The rise of social media has quickly become the principle means of infiltrating our consciousness with masses of viral messages, images, and social critiques. As such, we’ve no doubt been inundated with countless videos, memes, and blog posts that discuss the juxtaposition of reality and ideal, the very crux of which has infamously taken on the label “Photoshop.”
In recent months, many celebrities have come forth, suggesting that the discrepancy between their digitized depictions and their “real selves” is a wider than their (airbrush-enhanced) thigh gaps. In November, I shared a story in which Lady Gaga called out Glamour magazine for the Photoshopped image of Mother Monster featured on their cover. I wonder how many of us are brave enough to admit that sort of thing, rather than allow people to assume that it’s au naturale. Personally, I’ve wondered if I could do that.
Incidentally, I recently purchased a tablet that has an extensive range of “image enhancement” techniques embedded in my “Pictures” app. I discovered it this afternoon, and thought it might be fun to play around with a picture of my partner and I dancing at a wedding this past summer.
I chose to use this picture for a couple of reasons: one, because I’m a sappy, sentimentalist at heart, who loves that this precious moment was caught on camera. The other is a bit disappointing, coming from a self-proclaimed empowered woman: this was a point in time where a medicine I was on caused me to gain nearly thirty pounds in a very short span of time—this picture was snapped at the apex of my fluctuation. Therefore, I look back on this image with mixed reviews: whereas I’m initially inclined to smile fondly at the memory of a near-perfect night, I’m partially held back by this fixation on how I “looked.”
I should add that, in retrospect, this was by no means the crisis that I imagined at the time: seriously, it’s embarrassing to admit how ashamed I was of the way I looked. However, it was incredibly damaging to my self-esteem, and I had to fight back the urge to focus on “how disproportionately huge my arm is in comparison to the rest of my body.”
Anyway, aside from chronicling a point in my life where I experienced an unparalleled vain obsession with the way I looked, I have thankfully come to a place of peace and acceptance—one where I can look back on my silly insecurities with an eye roll and a chuckle. Given this, it seemed all the more appropriate to use THIS image to undergo a homemade, technological nip/tuck:
At first, it felt liberating: I could smooth things over with the swipe of my finger, adjusting lighting here, softening ridges there. I felt like I had assumed the role of redesigning myself, which at first seemed empowering, but quickly began to feel more like a symbolic sacrilege to the original artist who had painted me.
Sure enough, I was able to manipulate myself: an enviable “skinny arm”, soft lighting around my pale legs, and a strong focus on everything from the neck up, to shift the attention away from anything below my cascading curls (also lengthened a bit. Thanks, Microsoft!). And it was ridiculous. Graphic design majors, please refrain from commenting on how shitty of an editing job I did—I did this for a feminist blog post, not for submission to Cosmo.
I learned a few things from this little experiment: first, it made me appreciate the original, unenhanced version of myself: the way my body would look to anyone who saw me on the street. For another, it highlighted the absurdity of my paralyzing insecurities: was this really the alternative to accepting that I’m only a size 2 with a 1 in front of it? And thirdly, it restored the euphoria I felt in the moment that my partner and I shared: I felt fucking beautiful when that picture was taken, and as Greg and I danced in the midst of a crowded dance floor, we felt like the only two people out there. I don’t know why it took me almost seven months to realize that the fact that the photographer had managed to capture that sentiment the way we envisioned it in our minds is way more profound than the extra bit of me there was to love at the time.
Fourthly, while this may seem counterintuitive, this experiment also served to make me take my insecurities with a grain of salt. I often feel like my story isn’t valid enough to share, because I didn’t have a body conversion a la “The Biggest Loser.” I didn’t go from healthy to unhealthy—in the grand scheme of things, my experience seems relatively minor. However, no matter how miniscule or insignificant one’s insecurities might seem to the next person, it doesn’t make these sentiments of self-degradation any less real, or any less harmful. We ALL have our insecurities, period. And anyway, if my overly-dramatic self-image issues seem absurd, think about the absurdity of the expectations society sets for us–fat-talk is viewed as a means of self-improvement, for chrissake. At the risk of sounding cheesy, my hope is that someone else can read this and realize that they’re perfect just the way they are, because it’s taken me way too long to come to a place of peace myself.