CW: mental health, body dysmorphia disorder


At the risk of sounding like a boomer, I hate social media.


This is not a particularly spicy take, I know. Instead of waxing on about how it rots your brain with its encouragement of mindless hours of scrolling, however, I want to address something a little more insidious: the Instagram Face.


This face is symmetrical. This face has sculpted cheekbones, a taut jawline. This face has catlike eyes, cartoonishly long lashes, full lips, and a small, upturned nose. This face is attached to a slender, toned body. It’s white, usually, or ethnically ambiguous. Always light-skinned. Slight variations aside, the one uniting factor: this face is desirable. 


Girls want this face. Arguably, all girls want this face. Maybe they want it framed by bubblegum-pink hair, spattered with adorable freckles, or bearing a few piercings. It’s always the same essential features, though, that makes teenagers beg plastic surgeons on Instagram to fix them, to make them whole.


The amount of times I’ve heard something along the lines of, “Oh, she’s so perfect! Look at her skin! I want lips like those, should I bite the bullet and get injections?” A girl sitting next to me at Stauffer reaches across the table to show her friend the profile of some model with luscious hair and a vacant look in her eyes, as if she’s secretly dreaming of just collecting her bag and leaving social media forever.


Probably not. But lately when I see a hot girl posing on Instagram, I can’t help but wonder what she’s really thinking about. Is she actually feeling “soooo blessed to spend such an amazing week in Santorini” or is she already planning to get a brow lift done tomorrow? Is she worried that the weird birthmark inside her right elbow can’t be edited out? Is she sucking in her stomach, like I do?


I’m reminded of a quote by Margaret Atwood that lives in my head rent-free: “Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”


Sultry gazes, pouty half-open mouths screaming look at me, you want me, you want to be me! The best version of yourself, girls will learn, is one that is young, thin, and beautiful. One that men can dream about seeing on the pillow next to them when they wake up. Mainstream feminisms encourage self-objectification: makeup as war paint, Botox and fillers as a #girlboss choice rather than a product of a girl’s burning need to be pretty. 


What does “pretty” even mean now, anyway? A poreless cyborgian face. Why, in our supposedly post-feminist world, are we still telling women that their youth and beauty makes them special in a way nothing else can? We’ve become our own worst critics, our own voyeurs. We watch ourselves from a distance in our heads, making sure our crushes see us from flattering angles, checking our lipgloss in rearview mirrors in case someone, somewhere, whips out a camera.


As cosmetic surgery continues to shape the beauty ideal, social media has reached this curious juncture where being “genuine” and “relatable” is the new trend. Influencers post themselves unfiltered, makeup-free, making double-chinned faces and quoting memes about themselves in their captions. Somehow, we all buy into it. It’s what you’d call a parasitic parasocial relationship — we latch onto these beautiful, wealthy, (sometimes) talented people and think They’re just like us! Meanwhile, celebrities feed off our likes and one-sided interactions, making thousands of dollars per post on their path to become more beautiful and wealthy every day. They’re cool, goofy, and down to earth, yet just unattainable enough to keep us all turning cartwheels for them in the comments. Being genuine and relatable has come to mean absolutely nothing.


Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that I’m just jealous of people that are hotter and richer than me. Well, duh! We all are, that’s the point! 


I catch myself angling my chin in every selfie, even the silly one-off Snapchats, to hide the baby fat that never went away even after many Pinterest-approved jawline exercises. I fix my hair in shop windows, in friend’s sunglasses, in the smudged black reflection of my phone. I Facetune the living shit out of my forehead acne. I’m guilty of putting on the same online performance as any model. So is everyone. You can’t escape it.


So how do you solve a problem like social media?


I recently deleted my Snapchat—please clap—but I doubt I’ll be able to discard Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok as easily. Deleting the apps won’t erase what I’ve already seen, anyway. My patience for the real world wears thin, scrubbed away by promises from girls with sunkissed skin posing with laxative teas, dancing in bikinis, captioning their photos with empty words of self-love. Social media has turned me into a jealous, miserable creature, and yet I can’t live without it.


Conscious consumption seems to be the best way out of the viper’s nest for now. You can limit your app usage, follow people who you actually like, who make you feel good about yourself. Still, there’s that little voice at the back of my brain telling me that even my dearest friends are editing their lives away in every picture. 

I wish I could do more. Sometimes I want to throw my arms around every girl who’s ever seen a picture of Kim Kardashian or Bella Hadid and wondered what their lives would be like if they looked just a little more like them. I want to tell them, I’m sorry. I know.


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