There’s a lot of huff made these days about social media and an alleged rise in vanity and narcissism (despite neither being all that quantifiable). People bemoan Snapchat filters, Facetune, and the heavily glammed up ladies that employ their visual enhancing features. Not surprisingly, this huff is usually directed at women; most of whom are often accused of being both vapid and dubious. Obviously filters can be made to beautify; they smooth skin, slim faces, and brighten teeth. Waists can be snatched, hips curved, asses can be plumped, noses can be nipped, all with the swipe of a screen or touch of a button. We are indeed living in a much more visual world, and a lot of us are much more image savvy than our generational predecessors. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily explain the vitriol sometimes directed at women who people accuse of “faking” or “cheating” at being beautiful and are deemed unworthy of such acclaim.
We’ve all seen the shock and dismay at “before & after” pictures of women who have undergone a dramatic transformation with the help of a skilled makeup artist. Peruse the comments under any such image on Facebook, IG, or Twitter and what you’ll often see is a range of shock, awe, and disgust baked into commentary characterized as harmless jokes.
Men will exclaim “shit like this is why I have trust issues” and even other women will chime in to agree that this type of ‘transformation’ is both deceitful and unnecessary. The overall reaction seems to imply that people get very disturbed when the women they deem naturally unattractive can be thought to be attractive even in a passing moment. You can see the same elements regarding imagery of women who’ve had surgical enhancements often prompting the cry “What is the world coming to? What happened to [real] natural beauty?"
Beauty is a complicated thing; some folks say its subjective or political. Some folks try to measure it with the golden ratio and assemble a list of white actresses who allegedly embody its perfection. However, what’s indisputable is that beauty is a commodity and treated as such. These days, the everyday woman has unprecedented access to plastic surgery procedures, make up techniques, advanced weave & lace front technology and photo enhancing methods that were once only available to starlets. Consequently, as with anything in this world, once something becomes more accessible, people begin to elect themselves arbiters, gatekeepers, and protectors of its purer, “realer” form. If beauty is no longer as exclusive, how do we then value it? If any ole woman can become “beautiful” then what other metric can a woman’s value can women be judged by? Something trivial like her personality or character?! Who wants that? Who can be trusted?!
That seems to be at the root of the panic found in men who express feeling violated for having been attracted to a complete stranger that benefits greatly from skillfully applied makeup or clever camera angles, and women who find themselves competing for male attention with other women who might have purchased the coveted physical features they were born with. The floodgates are open, and now anyone with about $5-8k and a ticket to the Dominican Republic, can become desirable. Is this really some sort of social anarchy that merits panic? A significant indicator of moral decay?
Now, there might be some arguable valid concerns in all of this. As there is a rise in plastic surgery that a AAFRPS survey associates with social media, and while that in itself is not necessarily a morally “bad” thing, it can translate to more opportunity for unscrupulous and bootleg plastic surgeons, and invasive procedures do involve risk. Several people have died from non-FDA approved butt shots, in an attempt to obtain the homogeneous body shape of prized IG models. And there is always that margin of people who go for unfathomable body proportions, and charlatans who tout their new BBL (Brazilian Butt Lift) as the result of the new Flat Tummy Tea and workout regimen they’re selling. One can argue that it contributes to unrealistic expectations for women, but has ‘natural beauty’ ever been more attainable? So often people couch facile critiques of women’s choices in regards to their appearance, in feigned concern for their health and well being, it’s hard to discern what’s what. Reinforcement of beauty standards is so often about obedience, not health and certainly not the benefit of women.
Humans have always been image conscious, and it’s likely since the first black obsidian glass mirrors were made in Antonia we’ve found ways to beautify and improve the reflections staring back at us. And while we have more advanced smoke & mirrors at our disposal, the average woman is not that skilled at drastic transformations. Sometimes a professionally beat face can be a treat, self expression, or a cathartic indulgence. Sometimes you just wanna conceal a hormonal breakout, sometimes dog ears are just fun, sometimes you decide you’re finally gonna go through with that ‘mommy makeover’ because it’s time do something for yourself. Hell, sometimes you just wanna look like the prototypical ‘bad bitch.’ Maybe you are feeling a little insecure about your appearance, is that ok? These motivations however, are not always tell-tell signs of low self esteem, intent to deceive or shame or an omen of a doomed generation.
The difference between repulsive vanity and celebration of beauty seems to depend on who’s holding the lens. It’s acceptable when a woman’s beauty is celebrated by observers, but not when she’s leading the parade herself. Despite that meme (you know the one) depicting a woman on her knees giving blowjobs to various phallic shaped social media platforms that your MCM crush posts on IG with a ‘Food 4 thought’ caption, social media is not corrupting masses of wimmenz. Nor is it leading them down a path of wayward digital fellatio gangbangs in an attempt for validation.
We’ve always lived in a world where beauty is demanded of women, and those who cannot or are disinterested in producing it are ignored, mocked and /or scorned, those who try to conform are mocked and scorned, and those who fit within its relative parameters while celebrated are also treated like possessions. It’s a difficult maze that we all struggle in navigating while trying to maintain some semblance of sanity and positive self image, and the world as we know it is not in danger because a few of us engage in a little more pageantry and self aggrandizing along the way.
P.S - You will have to pry the blue hued SC filter from my cold dead hands, my phone's front facing camera makes me look like a skeptical potato