Dear Facebook (and the world), I have lied to you. No big deal?

This blog has been a long time coming. Even as I write this, I’m not sure it’s finished.

It comes down to not wanting to be a hypocrite. I’m against airbrushing and the perpetuation of unrealistic ‘beauty’ standards set by an industry who doesn’t value humanity and individuality. So as I share my beliefs on this and try to work for a world free of those chains, I need to make sure I am not furthering it.

My thoughts on this started in the summer when I was tagged in a Facebook picture wearing too much make-up. The look I was sporting was not the one I was going for and it scared me that my make-up was so obvious. It scared me as well that it was taken on a day I was spending time with young teenage girls who face enough pressure without having older girls around them seemingly suggesting that physical beauty was the most important and that it was OK to take make-up to a fairly extreme level. Also: why on earth was I wearing so much make-up? I don’t think I feel a great deal of pressure to be made-up and glamorous all the time. Am I a subconscious victim?

I’m not against make-up. I just put in an ELF order. Make-up is fun. But I am kind of stuck. I was fed by the pre-teen purity ring magazines when I was younger the thought that make-up was OK if it enhanced natural beauty, and countless tips followed. I go with that. But then I wonder: do I actually wear make-up to enhance my natural features, or am I a slave to what is suggested by society as ‘natural beauty’? Mascara to enlarge my eyes, eyeshadow to make the blue of my eyes pop,  blush to “highlight my Irish cheekbones”, foundation to smoothen my skin tone…who says I need to have large blue eyes, prominent cheekbones and a smooth skin tone? Who says that’s better than what I have when I wake up in the morning? I do prefer myself with make-up on, but perhaps that is due to years of listening to harmful messages? And if not wearing make-up to change my features, why do I need to enhance my natural beauty with unnatural products? I’m not convinced it’s ‘just a bit of fun’. And the “it’s what girls do” line makes me feel like I would if someone put a plate of mushrooms and salmon in front of me (not good – you may insert your own dietary reservations for similar effect).

In a sense, make-up is a lie. Are we not perpetuating the unattainable standards set for us by money-hungry ‘beauty experts’ in a monstrous industry by playing their game? “But everyone knows we wear make-up.” Yes…but we’re still not being true to our natural physical selves. Is that a big deal? I’m not sure. What about false eyelashes, hair extensions, spray tanning? Those things that are a little more extreme or permanent than everyday eyeshadow palettes. What about them? Are they wrong? Am I lying to the world when I wear St Tropez? Should I wear a disclaimer message like I ask of beauty product advertisements that involve digital editing?

On the subject of photography: what about editing my pictures? My friends and I often joke about everyone looking better on Facebook than in real life. One of my friends went on a date with someone she had only met once and hardly recognised the guy from the Facebook picture she had studied to make finding him easier. Some of these stories are funny; but more than just choose good pictures of ourselves to display to the world, is it ok to edit pictures of ourselves, to ‘enhance’ beauty or just plain old make ourselves look better?

I enjoy discussing the issue with photographer friends. On a photo adventure recently, we talked about the ethics of editing the pictures we were taking. We agreed that with non-human subjects, it’s acceptable to edit the picture to make it look more imaginative/stronger/etc… (although it IS a problem when marketing involves digitally enhanced pictures of objects that mislead the public regarding their function or performance). Where we agreed the waters become murky is when human beings are concerned. Is it not hypocritical to complain about photoshopped images of models in the media when we digitally enhance pictures of ourselves? Is it ok to smooth out people’s skin in photos? To soften the picture or ‘retouch’ a spot? If it’s wrong, why is it wrong? It is important to be transparent on Facebook? What are we trying to accomplish through that? What is at stake? No, we won’t be under scrutiny from body image activists for making ourselves look ‘better’. But what about the Facebook depression syndrome, where through comparison of our own lives with other people’s ‘best bits’ on display (because, typically, that is all we have access to), we feel inadequate? Is Facebook just another Glamour magazine in that sense ?

(My question mark button is being worked hard tonight. Hope your mind isn’t spinning, friend.)

