Instagram and its co-conspirators have single-handedly transformed us from a bunch of fuglies into a flock of filtered, fair weathered gods and goddesses. There are now picture editing apps that can tone you up, slim you down, smooth your skin, and tousle your hair. But at what point do they stop being harmless re-touchers, and start contributing to society’s spiralling self-esteem problem?
SkinneePix is the latest image-enhancing app to hit the market, and has already reached the number one spot in the iTunes store’s photo and video category. Cooked up by digital life services duo PrettySmartWomen LLC, it’s intended to function as a “skinny lens—one that levels the playing field of the 10 or 15lbs the camera adds,” says co-creator Susan Green. “Our friends were always complaining about not liking pictures when we took close-ups or selfies, and that the images weren’t a fair representation of what they looked like, so we wanted to do something about it.”
Now, this doesn’t sound totally unreasonable, but using “the camera adds 10lbs” as a mantra for a face-fat-fighting app feels a little dubious. Sure, close-ups can be unflattering sometimes, but isn’t the whole point of selfies that you can take them at a forgiving angle? That people can first manipulate the viewpoint at which they snap themselves and then cut 15lbs off that tiny proportion of their body is surely a recipe for a photo that looks nothing like its owner.
Though SkinneePix does have the option not to drop any weight off your picture at all, it seems unlikely that anybody would pay for an app whose name essentially promises to make you look thin for any other reason than to purge the pounds. “Our intent had nothing to do with body image,” Susan adds, but all of the marketing around the app seems to suggest otherwise--there’s not a single mention of uploading your photo as is, but a whole lot on how to “make your photos look good and help you feel good.” Because nobody looks or feels good unless they’ve reduced any signs of extra flesh to the barest minimum?
Photo retouching used to be the preserve of glossy pages in magazines—and still is—but the fact so many of us now edit our snaps without so much as a second thought is a worrying indication of our negative body attitudes. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with smoothing yourself over every once in a while if an app allows it, but paying for your phone to surgically snip off anything that isn’t pure cheekbone? At least we know that the vast majority of fashion photos we see are heavily doctored and factor that in when everybody oohs and aahs over a jutting ribcage, but setting to work darkening your hair color or highlighting your jawline just should not be something that permeates our everyday pictures.
Of course, in an ideal world, heavy-duty image-scaping like this wouldn’t exist at all. But shouldn’t seeing how endemic and damaging this trend is across model photos force us to stop it happening in our own personal picture albums? “Doing major edits to photos is so misleading, and does nothing for a person’s self-esteem,” says 23-year-old Generation Selfie-r Sara Hailan. “Girls especially are just going to end up relying on apps to transform the way they look, and dropping 15lbs from your face is more than a nip or tuck.”
It goes without saying that teenage girls are going to be the worst affected by this spike in editing apps, with SkinnyCamera, Skinny Photo, Thin Booth, and so many more reinforcing the same cheap notion that people don’t look good unless they radically overhaul their appearance. This continuous conveyor belt of superficial self-improvement can only be adding to the body image pressure young girls are under, and perpetuating the never-ending cycle of image woes they’re subjected to. Making a quick buck trading off the insecurities of pre-pubescents is surely something we should be avoiding at all costs.
While Instagram and Photoshop are easy to blame for starting us all down the path to enhanced photos, there’s a big difference between adding a filter to something and changing it completely, which is what this new wave of skinny-spinners is trying to do. Somewhere along the line, communication about what constitutes an acceptable, undramatic amount of picture editing has become very lost, and in its place now exists a limitless range of ways to make yourself look like a different person.
Aside from the fact that nobody’s head should be filled with the idea that they need to morph into a new entity entirely to be considered okay-looking, these apps are also just kind of pointless: either they’re for your own personal viewing displeasure to beat yourself up over, or to be posted to social networks where all your friends can comment on how little you resemble the quasi-human in the photo.
Where’s the merit in that?