how does social media shape our perception of beauty?

We're all guilty of it; enhancing photographs of ourselves, our friends and our surroundings before posting them on Instagram/ Twitter/ Tinder (delete as appropriate). But how do these tampered versions of beauty affect our perception of self...

by Sarah Raphael
20 May 2014, 9:20am

A male friend of mine who considers himself "big on Tinder" claims the winning five photo formula is this: front-on photo, side profile photo, photo showing teeth, body photo and height photo, involving a casual scale prop such as Kylie Minogue. If you're not better looking on Tinder than in real life, you have failed.

It's the most gratifying, terrifying, humanity-destroying platform ever created. But then again it's responsible for actually quite a lot of nice loving relationships… While Tinder must be the worst offender, the impact of social media on perceptions of beauty is inevitably positive and negative, depending on which way you look. You might meet the love of your life through tactful photo-editing, you might feel terrible forever, or you might be one of the mental few to enter hyperreality, transcending your human form into… well this…

Dove recently found time to conduct a survey which revealed that 82% of women believe that social media does indeed impact our definitions of beauty. Most beauty and cosmetic companies have thriving Facebook and Instagram communities, and thanks to Mark Zuckerberg's endless ambition, we're constantly bombarded by advertising showing before and after shots of extreme diets and some kind of miracle thinning berry. Image control is coming at us from every direction on social media, whether it's from people we know whose lives appear endlessly better than our own; from people we don't know whose lives definitely are better than our own; or companies shooting at us with their virtual personal-improvement bullets, it's inescapable, inspirational and pointlessly addictive. It's everything that's good and bad about our generation.  

While half your wall is covered in 'no make up' breast cancer campaign selfies, which are fantastically positive for perceptions of beauty, the other half is covered in some girl you only half know taking the exact same picture of herself 98 times from various lighting points in her bathroom, or looking pensive on a wall. Cool. Granted, most people strike a balance between truth and manipulated truth, which can just mean showing the camera your good side, but there are those irksome few who dedicate far too much time to being better than you.  

Of course, it's all a matter of perspective. Take instagram fantasy Petra Collins, who I recently interviewed for i-D's Spring Issue. Her life looks like a box of chocolates, full of beautiful people and perfect curls, and flicking through her account, you'll find hundreds of comments from young girls taking it the wrong way. "You're too much of amazing, leave some for others man", "Ugh can I just look like this already" and "I wish I was Petra Collins sumtimez". But as Petra is quick to point out, reality isn't square shaped and there's no option of a Rise filter; "I guess my life seems perfect, but I want people to know that those are just images. I suffer all the time. Depression is something I deal with all the time." Worth following: @petrafcollins

The last thing that actually stayed in my mind on Instagram was SHOWstudio's post of model Chantelle Young, who has vitiligo, which causes pigmentation patches all over her face and body. Ok she is incredibly beautiful, but the image by Nick Knight is still important because it's about perspective. Do you see her skin condition as a flaw, or as a celebrated point of difference? Worth following: @winnieharlow

Nick Knight also photographed paralympian Aimee Mullins for SHOWstudio some years ago. Aimee had both of her legs amputated as a baby, and has gone on to become a model, a gold medalist, an actress and an artist. She is by all accounts, including her instagram, an inspirational woman. Worth following: @aimeemullinsnyc

That there's three accounts to start your new positive impact social media life with. You see, inspiration is the same amount of clicks away as insecurity. If everyone adopted the policy on social media as in life of "just don't be a dick", we could all enjoy the positive things that social platforms have to offer, like diversity of image, worldwide communication and good interesting people whose lives are actually worth looking at. Of course, choosing flattering photos for your Tinder profile doesn't make you a bad person, and neither does taking a selfie; my parents just sent me a selfie on whatsapp of them at the theatre, and I'm pretty sure sex appeal and social superiority wasn't their primary objective.

Wherever you look in this world, you'll see vanity here and humility there. It's about the choices you make (follow/ unfollow) the company you keep (add friend/ unfriend) and how you choose to present yourself to others (lame selfies/ theatre selfies). If you can't help but compare, compare yourself to people who have nothing, not to twats on instagram. :)


Text Sarah Raphael 

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Sarah Raphael