Mirror Mirror on My Screen -- Am I Hot or Not?

Remember the good old days of the Internet?  You know, back when it was all porn and e-commerce? Ah, I miss it. Now it’s more like one big virtual reality vanity project: real-time updates on every street taco eaten, every time you catch your friends listening to “Call Me Maybe,” and every mundane thought that passes through the minds of every person you’ve ever met.  When photos of babies (or future babies) start to outnumber images of Kate Upton, what does that say about us as a culture? Unless you live under a rock, you are likely immersed in the modern world of social media.  Some have argued that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are producing a culture of narcissism – a population so self-obsessed, that we perpetually need instant validation for daily non-events. This slippery slope into megalomania is most evident via photos.  Social media photo logs have become time-stamped mirrors of our lives.  We seem to be inching ever-closer to becoming non-animated versions of Snow White’s Evil Queen, as we engage in a race to be the fairest in the land (and, like the Queen’s mirror, our virtual mirrors also talk back).  But what exactly happens when we look at ourselves? Humans aren’t the only creatures with a healthy appreciation of our own image: elephants, dolphins, orcas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans can all recognize themselves in a mirror.   But unlike these other animals, humans uniquely experience what Jacques Lacan refers to as the mirror stage, or the time between 6 to 18 months when the Ego forms. This Ego develops when we recognize our own image and become an object.  We take comfort in seeing our own image, checking and validating ourselves in the mirror. And, oh, how we do check ourselves.  According to UberFacts, the average woman spends about two years of her life staring in the mirror, whereas men only spend around 6 months gazing into their own eyes. But studies suggest that mirrors (and photos) not only reflect vanity, but breed self-consciousness. This is particularly dangerous for children.  As a recent New York Times article stated, “A 3-year-old shouldn’t know which of her actions are worthy of being documented; she should simply be in the moment.” Social media, our public mirror, is largely to blame for an increase in this self-consciousness.  The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt found that 75 percent of Facebook users are unhappy with their bodies, and 51 percent of respondents reported that Facebook makes them more conscious about their body and weight.  Why?  Rampant “photo sabotage” – where one knowingly posts unflattering photos of “friends” – may have something to do with it.  1 in 4 women are active frenemy photo sabotagers. Photo sabotagers be damned, we try to create a picture perfect image of ourselves through social media.  And one key way we project this pseudo-perfection is by using photo editing tools. Part of Instagram’s appeal is its flattering filters. Users have even taken to bragging about a “selfie,” or self-portrait with the hashtag #nofilter, supposedly indicating that this image is more “real” than the others that use filters. In a world dominated by heavily manipulated virtual images, not being retouched has become something to brag about. Not quite ready to go prime time with your raw images?  Here are 4 apps to pimp your pics (plus a sociological challenge – and a bad social media joke!) :

  • Don’t know which selfie to post? Pic Jointer will combine several images, so you don’t have to choose.
  • Be Funky is a free app that lets you edit your image sans iPhoto; you can make sure your image is perfect even before adding an Instagram filter. Want your image to look like a painting? No problem!  Have the perfect thought bubble to insert? Be Funky makes it possible.
  • Color Splash lets you make select sections of your image black and white, while the rest remains in color. You can black and white out someone’s face, but leave their eyes blue! This app gives your photo the extra pop it was missing.
  • Snapchat is a panacea for social media image-induced self-consciousness. The viewer can only see your picture for up to 5 seconds, then it’s gone forever.
  • DIY Sociological Challenge: Try covering all your mirrors for one full day, then reflect on how you feel. (That means no taking any selfies either!)
  • Bonus Joke: How much does a hipster weigh? An Instagram.