I tricked myself with picture filters the other day and caused myself a lot of anxiety in the process. The story is partly funny and partly embarrassing. And it also reminded me of some important lessons pertaining to social media.
So here is how I tricked myself. Several months ago, I was taking selfies to document my silver hair process. (I have been letting my hair turn silver for about a year and a half now.)
In the midst of picture-taking process, I took this selfie:
And I felt really proud of it.
Growing up, my mom emphasized the importance of taking care of my skin by cleansing it regularly; drinkings lots of water; and eating fruits and vegetables. I’ve tried to practice such habits my whole life, but my skin seemed especially luminescent in this photo. “All that skin care is really paying off!” I thought triumphantly.
And then about a week later, I was taking more selfies to document my silver hair process. And I noticed my skin looked significantly different.
It had lost that luminescent quality. I fretted about what I was doing wrong. Was I not cleaning my skin the right way? Did I need to drink more water? Was I not eating enough fruits and vegetables?
My concerns about my skin were probably partially rooted in vanity. But they were also partially rooted in health concerns. I know that sometimes, although not all the time, our skin can be an indication of our overall health. So when the appearance of my skin seemed to change dramatically within the space of a week, I worried I was doing something wrong. Maybe I was dehydrated or becoming ill. I worried about it.
In fact, for several weeks, I kept experimenting with with different skin care products; dietary changes; and different levels of water consumption. But no matter what I did, I could not seem to recapture my skin’s former luminescence.
And then several months later, I discovered the mystery behind my rapidly changing skin quality.
One day I was taking more selfies to document my silver hair transformation. In the process, I was messing around with my camera settings and discovered a photo editing feature called “Face Beauty Auto”. I didn’t know what the feature was. So I turned it on and started taking selfies. And voila! My skin luminescence was back.
And of course, I realized the luminescence wasn’t actually my skin’s after all. It was the result of a camera feature. I was amused and embarrassed. I had spent a lot of time worrying about changes in my skin quality that were actually a figment of my camera’s imagination.
Apparently when I took my original luminescent skin selfie, I had turned on the photo feature without realizing it. I’ll show you some more examples of the difference between pictures with this feature on and with it off.
For example, here are some pictures I took today. The first one has the beautiful face photo feature I mentioned. The second one doesn’t.
And here’s me on the same day, no filter, in different lighting:
This experience also reminded me of an important lesson I learned about media images a long time ago. I frequently need to revisit this lesson.
Almost all media images are highly staged, filtered, and edited.
I will refer to these processes as curating photos. On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with curating photos, just like there is nothing wrong with polishing and editing pictures we draw or words that we write. (For example, my blog is highly curated in that I spend a lot of time editing my posts.)
Our first attempt at artistic endeavors (and selfies can be an artistic endeavor) rarely capture the exact mood we desire. So, we have to experiment, adjust, edit, and polish to achieve a finished product we feel good about. Almost every beautiful painting, photo, or piece of writing goes through this process of curation to achieve a desired effect.
As another example, consider that when you attend any concert or play, the performance you see is a highly curated moment that results from hours of polish and practice.
Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that the process of producing art is just that–a process. And we compare our uncurated moments of life with highly curated ones and feel bad about ourselves.
Life has both curated an uncurated moments. They both have their own magic and sparkle, and we don’t need to compare them unfavorably to one another.
By the way, here is another example of a picture displayed through two different camera filters. Curation makes a big difference.
I have learned this lesson about curation another way recently as well. My husband and I are moving this summer. And for the last few months, we have painted, cleaned, scrubbed, and organized. A few weeks ago, in preparation for listing the house, a professional photographer came and took pictures.
Now, I love our little house, and I was really proud of how we fixed it up. But the professional photos certainly added some magic to our house’s appearance. For example, here is a picture of our kitchen I took. (The lighting and color is a little off in this picture.):
And here is a picture the professional photographer took:
Here is a picture of our living room I took.
And here is a picture the professional photographer took:
The photographer was really skilled at using perspective and different camera angles to make the rooms in our house look larger and more sparkly than they probably actually are in real life.
So when people looked at our house pictures online, they saw a house that had been highly curated. My husband and I curated it (through our cleaning and organizing). And the professional photographer curated it by making it look especially good with his photography skills.
Going through this process has helped me a great deal. Frequently when I look at pictures of houses online I think, “How do people get their houses to look so good?” And now I know. It’s a combination of lighting, staging, the right photo lens, and house organization. In other words: curation.
I write this post to remind you not to compare the uncurated moments of your life with curated ones.
If you do, you will inevitably feel bad about your life when there is no reason to do so. It’s okay not to look perfect all the time. And with your artistic endeavors, it is okay to be in the beginning stages sometimes in which your work looks like a complete, unpromising mess.
Don’t psyche yourself out with filters, social media images, or curated productions. It’s okay to be uncurated and to be a work in progress.
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This is also an important article about how social media can affect body image: