Flawless?

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flaw·less
ˈflôləs/
adjective
  1. 1.
    without any blemishes or imperfections; perfect.
    “her brown flawless skin”
    synonyms: perfectunblemishedunmarkedunimpaired; More

    Flawless. How do we summarize such a loaded word? Dictionary.com lists the description above to encompass the powerful adjective…but really, what does that mean?

    Flawless isn’t me. It isn’t my mother. It isn’t my sister. It isn’t the lady down the street. It isn’t my best friend.

    And yet…I am bombarded by “flawlessness” everywhere I go. Standing in line at the grocery store, images of women with piercing ice blue eyes, glossy hair, and radiant, tanned skin stare me in the face. Browsing through Pinterest, thin, toned models wear the outfits I try to imagine on my own body type, but I have to close my eyes and clear my mental canvas in order to do so. When I go shopping, models with curves in all the “right” places fill my peripherals as I stroll through the mall.

    Every image sends a message: “You should be tall…but not too tall. You should be thin, and toned…but not too muscular. You should have curves…but only in these places. Your hair should be glossy. Your lips should be full. Your skin should be glowing. Your nose should be narrow. Your eyes should be bright. Your waist should be tiny. Your feet should be small. Your brows should be neat. Your clothes should be expensive. Your neck should be elegant. Your jaw should be defined. Your teeth should be white. Your lashes should be long. And then….you will be special.”

    Women and girls are told by every form of media that in order to be special, they should fit a cookie cutter image of beauty that society has constructed for them. Now, this is nothing new. Ask any female you know to describe the overwhelming feeling of social pressure they encounter to live up to standards that are unattainable…even by the models themselves. Because of photoshop, I know that I have trained my brain to understand that the images I see in magazines and dancing across my TV screen are not real.

    However, lately, “Flawlessness” is becoming more attainable to women everywhere. No, I do not mean that the standards are becoming attainable in reality. There is no magic pill you can take to clear your skin, gloss your hair, plump your lips, whiten your teeth, and carve your proportions. No. But there is the selective portrayal of social media, and even the extent of photoshop apps and websites.

    Have you ever scrolled through your news feed on Facebook and noticed how perfect your friends seem be on social media? Part of it just has to do with the fact that people tend to post their life’s highlight reel on social media. No one in their right mind is going to post an unedited selfie on their way to their 8am…I mean, unless they are really confident. The pictures people tend to post are those where they are dressed to the nines; from their shoes to their confidence level, everything is top notch. We see images posted of people branding themselves. I know I am guilty of this. If something doesn’t appear on social media, it’s almost like it never even happened…and heaven forbid my loyal followers are deprived of the photos from my birthday party/dorm banquet/spring break trip!

    Every day, we are hit with images of our friends at their finest, and of course, what do we do? We compare ourselves. Maybe it’s a girl thing, or maybe it’s just human nature, but sometimes when we see someone looking fantastic (especially when we are not feeling particularly beautiful ourselves), it’s easy to compare ourselves to that person, almost wishing animosity on them for their perfection. Social media makes it hard to feel happy for people who always appear to be so…well…perfect. It can quickly turn into a game of comparisons: “She looks so skinny…well…at least I went to the gym today…and my legs are probably more toned…” It’s so sad how quickly we can plummet into a spiral of analyzing someone’s appearance.

    Now, how real are these “perfect” images? How real are these circumstances? My Facebook and Instagram followers get weekly doses of the glamorous aspects of my life. They see pictures of me dressed at my finest, and feeling my best: they see me in my cobalt cocktail dress, beaming at Evan while holding roses…but there’s no way they saw me the night before, slaving over my homework in my pajamas with a crooked greasy blonde pony tail, stressed out of my mind with one fist in my roommate’s peanut butter jar. So does everyone really know Kelly Doles? Or do they know the social media Kelly Doles; the one who always seems happy and put together? The one who is excited about everything, and loves everyone?

    Example:

    IMG_9614 - Version 2        IMG_8346

    Unedited picture I would post                     Unedited picture I wouldn’t post

    The photo on the left is exciting; it’s glamorous, and it makes my life look fun and entertaining. It sends a message that says, “Kelly Doles is a girl who loves to dress up and have fun”, which, although it is true, it is not what my life looks like all the time. The picture on the right says, “Kelly Doles is your basic college kid. Behold her participating actively in her exhilarating daily life”. Both pictures are real, and both pictures are me, and yet one picture is much more likely to show up on Instagram for “Selfie Sunday” (Although, I do not condone or participate in #selfiesunday, this is just an example). We like to market ourselves through posting only our highlight reel, creating a somewhat skewed representation of what our lives actually look like. Do I love to dress up, put on makeup, and dance in high heels? Absolutely! Does it happen very often? Unfortunately, no, but that’s what I market myself to look like on social media.

