Over the past few years, I have never had a positive relationship with Instagram. Editing photos on Instagram to the point of perfection seemed like an absolute waste of time to me. Why spend two hours editing photos of your face on VSCO Cam, Facetune and Perfect365 when you could have grabbed a coffee with a friend instead?
Well, on April 7, I was about to learn what the costs of attempting to edit an image of yourself could feel like for your self-esteem. April 7 was the day of my college’s junior formal, and my close friend, an organizer, dragged me in my dolled up state of mind for a night of soiree, dancing, and slightly mediocre food. We walked in with the goal of snapping that perfect Instagram red carpet-ready photo but the dark lighting put a halt on our plans, and we settled for quick photos in the hotel lobby around 9 p.m.
I’m still trying to think whether this was the worst or best decision of my life because I would soon feel beaten over what would happen.
It’s 10 p.m. at night, I have a margarita pizza in my-hand and I send my aunt’s friend, an Instagram queen, my photo from the lobby and ask her to edit it to balance the yellow glow of the lobby out against my dusky skin tone. What I’m expecting is a photo with less saturated lighting and more contrast that brings out the striking midnight blue tone of my dress. What I get, however, is an image of my face contorted drastically, my already slightly toned arms drawn in further, and my hips completely chopped to half its ratio to make my hourglass figure even more pronounced. A dark thought instantly streams through my mind: “Am I not good enough? Do I need to look like that ideal woman with a slimmer face, thinner arms and wider waist-to-hip ratio?”
I sent my mum and my best friends my photo, and everyone commented, “This is not you nor your personality. Post the original, minimally edited (for lighting!) one.” I posted the original photo, but the other over-edited photos still gathered like storm clouds above me. I was bothered that I had to prove my worth as a female on Instagram by knocking my hips several sizes down to fit into the “perfect women, carefully designed through hundreds of females’ Instagram posts” club. It bugged me that my twice-a-week SoulCycle figure didn’t make the cut for Instagram, and that I had to look like I ate nothing at all to be beautiful. When did we get so obsessed with one specific female prototype, rather than celebrate the diversity and beauty in many?
The answer I figured out, lies deep down within the crevices of something called “self-esteem.” As women, the media and social media, ranging from the Kardashians to Gigi Hadid have internally dictated to us what beauty standards are, and how we may or may not fit in. Pew Research Center notes that 83% of women between the ages of 18-29 use Facebook and 38% of women use Instagram. The numbers don’t sound large but we all know that when we see specific types of beauty standards getting more “likes” than our own, it really does hit home. Then, the impulsive decision sets in and we run over to beauty apps to distort our faces, enlarge our eyes, and flatten our hips. Shouldn’t we be spending this time catching up to men’s 31% ratio to women’s 27% ratio on LinkedIn instead?
I wish I could tell more women what the art of confidence means. Over the following days, I mulled over those photo edits and wrote down twenty things I had or I could do that others couldn’t or didn’t have. The physical traits ran from straight raven hair and hips like Catherine Zeta Jones to doe eyes, and the personality traits ranged from polyglot, avid hiker (and animal lover!) to someone who really tries to understand people from different political spectrums. Once I finished writing it down, I looked at myself incredulously and asked myself, “Why on earth am I not good enough? You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty”.
We can’t really change the state of social-media-esteem overnight, but I’m asking girls to write down what unique traits they have to help them appreciate themselves more. You can still continue to edit your lighting or setting but are those extra big eyes really necessary? Do you really need that self-made thigh gap? It’s a distorted reality.
I’m ending this piece with a simple question and two versions of myself people can choose from. One version, the original, will walk with you to Chinatown to eat dumplings while writing an article on French politics. The other, the edited, will try to process what you say nonchalantly with Instagram quotes fluttering through her head. So, which version would you choose?