I’m currently on a never-ending road trip surrounded by beautiful people. Or beautiful as deemed by algorithms that favour symmetrical faces, invisible pores and taut bodies. They mostly have more than a million followers. They know how to position their faces so the light hits it just so. They know how to hold a handbag, sell thousands of them with a single image and thus why they’re important in the fashion ecosystem.
I generally find the frothing over the word influencer tiresome. In my view everyone remotely in the public eye is one in some shape or form. Those who manage to navigate Instagram/TikTok in particular profit hugely from their high engagement and five-figure paid partnership deals. They make their work of content creation in beautiful places look much too effortless and fun, and thus the frothing. But in essence we are all part and parcel of a system that is designed to sell something you may or may not need or want.
As explained in a previous column, I’ve spent most of May travelling for cruise fashion shows. A glance at my social media and it basically looks like I’m just on one elongated holiday, gallivanting from one sunny place to another (Monaco-San Diego-Puglia in the space of two weeks).
In essence it’s big luxury fashion houses showcasing summer-ready clothes (that happen to sit on the rails in stores the longest) for their top clients and we as media (print press, IG influencers, TikTok kids — all manner of fashion town criers) are along for the ride. Hence all the ‘beautiful’ people.
On one particular trip, there was a re-enactment of the Mean Girls Plastics cafeteria scene. As one-million-plus follower girl walked by, another at the table said, ‘Can we talk about how Jane (as in Doe, duh) doesn’t look anything like her pictures?’ Not being familiar with Jane and because I was curious to see what all this comically bitchy banter was all about, I had a quick peek at her IG profile.
Disturbingly, the Plastics were right. The girl in the artfully curated feed of tasteful on-point outfits, spot-on interiors and art-directed bucolic surroundings didn’t really resemble the girl who was in front of me sitting down to a three-leaf Caesar salad. In photos the lips are more pronounced, the eyes are enlarged, the skin smoothed of blemishes and the face sharpened so the cheeks jut out — a heart like the emoji of choice on IG.
It seems every picture is doctored to the point at which you wouldn’t recognise the girl in question if you saw her on the street. The filter is a permanent one and perhaps IRL doesn’t matter as she lives a rarefied life of constant shoots, content creation in privilege and with the final destination of those resulting images ending up on Facetune/Meitu (choose your face-tuning app weapon as there are many). The image of Jane is the one that the million-plus who follow her will know and trust.
Just when you think we’re actively encouraging the space to #DropTheFilter, be disability-positive and embrace race, body and age diversity, along comes a live example of a social media construct that actually flummoxes you when you’re holding up screen to face for comparison. I certainly don’t wish to pass judgement on Jane and presumably what is her own autonomous decision to consistently ‘tune’ her face for the ’Gram. What it seems like is a lot of hard work to maintain a filter. But as we shift into a world where the Meta us may as well be the real us, maybe she’s just living a reality that is upon us already.