My current Facebook picture has been ‘liked’ more times than necessary. In a wider discussion on why the population of Facebook seems to ‘like’ fairly random things I joked it was because it didn’t actually look like me. It IS edited. Am I lying? Am I perpetuating stupid standards? Am I a beauty-industry sell-out? Or was it ok to play with the lighting in the picture and click on the ‘contrast’ button a couple of times? The lighting effect is obviously fake and I think it makes the picture more fun. What if I had retouched my skin? What if I had widened my eyes? In any case, should I include disclaimers like the ones I demand of the beauty industry?

This is the picture, both the just-snapped version and the Facebook-ready version. What do you think? Was it wrong to edit it? (I’m not asking you which one I look better in/you prefer).

My thoughts have not fully matured on the issue. As someone who loves ‘beauty’, as someone who is VERY against objectification, and as a past PGCE student whose dissertation was entitled “Lady Gaga ate my children”, I have a particular slant on it. Is it necessary to be ‘real’ on Facebook? Is a certain kind/amount of editing pictures ok? Is a certain kind of make-up ok? Is it important to be ‘real’ and ‘natural’? Should we all carry disclaimers?  Do I objectify myself if I play into the hands of the industry that objectifies me? Is it hypocritical to objectify myself but fight them? Are these things REALLY objectifying? I think I know where I’m going, but these questions are still milling around my head.

Furthermore, why do I suddenly feel ‘free’ when I have a no make-up (or as some of my favourites call it, ‘naked’) day?

To be continued. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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9 responses to “Dear Facebook (and the world), I have lied to you. No big deal?

  1. I agree. As a guy I much prefer girls who look natural. I used to fight with an ex to try and get her to not wear make-up cos I thought she looked prettier when she didn’t (maybe not the best approach) and when i told her she didn’t need it she would always disagree! There was a great documentary with jamelia about beauty and young girls and the pressure they are under. One young girl, about 7 years old when asked what pretty meant said blonde hair, blue eyes, thin etc. when probed further she told jamelia that she wasn’t pretty because she didn’t look like that. I literally teared up! That young and that influenced by culture and the media to believe she isn’t pretty because she didn’t fit a mould!? Horrible. So I agree. I wish girls would know how beautiful they are so they don’t have to try and work to “earn” attention. That’s much more attractive; confidence and strength! That is beautiful! So I think your thoughts are great!

    • Thanks, Richie! Do guys face similar kinds of pressure to look one very particular way?

      And what do you think about the need for transparency on Facebook – should we all just commit to being 100% ‘real’ or is there no danger? Do you think we are helping encourage that 7 year old’s view?

      • Okay…

        YES!!! Guys definitely face pressure! I feel like I should go to the gym and get abs! (I’m horribly vain, sorry) and if that’s not the case, it’s to grow a beard or dress a certain way. I sometimes feel at 25 I should dress more maturely!? Whatever that means! I struggle with how I look and whether girls will find me attractive. A previous girlfriend loved how i looked but didnt like my personality. That was very damaging to me and its took a while to work through, so in my opinion, yeah, guys get it bad too! It might be just me (fellas?) but how I try to make myself look depends on what sort of girl I want to attract! (which is horribly wrong i think)

        Recently I’ve been trying a little to hit back against it tho! A female friend told me my best feature was my beard, so I shaved it off. I don’t want to be judged by how I look. But I am.

        The big question is should I care? If someone wants to judge me by what’s on the outside, why should I care about their opinion anyway?

        As for Facebook and the likes; I think it is damaging. To us and to others. I say one thing (above) but I’ve edited photos of myself, carefully selected profile pics that show off my best attributes and used it (like Emma said) to show people the parts of me I want them to see, and not other parts. If I act that way, and others see me act that way (whether implicitly or otherwise) then it only helps breed the culture that we are so horribly stuck in.

        In my course I learned a bit about people, and I was told that if you tell someone something long enough they will believe it, whether it’s true or not. And we as a culture send all sorts of messages verbally and otherwise that tell people that there appearance is important. More so for girls, who are taught they can get what they want by looking/dressing a certain way. Maybe it would take a few of us to start sending more positive messages in order to see some form of change, even small, in our society.

        Final note; I am horrible for being vain and objectifying women. I wish I wasnt, but I am, so rather than seeming a complete hypocrite I will admit that honestly. I have been affected as much as anyone by cultural messages, and it’s hard to shake. But i would love to keep fighting that!

