Thursday, May 8, 2014

Picture Perfect?

Credit: Peter Ruter via Shutterstock
It seems today's media dominates the central aspects of our lives. As we begin to use more social networks such as Instagram and Snapchat, our culture begins to morph into individuals who express our collective identities through photos of ourselves. “Selfie,” the recently crowned Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013, has reportedly increased in usage by 17,000 percent since 2012.

Notable American author Susan Sontag once wrote, “One of the tasks of photography is to disclose, and shape our sense of, the variety of the world… The camera shows us many worlds, and the point is that all the images are valid.” However, how valid is a picture if it has been altered? Experts point to selfie culture as a major factor in the rise in plastic surgery among Americans under 30 (58%). Now wait, let’s go back a step, you're probably wondering what could lead to such extreme actions. Well, one of the main culprits are selfie-help apps. In most cases, selfie-help apps have negatively affected relationships and the way people perceive themselves and others. Let’s consider these questions: Do selfie-help apps encourage unattainable perfection? Will they continue to blur the line between fact and fiction in social media?

“Cameras add additional weight to photos and when you’re taking a selfie you’re also dealing with bad lighting, angles, close-ups and a lot of other factors that make people complain that the photo isn’t an accurate representation of themselves,” said Susan Green, co-founder of the Phoenix-based company, Pretty Smart Women, that created the app.

I certainly believe some pictures can add a pound or two but SkinneePix, for iPhone and Android devices, can trim from 5 to 15 pounds from a head shot photo. The app was originally designed to assist overweight adults to promote a skinnier version of themselves. Robin J. Phillips, the other co-founder, claims the app can also motivate people to lose weight. “It’s a good reminder to get off the couch, turn the TV off, and go for a walk,” she said. In reality, some critics fear the $1.99 app could encourage an unhealthy body image. This refers to the social norm and stereotype of a girl’s image. Lauren Dickson, a social worker in the eating disorders and addiction clinic at the Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, explains the app (one in many factors) could contribute to a young adult developing an eating disorder. In the last financial year, ChildLine charity received more than 10,500 calls and online inquiries from young individuals struggling with food and weight-related anxiety. Dickson also adds that “The majority of young girls wouldn’t develop an eating disorder because of an app like this, but some might be more vulnerable and it could contribute.” As quoted from the SkinneePix app description, "SkinneePix makes your pictures look thinner. It’s not complicated. No one needs to know. It’s our little secret." Not only does the app present an unhealthy body image but it also promotes selfiers to deceive others about their true natural features.
SkinneePix Image

Skinneepix isn’t the only selfie-help app that’s been promoting an unhealthy body image. Apps like Perfect365 have been making modifications in subtle ways that don't tip off the viewer that the photo has been edited. By doing so, it further promotes an unrealistic idea of how people look in everyday life. The app allows users to whiten teeth, reduce weight, get rid of wrinkles, and to accomplish perfect skin. According to the Huffington Post, Perfect365 has been downloaded nearly 17 million times. Not only has the app been overly produced and used, but the cost went from $1.99 to $49.99 today. "Unlike the previous generation of portrait-editing apps, which left figures with the two-dimensional masks of anime characters, these apps, like the best plastic surgeon, leave few obvious marks," the Huffington Post reports. Like Photoshop, Perfect365 can be used to change human beings beyond recognition like in this video:

Triana Lavey is an example of someone who let social media control her appearance. Even when using photo-editing apps like Perfect365, she still felt self-conscious about how she looked on social media. So, what can one possibly do to make their features even more flawless? The answer’s surgery.  “I look like myself, but photoshopped,” she said. " It’s a legitimate form of promoting yourself.” She added, “Not everyone is born beautiful, and if you can get a little help from an app or a nip-tuck then more power to you.”

This begs the question how changing yourself, because you're dissatisfied with yourself, is actually promoting yourself. Much of an individual's reputation comes from media but when you change yourself beyond recognition, then who are you really? Because you're certainly not the person that was naturally brought into the world, your changed. It’s almost lying to others about your true identity because no one individual is flawless, there will always be something to fix. So finally I ask, How have we evolved into a society in which self-consciences and manipulation are so valued and even supported?

Bibliography Bibliography

conclusion updated 5/29/14
After a week of reading others post on my website, I was happy to find my topic was highly discussed. I was expecting some people to argue against my opinion, but since none did, my opinion about selfie-help apps hasn’t changed.  When I started the article, I hadn’t known much about photo filter programs. It wasn’t untill I read my second source that I discovered almost all the articles online were against the filters. That made me curious, why do people use them if so many people think they’re a negaitve influence?  As I kept digging, I soon found that even though individuals may petition against them, the vast number of consumers are attracted to them, which controls their popularity. The importance of appearance is a big problem today. People are judged and labled based on their hairut, makeup, clothes, and worst of all:  natural beauty. However, natural beauty isn’t something you can just change without a price. Now when I say price, I litterly mean thousands of dollars. It’s crazy, but more and more people are choosing to get plastic surgery in order to maintain perfect beauty. In my opinion, selfie-help apps are the fist step before surgery. In many cases, the filters create a feeling of inadequacy in their users.  The image they produce makes users question their real features vs. the “desired” facial features.  Those that support the filters, think they produce an ego boost, but is this a healthy way to percieve these tools? Honestly, I don’t think so. In conclusion, I think filters reinforce low self-esteme that has impacted our society so badly and led to eating disorders, unnecessary surgery and social mental illness.