    It is one thing to have control over which content we post on social media, but now we can even go as far as skewing the content itself. Photoshop has become more accessible to everyone. Have you ever taken a cute picture with one of your friends, but that unforgiving fluorescent lighting kind of makes your teeth look yellow? Well, there’s a solution for that. Photoshop! We know that we have the easy ability to conveniently and quickly “improve” these images, so we slide some pixelated whitener across our teeth, and upload it to Instagram. What people don’t know won’t hurt them, right? Or will it?

    There are hundreds of apps and websites people can use to touch up their images. Online, users can find simple editing sites, such as “Ribbet”. However, simple photo editing systems likes Ribbet are mere child’s play to some of the apps out there. Recently, I discovered an extremely powerful editing app called “Facetune”. Facetune can do it all. Want to cinch your waist? Facetune will take care of that! Want to clear up some blemishes? Piece of cake. How about accentuate your eye color? Facetune has a solution for that too! Need to make those brows a little bit fiercer? Easy achievable. Facetune is an app that anyone can purchase for  $3.99, offering editing similar to that used in fashion magazines. That’s right folks, the ability to airbrush any image to an unrealistic and unattainable product is now available to the masses.

    What’s so harmful about this? Just like it distorts proportions in an image, photoshop distorts our perception of reality. We are used to magazines using photoshop to “improve” their models, but when we use apps like this, we are reinforcing the harmful message of flawlessness…on ourselves. It places “perfection” in the fragile hands of its victim, who then takes it upon herself. Why? Because it makes us market a thinner/prettier/flawless brand of ourselves. This makes no sense, because it allows the victim of impossible standards to enforce those same standards on a physical image of herself, affecting herself and others. It puts the ability to twist reality in the hands of those who have been hurt by it. My Digital Media Communications class is currently learning about the ethics of photoshop, and so for an experiment, I downloaded the Facetune app. I was blown away by how easy it was to complete twist and touch up an otherwise “real” photo. Here is an example:

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    That picture isn’t Kelly Doles. Other than a product of immense cultural and social expectations, the girl on the right is a stranger. I don’t know who she is; she is not real.

    And yet, anyone who purchases an app like Facetune is granted the ability to create a Barbie-like avatar who might be accepted more by cultural norms, but strays far beyond the realms of reality and digital ethics. The girl on the right might have perfect skin, long and slender limbs, a tiny waist, and defined features, but she is not real. She doesn’t have a soul; she has manipulated pixels. But how is everyone else supposed to know that? I would rather have someone look at a picture of me and say, “Oh, Kelly’s skin isn’t that great today”, or “That’s not a very flattering angle for her”, than  see an overly edited and tweaked picture and utter,”Wow…she looks perfect. How can I attain that?”

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to reinforce a pressure of realist expectations on people who encounter it every day. On social media, we get to carefully craft the way we portray ourselves- but is that honest? As my square inch of rejecting the societal beauty myth, I only wear makeup for special occasions. In all of my years of school, I have never worn even a stroke of mascara to one of my classes, but when I browse through my Facebook profile pictures, I have to admit, what am I wearing in the majority of them? Yep, you guessed it…makeup. If the real Kelly Doles doesn’t wear makeup, then why does the Facebook Kelly Doles? Why should she be any different? These are the questions I have to challenge myself with. If we are constantly marketing a “flawless” representation of ourselves on social media, we are contributing to the beauty myth. Oh, I’m not saying we should all change our profile pictures to a picture of us wearing baggy sweatshirts and doing homework, but we should be careful in the way we try to “brand” ourselves. Before before casually whitening your teeth in your posts, or digitally zapping away your blemishes, ask yourself: “Is this real? Is this honest? Will this hurt someone?”

    Bombarded with images of perfection, we are much more tempted to compare ourselves to others and alter our own digital reality. Think twice before you contribute to creating the standards that are hurting you.

    We were all created differently, and I know we were not meant to be compare ourselves to others…whether it’s an image on a magazine, a screen, a form of social media, or in person. Why can’t we just appreciate others (and ourselves) for who they (and we) are, instead of turning it into a mental competition? I cannot go through society’s book of cultural beauty constructs and highlight every desirable trait, and apply it to myself. I know there are some things I will never have. But here is the catch…we can’t blame society when we ARE society. We create society, and each of our actions contributes to social norms. If it becomes a social norm to portray a “flawless” version of ourselves on all social media,  we are tainting our representations, and adding another straw to the camel’s back.

    How beautiful that we are all so different. How wonderful that we are different heights and sizes and souls and colors. How beautiful and how creative! Every person is like magnificently unique flower contributing to a beautiful bouquet; bursting with detail, life, and color.

    So why do we try to cram ourselves into an unattainable cookie cutter mold? I’m not really sure.

    What I do know, is that I want to do my part to shatter my own mold. So here is the Kelly Doles that you don’t always see on social media. Here is the Me that hasn’t put any makeup, editing, or planning into the way I  want to present myself: uniquely “flawed”, perfectly imperfect, vulnerable, honest and real.

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    Please just be the beautiful you that you were made to be.

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