We weren’t supposed to see so many pretty faces
Retouched images are now what we’ve come to expect from some influencers, especially the Kardashians, with their impossibly long fingers and weird calves. But with the influx of “embellish glasses on social networks, such as those who add “light makeup,” ordinary people are now polishing up beyond anything we’ve seen before. It leads us to believe that we don’t live up to normal standards, which can be even more damaging than celebrity comparisons.
While our brains are constantly judging appearances, they are also making comparisons. “Whenever any of us look at images of others, there is a strong tendency to compare ourselves to those images,” says Dr. Petya Eckler, lecturer in body image and social media at the University of Strathclyde.
“If these comparisons are, as scholars call them, ‘bullish comparisons”, you feel that you are inferior to the thing you are comparing yourself to. And with social media’s abundance of beautiful images, Eckler continues, comparisons are likely to be “up” as opposed to “down” or “lateral” (where both sides are considered equal). It turned out, she said, “quite risky for self-esteem, for the realization of self-esteem for young men and women.“
Dr Nadia Craddock, a body image researcher at UWE, says: “Studies have shown that on social media, comparing ourselves to people we consider peers is more powerful than celebrities or models when it comes to body image, because we can better rationalize that we don’t have the same resources, like a glam squad. Other studies show, adds Craddock, “that the more we invest in editing our own image, the worse we feel about ourselves IRL. This is important because poor body image can affect all aspects of our lives – it can affect our physical and mental health and affect how we present ourselves at work, at social events and in romantic relationships.
As a direct consequence of this comparison and this edition, the ideals of beauty become homogenized. In 2019, Jia Tolentino coined the term “Instagram face” in the new yorkerwhere she describes a “unique and cyborgian face. It’s a youthful face, sure, with poreless skin and high, plump cheekbones. He has cat eyes and long, cartoonish eyelashes; he has a neat little nose and full, lush lips. He looks at you shyly but blankly”.
Type “the most beautiful face in the world” in the AI DALL-E image generator, and a uniform group of humanoids stare at you, all with long, straight brown hair, razor-sharp jaws, and full lips. All nine faces are Caucasian, with tan skin and electric blue eyes. None of them looks natural, but rather the imagination of a machine of a ‘Victoria’s Secret model from the 2000s.
It’s no surprise that artificial intelligence seems to conform to Eurocentric ideals of beauty. AI learns from currently available information, so the biases of society become those adopted by our new computer overlords. This shows up in our apps as well – some of the filters, such as a ““glow” look that brightens eyes and adds freckles, only really works on white faces.