Scrolling through Instagram, my sub-conscience thoughts start: ‘I wish I had that tan. ‘How come none of these people have spots?’. I’m 25 and would class myself as having healthy self esteem and have regular affirmation and compliments from my family and friends. If these thoughts are going through my head, at this age, when I’m well aware these photos have probably been filtered and photoshopped, imagine the effect on an impressionable teenager going through body changes, who thinks that this is the standard now, and anything less makes them not good enough.
It’s not just people being edited; it’s scenery, houses, objects, that get edited too. But in a time, where it would appear we’re SO image obsessed, what sort of impact is this having on our young people?
Dove’s latest self esteem campaign is titled ‘#NoDigitalDistortion’ and features a short film called ‘The Reverse Selfie’. In this film the main aim is to show just how far retouching apps can distort beauty. They state that by the age of 13, 80% of girls distort the way they look online*, which is an alarming statistic. By altering the images they take of themselves, it’s continually reinforcing this ‘ideal’ of the way they think they should look, when in fact, it’s not true.
The culture of photoshopping and editing hasn’t just happened overnight; it’s only now more people are speaking out about it and the negative effects it is having, especially on our young people and their self esteem. Photoshopping isn’t just reserved for people who work within the media industry, it’s available at the click of the button for anyone with a smart device. By editing photos, whether we mean to or not, we are saying that the natural state is not good enough and needs a tweak to look better, or even perfect. By editing images of stomachs, removing rolls when sitting down, blurring out spots on a face, we are telling others that these are not acceptable, making something that is so incredibly NORMAL, become something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I have lost track of the amount of times I have sat in a classroom with a group of girls telling me what they want to change about themselves and who they want to look like and why. It’s scary how much they want to change.
I believe it is important that we spend time accepting ourselves, including our appearance. The way we talk to or refer to ourselves models something to this generation. For this reason, a few years ago, I decided I had to stop wearing makeup every single day and have a Sabbath for my skin. At first, I felt so self conscious and actually pretty vulnerable. Now, some days during a week I wear a full face of makeup and other days, absolutely nothing. It’s helped me accept my natural appearance and gain confidence. I believe this has also empowered other people to know that they, too, don’t have to alter their appearance and can love themselves just as they are. You may be thinking that this is really minor, nothing important, but for me it was and is so important! Unfortunately for so many others, the thought of stepping foot outside of their front door without any makeup on is an absolutely no, never.
Young people need REAL role models, not edited ones. I love that more and more people on social media post photos side by side. One of them in perfect lighting, everything spot on in place, fully glam, and beside it, a picture of them with no angular posing and no well positioned lighting to show what reality is. We have a duty, to our young people, to show them what real looks like, not just the best bits. Those spots and tonal differences are normal. When we sit down and our skin folds, it’s normal. Not feeling happy 100% of the time is normal! Photoshopping may make a person feel fabulous in a moment, when posting, but when they look in the mirror and the reflection is not the same as on the screen, the negative voices set in and the self esteem starts to lower because, after all, we can’t carry a device that edits us!
I’m excited to be part of a space in time where we’re claiming back real over edited, undoing the work of ‘the ideal of perfection’ and normalising normal everyday people and bodies in all their unedited glory. Let’s take the pressure off to look or be a certain way and stick to being authentically ourselves.
*based on research results from the U.S surveying 556 girls between the ages of 10-17 years old.
Written by Charlotte Clayton