To be clear: all images I posted prior to this project are really me, really in those places.
I download FaceApp, £1.99! I take a selfie: bed hair, no makeup. I tap “Impression” and my face changes quickly and dramatically: fine lines flatten, wrinkles smooth out, blemishes unblemish, dark circles disappear, cheekbones rise, eyes brighten, lips get bigger, nose gets smaller.
My face is gone.
Staring back at me, wearing my clothes, sitting in my bed, is a stranger. Or, perhaps more accurately: it’s my perfect self.
I feel horrified by how much my face changes. Does FaceApp modify other people’s faces this much?! I must be less attractive than most.
When I swipe back to the real image, the flaws seem far more prominent than when I first took the the selfie.
I quickly swipe back to the edited image. The longer I look at this new, perfect me, the more I wonder what it would be like if I really looked like that.
I uploaded the selfie as a profile picture on Facebook as a sort of experiment and nobody questioned it. Not my best friend, my sisters, or even my own mam!
I’m finishing up the second year of a degree in photography. The degree teaches that above all else we should question everything, especially our own work.
I decided to bring that idea home and question the work I do on Instagram.
I came up with a story: my FaceApped perfect self, who’s ten years younger than I am, flies off to Disneyland for the day, and somehow manages to photograph herself all alone in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
I manipulated images, captioned them with a fictional narrative, and presented them as real-life.
I hacked my own Instagram account.
MY PERFEECT SELF
The big influence on this project was a book by Will Storr called Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing To Us. The book covers a lot of ground. But here’s a succinct summary:
We live in the age of the individual. We are supposed to be slim, prosperous, happy, extroverted and popular. This is our culture’s image of the perfect self. We see this person everywhere: in advertising, in the press, all over social media. We’re told that to be this person you just have to follow your dreams, that our potential is limitless, that we are the source of our own success.
But this model of the perfect self can be extremely dangerous. People are suffering under the torture of this impossible fantasy. Unprecedented social pressure is leading to increases in depression and suicide. Where does this ideal come from? Why is it so powerful? Is there any way to break its spell?
Storr’s book got me thinking about the role I play in all of this. I wanted to respond to his questions.
For me, Instagram is a positive experience. But I know that’s not the case for a lot of people. Instagram is apparently full of these ‘slim, prosperous, happy, extroverted and popular’ – a bit like my perfect self.
I wanted my fictional narrative to challenge the way I portray myself online and the effects of this portrayal.
I don’t usually FaceApp my face or pretend I’ve been places I haven’t. But I never read by the window – those windows, beautiful as they are, make my flat freezing cold. Sometimes that coffee cup I’m holding is empty. I suck in my stomach. I rearrange the furniture. I photoshop out dirty marks made by bashing furniture off the walls.
Is it bad to do those things? I don’t know.
What I do know is this: I take those pictures because they’re the kind of pictures I like to look at.
Instagram is really good at escapism, the aspirational, the inspirational. So I try to get those things into pictures I post.
Nobody wants to see me in my pyjamas, with my explosive morning hair, hunched over my laptop on the sofa. That’s how I spend most of my days. You want to see my books, my windows, my travel photography, same as I want to see the best bits of your daily lives.
But there’s a line.
In this project, I crossed that line, went way, way over it so I could work backwards and figure out how far I can reasonably go and still make work that’s both responsible and good. And I need your help.
I believe in Instagram as a tool for good. It might sound daft to some people, but it changed my life. Instagram has given me opportunities I never dreamed of.
Let’s stick together, help each other out, and make Instagram even better.
Read more of our popular posts: