Instagram is not real life.
Inbuilt editing features raised the bar for selfies, while the algorithm promotes the content of your already popular pals. The result?
Your feed is full of other people’s biggest achievements, announcements and most fire selfies. It’s not a surprise that multiple studies have found that Instagram use negatively affects self-esteem in young people.
For those who use the app professionally, the pressure to appear polished can be even worse. The quest for a #goals aesthetic has given rise to a whole industry of idiot-proof photo editing apps. You can shave a few inches off your jaw with a swipe, whiten your teeth with a rub and double tap your way to a straighter nose.
As it stands, it seems nobody begrudges the use of Instagram’s inbuilt filters. Problems arise with the prevalence of powerful third-party apps, like Facetune or Photoshop.
The aforementioned teeth whitening and edits of that ilk are par for the course, but enhancements beyond that are rubbing followers up the wrong way.
Tell-tale signs of third-party edits crop up in the photos of almost every top influencer. Eye colours that contrast dramatically with the rest of the image, textureless skin and blurred edges are as much a part of the influencer aesthetic as marble flat lays.
In my opinion, it’s excessive. An impossible standard has been set, and it’s nearly impossible to ignore it. In an ideal world, the top tiers of Instagram would scale back the edits a little, but I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to bring about that change. You can’t really enact standards and codes for selfies.
When it comes to advertising, it’s a different story. You can’t even stick a false lash on a mascara model without the consumer watchdog getting on your case, but Instagram is a lot less strict.
Brands are taking advantage of that, using the platform and its influencers to broadcast ads that would never be approved for television.
In a recent corporate blunder, Charlotte Tilbury was accused of using CGI enhancement on her tutorials. The blurring filter smoothed the model’s skin but also warped fingers and applicators when they were in the shot.
The thing that struck me about the controversy was that Charlotte Tilbury fans were shocked. Apparently, while there is an expectation that Instagram photos will be filtered, consumers also assume that brands are self-regulating, sticking to an unspoken rule about what edits are good and what edits are bad.
Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Digital content from brands might follow the formula of girl-next-door beauty tutorials, but they have the full weight of a corporate advertising agency behind them.
Trust No Bitch (Or Seagull)
So, what’s to be done? Digital media has evolved so quickly that legislation can’t help but lag behind. I think we’ll see more regulations in sponsored posts and in the content brands share online, but not in the very near future.
We might have personal opinions about what level of enhancement is acceptable, but there is no universal standard. There are just as many people using apps to painstakingly pull their chin into a point as there are slightly tweaking the brightness of a selfie.
In the meantime, it’s good to take stock of where your beauty news is coming from. I follow brands to find out about new launches, but I scroll past when their content is veering into QVC territory. I work under the assumption that every pro picture is retouched unless otherwise stated.
It’ll be a while before I’m not side-eyeing seagulls.