until I found one where I liked my facial expression. Clearly, this was already very much me at my best, but because of the time of day the lighting wasn’t quite as flattering as it could’ve been, so I figured I’d whack it in Facetune and knock down the contrast a bit and up the saturation to recreate that perfect “golden hour” lighting. After a lot of little tweaks I finally had “the perfect selfie”, which in my eyes was still just a selfie because all I’d really done was touch up the lighting. At this point I paused before instagramming it purely because I was worried about posting two selfies too close together and seeming vain, so the selfie sat in my camera roll for a few days.
Three days later while snapchatting a friend I tried a filter which makes your lips look bigger, and wondered about tweaking my lips in the selfie to recreate that affect. So I whack it back in Facetune and make my lips a little bigger, but while stretching my lips I seemed to have also stretched my nose a little, so I shrink it back down, and a little extra just to make it a bit more flattering, and then that looks remarkably realistic, so I narrow my jaw a little while I’m at it, and then admire my newly “perfect” selfie, and realise that it’s in no way a selfie at this point because it’s no longer in any way me.
I would consider myself a staunch feminist, and in general very secure in myself, I have never posted a selfie with enhanced features, and haven’t edited them at all for years, I largely don’t even post selfies, but it was still a simple progression from feeling good trying out a new makeup look to tweaking everything in the picture and wanting to share it online. And I guess even at the point I decided against it I still preferred the edited photo, but felt some sense of responsibility to any woman who might see it not to portray this unrealistic version of myself.
Whilst I’ve never posted an edited picture, I have sent them, specifically to men. This may seem like an odd boundary but to me I feel I’m unlikely to feed into a mans hatred of his figure. I recently took a “casual” holiday bikini pic to send while “casually” chatting to a man I was interested in, and hated my stomach in it so much that I deleted the original as soon as I’d edited out the stomach, then went to my deleted folder and deleted it from there to hide any evidence that was what my body really looked like (incidentally for this effort I got a “looks nice” on a blurry picture of some grass). Reflecting on it now it seems hypocritical that I think it would be unkind to another woman to set these unrealistic expectations for them, and yet I’ll set them for myself without a thought.
Along with my increased social media usage I have tried to consume media more consciously. I’ve followed and liked pages of creators, campaigners, and thought provokers. I’ve also followed a lot of plus sized women, and with this I realise my perception has changed, plus sized women look beautiful to me now, and often better than their slimmer counterparts. Of course the downside to this is, plus sized women look “better” to me, which still isn’t a healthy and body positive mindset.
In my post pubescent life I’ve ranged from a size 8 to a size 14, the only thing that has remained consistent is my belief that I am too fat, suggesting maybe it’s not my body that’s the problem. I topped out at 14 stone (at 5’ 11”) about 4 months ago and decided then that I should actually apply myself to losing weight as I was unhealthily overweight and my weight had been consistently increasing for a couple of years. Since then I’ve lost 20 pounds and am now at the top end of a healthy weight, with possibly the best body image I have ever had. Along with this I’ve also had a shift to the realisation that shockingly, after losing 20 pounds, all that’s happened is I’ve lost 20 pounds, the ozone layer has not repaired itself, modern slavery continues, discrimination persists, and the man who was pieing me two weeks ago is still pieing me, but I can now fit into my favourite jeans from when I was 17. Despite all this I have continued to diet, because whilst there’s many things I’d rather be than skinny, I can’t achieve most of them simply by eating fewer potatoes.
Having written out all these thoughts I still don’t have a simple answer to what I should and should not post on social media. For clarification here, I have a private Instagram account with about 500 acquaintances following, most of the women I follow are people I went to school with. I think it’s great to feel confident and celebrate a photo of yourself where you feel you look really nice, I even think it’s fairly reasonable to edit the lighting, and I in no way condemn anyway who edits the entire photo. But I can also see it’s toxic to scroll through hundreds of women looking their absolute best, and then look in a mirror at yourself in your PJs with unwashed hair and a spot you picked at.
After deciding against posting my edited pic I still felt the urge to post, and started contemplating other options, a throwback pic of my 17 year old self stood in a friends kitchen, in a hoodie and jeans, very drunk, holding a selection of fruit skewered on a screw driver, wonky teeth and eye bags fully on display, posting the original unedited but still very flattering pic, posting the unedited pic along with a horrendously ugly accidental photo to show that I really don’t always look my best (a goal somewhat defeated by the fact anyone who sees my Instagram has also probably seen my teenage acne, collection of t shirts I’ve never bought but simply acquired that should never have become outside clothes, and witnessed the era before I accepted strapless is not the style for G cups).
As yet I have posted nothing, but through this I did realise the confidence I’ve developed to be able to embrace all these parts of my self.Prior to the age of about 16 I would pull an intentionally ugly, funny face in every picture, I think so they couldn’t be accidentally ugly. For a couple of years after this I would attempt to look “perfect” in every picture, be very upset if someone posted a less than perfect photo of me, and cried multiple times at bad pics. And now at almost 20 I’m happy to see that I can be posy and made up and beautiful, I can be casual and grinning with my wonky teeth, or I can be squinting with the flash on not realising I’m on front camera, and all of them are still just me.