  2. OMG, right now i have a photo (head shot) of me in my senior year in high school on my FB profile because one of my friends said it was retro week with FB & his was changed to his senior photo. this photo is a very pretty young girl & i am soon to turn 59 on Monday & i feel people are more attracted to that photo than me because of all the nice compliments i get on it. i’m not saying i’m not a beautiful soon to be 59 year old woman but i never have & never will look like a 23 year old twiggy or bombshell or anything in between. i would rather look like a natural beauty or something like Audrey Hepburn or Katherine Hepburn. i don’t put on makeup except for special occasions like an interview or public meeting but i go out & to the grocery store & to the movies with no makeup on. sometimes i put some mascara on & a little blush & that is all & have only colored my hair twice in 59 years also mainly because i like to be natural & don’t like chemical on my hair & don’t like the money you spend to have a salon do it. i put color on my hair about a month ago & did it myself with no help & the color cost me $9 – not sure i will ever do it again & don’t mind the gray i am getting & have – didn’t really care about covering up the gray more than giving my hair a little body & shine – just something different but not impressed to color it again – pretty good just two times in 59 years.

    what i don’t understand is false eyelashes & hair pieces to make yourself look like you have long hair when your own hair & length looks great – that kind of stuff does make me wonder for sure… teeth whitening is another prevalent action these days – that & breast implants look so fake – it is just a fake world most of the time & i am not here to be like the world but be separate & different than what the world does. the fashion industry plays a huge roll in all this fakery also.

    i met two young women a long long time ago back in the 70’s that did not wear makeup or mascara & they were beautiful & that was when i started questioning why so many women feel they have to wear makeup because to me – these two Godly women & their natural beauty without makeup was so beautiful to me & that was when i started to wake up. even though i never wore makeup or that much of it even in high school – i had bought into that look but no longer & hardly ever buy makeup at all maybe once a year or ever year & a half if that often. saves me lots of money not having to look a certain way & at my age – really don’t care what people or men think about how i look with or without makeup – cause it just doesn’t matter now.

    i just thank God for what He has given me & try to use my looks for His glory & not my own & the wonderful health He has extended me for 59 years…

    ms. jan carver

  3. This was so interesting to read. Many many good points. I think it depends very much on the point of why the individual is wearing makeup. Yes there are standards that are set, and our norms have been crushed because we are so used to it, but even I myself would wack a bit of eye-liner on now and then because it makes my eyes look great. Its kinda like, why brush your hair? why brush your teeth? It’s about standard, and feeling good. I think if each person feels good about themselves and is not harmful or destructive then by all means make-up away. If you are making yourself up because you hate your skin, your eyes arent big enough, your lips arent red enough, then what’s the real issue?

    Some very interesting thoughts, I’m not sure there’s an answer or a conclusion for myself.

  4. I think you’ve outlined the issue really clearly on this. I hear your questions and echo them, though not sure what the answer is.

    On one end of the spectrum there is ‘enhancing’ (photoshopping/plastic surgery etc) to show us in our best light. But there is another end to the spectrum – not making an effort at all. There is something about ‘making an effort’ which makes the person who sees you gfeel good & valued, not just you. (think about whether u wd prefer to have a date with someone who is in their best clothes or someone who is unwashed, unbrushed teeth,
    wearing pyjamas.) So there is some kind of argument about looking nice.

    Where does make-up fall in that spectrum? I’m not sure, but it is good to be reminded there is a spectrum…

  5. Pingback: Confessions of a Retoucher « gemmaruthwilson{dot}com·

  6. I just found your website when I was looking up some things for a school assessment on Human Trafficking, and came upon this article somehow. I think your thoughts are fantastic! This article is just wow. I think that wearing makeup, to make everything on your face look better is something that has been targeted by peer pressure. Especially in schools if you don’t think you’re not pretty enough or you don’t look like that ‘popular’ girl, we all pile on more makeup to make ourselves feel more confident. Such as wearing some highlighter and bronzer will make my face thinner, so I’ll have a thin face like hers. Piling on the foundation just so people think you have flawless skin when It’s obvious ‘perfect’ isn’t real. As a beauty blogger, I find that more and more people buy a product that they think will make them suddenly look beautiful, even though everyone is beautiful in their own way. It is also mainly down to judgement. Personally I wear makeup, because of the fact that I don’t want to be judged for having tiny eyes, and really bad spot scarring and red undertones in my skin. So i pile on the makeup everyday to make myself feel more confident. You really have hit the nail on the head with this article.

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