The danger of deceiving appearances

Sven Krumrey

Recently, I got a new cellphone to review. After I had gone through a couple of its features, I accessed the front camera and took a selfie. When I saw the result, I couldn't believe my eyes. I looked like, well, a buttermilk biscuit with eyes. Was the camera broken? Had a co-worker played a trick on me and spread butter over the lens? Nope, it was the beauty filter, enabled by default. Had I asked for it? No. Do I look better as a nebulous figure? Maybe, on Halloween. There's a bigger issue here, though.

Beauty knows no pain - but you should know the right app

Being enabled by default, manufacturers obviously expect the majority of customers to use this "beauty" setting. And they're right. A brief look at download charts from various app stores reveals beautification apps are on billions of devices. It's not just zits that are masked out and edited but everything from double chins to entire facial structures. There are specialized apps to alter body shapes, e.g. take some weight off or add a bunch of curves. Advertising texts are painfully honest: "Be who you always wanted to be!", at least in pixel form. Pixels are forgiving, reality is not.

I got a call from a friend, he needed to talk. He had come across a young lady on Tinder and intended to meet up with her. He admitted he had uploaded rather favorable and slightly edited pictures of himself and sent them to me as proof, expecting me to find them moderately flattering but still somewhat true to reality. When they finally met, or rather tried to meet, a minor problem arose: they didn't recognize each other. A phone call cleared things up - and revealed the sobering truth. The night was over quickly and utterly devoid of romance. Once the prominent Casanova turns into an ordinary office clerk and the seductive princess into the girl next door, disappointment is guaranteed. They simply didn't fit the images they had painted of themselves beforehand.

An app for the perfect selfie An app for the perfect selfie

What may sound like another case of harmless horseplay in our modern society can have disastrous consequences for our younger generations. Especially during a phase of their lives when they pay more attention to idols and celebrities than to their parents, or to any adult for that matter. But peer pressure is increasing. While our idols did have their visual flaws, today, the bar is set considerably higher. Photoshop takes care of what rigorous physical training and special diets can't remedy. Naturally, this also affects magazine pictures that have to be individually greenlit by management before they too go to press or online. This results in high-res 4K images of unpadded immaculate bodies free from wrinkles or any other visual flaws. It's every dermatologist's dream.

But it's not real. Humans usually aren't cast or match the appearance of supermodels. It's this visual divide that sends so many children and teenagers into despair. A friend of mine, a psychotherapist, told me about the ramifications caused by "digital perfection". Every day, she sees dozens of young men and women who starve themselves, work out like crazy, regularly compare weights and even cause self-inflicted harm if they fail to meet the goals they set for themselves. Elementary students are also among her clientele. Students that long for beauty surgery, 12 year-olds with heavy make-up and small boys that would love to get their hands on steroids to stimulate muscle growth. Many of them carry photos and glossy prints of their idols and have very exact ideas of what they want to look like and do. I'm not talking about Hollywood, these kids live in a major German city. I'll admit I was oblivious to this until now.

Posing like the pros Posing like the pros

The delusion of perfection has gotten to the point that it spawned a new genre of magazines that show and celebrate stars without digital makeovers. Every wrinkle, every ounce of extra weight and every bit of cellulite. It's a minor alleviation for tortured souls. But change is coming, if slowly. A small number of beauty companies have begun to try their luck with unaltered images and educators are already arguing the case for warning messages like "Warning, this photo was digitally altered and does not reflect the truth" to accompany the affected media. Until then, digital perfection will continue to dominate magazines and websites. I've now disabled the beauty filter and brought back my wrinkles so that, instead of a smooth and polished sculpture, I once again look like the mid-forty human being that I am. That's life, that's reality.

What I would like to know: Do you consider warning messages that accompany digitally altered images a good idea? Or do we as a society have to learn to better cope with deceiving appearances?

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