Week Four: “Why Don’t I Look Like Her?”

In Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves, Jill Walker Rettberg discusses the various ways technology shapes our vision of ourselves and of others. In her chapter “Filtered Reality,” Rettberg focuses on the term filter and explores the ways filters are used within social media. Rettberg explains there are both technological filters and cultural filters. Technological filters “allow us to express ourselves in some ways but not in others,” and are similar to affordances that all technologies have (23). Cultural filters are “the rules and conventions that guide us, [which] filter out possible modes of expression so subtly that we are often not aware of all the things we do not see” (24). How people represent themselves cannot be done “without using or adapting, resisting and pushing against filters that are already embedded in…culture, whether these filters are technological or cultural.”

Rettberg shows that “individual devices have technological filters that are themselves influenced by cultural filters” and discusses the app SkinneePix, which lets the user take selfies that make them appear thinner by ‘removing’ up to 15lbs from the image. Rettberg details this as an example of “how we are aware that technology filters our visual representations” (28). I found this example interesting because it highlights the cultural ideal of thinness that is so prevalent within our culture. SkinneePix’s website is http://prettysmartwomen.com/skinneepixapp/, which name itself shows that prevalent culture only sees thin women as pretty and smart, also states: “SkinneePix helps you edit your Selfies to look 5, 10 or 15 lbs. healthier in two quick clicks on your phone. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s fun. Share them with your friends immediately. SkinneePix makes your photos look good and helps you feel good.” Again, the use of words in this blurb is telling. By using the word “healthier,” this app implies the thinner you are, the healthier you are, which cannot be further from the truth.

This small example shows a larger cultural theme at play in our society: how you look is the most important thing. In the article “‘Why Don’t I Look Like Her?’: How Instagram Is Ruining Our Self Esteem,” author Olivia Fleming discusses how Instagram is changing how many woman see themselves in relation to other woman. One model interviewed, who helped put together the un-airbrushed 2014 charity calendar says, “[Instagram] is so much scarier than magazines. At least most people realize that magazines and campaigns have been airbrushed. But young girls are looking at selfies on Instagram and they’re not realizing that some people are using apps to totally change what they look like.” This trend enables social media to have more of a “detrimental impact to the body image concerns of college aged women than advertising or the media generally.” While it is true social media is shaped by both technological and cultural filters, it is important to note when these filters begin to impact the real world, and real peoples perceptions of themselves in negative ways.

3 Comments

  1. I never thought about filters in the way you are arguing, and it’s really interesting now that I think about it. Social media, because of it’s original intentions, is subjected to less scrutiny when it comes to altering/enhancing one’s image; it’s seen as reality rather than the augmented reality it really is.

    If you really think about it, though, I almost feel as though the “why don’t I look like her” argument spans beyond just filtered images. Cultural filters, as Nikki points out in her blog, dictate how we use social media and the norms that we apply to it. All these rules arise with how often we post, what we post, how we post, etc. etc. that social media really is no longer an accurate representation of our lives, like it was originally intended to do. Body image, like you mentioned, is affected by image filters; but also expectations of how we should live our lives–where to travel, where to work, what to do for fun, what to eat, etc.–is also affected from cultural filters.

  2. This is really interesting because as we’ve discussed – it seems that the stereotype of social media users has a female tendency (meaning its not necessarily only women who do these things, but the stuff that happens – filters, editing, etc. fall under this “feminine” category). I’ve seen countless memes with phrases along the lines of “you looked better in your instagram photos”. It seems insane too that the only image of you that matters are the images online.

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