  1. You make some good points, Hackett, about the excessive use of selfie apps to improve one's online appearance. The number of downloads of Perfect365 is astonishing. I read in an article from an Australia publication many of the same arguments that you make. It is an interesting topic with a variety of reasons for why selfies have become so popular. Thanks for posting!--Ms. Riches

  2. I found it simply amazing that the word "selfie" has been recognized as the word of the year 2013 from the Oxford Dictionary. The fact that it has gone up 17,000 percent since 2012 is crazy! I also found it interesting that plastic surgery for people under the age of 30 went up 58 percent. That is also a crazy amount of people that feel they need to altering their bodies. I think that the apps that modify your body are stupid. People should be happy with their bodies and the ones that feel uncomfortable with them don't need an app to make them feel worse. If we all look just perfect, then what will we need to feel good?

    1. Riley, you ask a very good question. Honestly, I think our society may never be able to feel good about ourselves. Even if we appeared perfect, there'd always be something that's looked down upon.

  3. This is the first time I've heard the term 'selfie-help apps' referring to an entire category of photo manipulation apps just for selfie photos. How bizarre! I am so glad you brought up the whole question of why these apps exist, and how it creates a culture of people who feel they can not be themselves - without judgment. Are we that low in self-esteem that our self promotion online needs an artificial boost? What a sad commentary on our society and what we deem as really important.

  4. Hackett, this is, indeed, a strange world we live in. I can't help but wonder what happens to these people, who have presented themselves online a certain way, when they meet someone in person for the first time? Talk about false advertising! Do you think that there should be some sort of governmental oversight for the developers of such apps? If studies can ever prove that they are harmful, shouldn't the industry be regulated?

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  6. It is really mind blowing how as technology changes we change with it. Before apps and selfies people weren't going to the extreme measures to change their overall image of them selves and its just amazing what people will to day in order to do that. I knew people would put filters on photos they took and post but never did I imagine people purchasing apps to make it look like they dropped 5-15 pounds. Another thing, I think it is crazy how much technology can change the image of one person. The before and after pictures, and the process to do get to that point is unbelievable. How far do you think people will got to change their image in the future?

    1. In my opinion, I think editing apps will only get more realistic until there is an unrealistic level for which people are expected to meet. This could lead to another advancement in plastic surgery in the future or worse. Who knows what people will develop in the future to perfect beauty.

  7. This is a very well written article! It really disappoints me that society values looks so much. What happened to "its what's on the inside that counts?" It saddens me that people feel the need to change themselves when posting pictures on social media to look a certain way. If people compare themselves to others, they will want to modify themselves to something unnatural, when really the first person they looked out wasn't natural because they used a self help app. With photoshop and plastic surgery, people are trying to achieve something that is fake and unnatural. It is ridiculous that girls can have anxiety over something as stupid as an Instagram post and it can lead to something like a serious eating disorder. In the photoshop video the end result looks very much like a plastic barbie. It is scary that someone can be changed to look like that and people will not even know it is fake. People are taking drastic measures to achieve something humanly impossible. It is almost like a cycle. It starts with a little self help, but can lead to something more drastic. Then people will try to imitate the fake image. I think society has valued looks so much because it is emphasized in media every day. Television, magazines, you name it. As a society, we need to change the message we send out to people about beauty. We need to promote a natural look and great personality.

  8. I dont like selfies either other people try to make themselves look good and thinner just for a picture and I don’t like them and I do not take them.

  9. Hi,
    I think that both of the video's are very interesting. The two women are very interesting because they are not changing what they look like to the point that they look fake but to use it as motivation to get in to shape. I am not saying that everyone can be a model because I personally do not take good pictures at all but I do think people are all people have inter beauty. What do you think it would take to change how people feel about beauty or think is beautiful?

  10. Hey Hackett, I think society is changing really quickly and some changes are extremely strange. Selfies, for example, are strange because it consists of people taking pictures of themselves and sharing it with others, expecting to get likes. I feel like this is not a good way to gain popularity. Selfies support the stereotype that only pretty people are popular which is a wrong thought and completely false. People should focus more on inner virtue instead of the outer layer of skin.

    Why do you think people spend a lot of time on a picture just so it can get likes? Is it worth the time?


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