By Stefany Jovel
I love silky flawless skin with uniform perfect makeup, and spend a lot of time daily—three hours of my day—flicking through images of Instagram’s insta-bloggers, makeup artistes with perfect faces, and models who look like angels with dreamy makeup. I always say, tomorrow I will use that makeup or “look”, but when I wake up early mornings after dismissing the alarm three or four times, I only manage to wash my face, put on moisturizer and maybe—maybe some—blush.
Three months ago this was not my routine! I was living in El Salvador, Central America, and I was a full-on executive woman in heels with my hair and makeup on flick all the time; because in my country, if you want to be seen as a professional you need to look like one, and a good look is very important in the business world, sadly. When I moved to Canada, everything changed. I do not have time for doing full makeup anymore, and I do not understand why. Every morning, when I get on the bus I find very few girls with makeup on—I mean full-blown make-up encompassing that long routine of primer, base, corrector and contour. Most girls in Canada wear similar make-up as me, hoping that the cold weather will get us rosier cheeks naturally; but what I really want is to get out of the house with a smoky look and bright cheeks à la Nam Vo style. Maybe Instagram has my mind washed, and it is not just me, but millions of girls who are influenced by this global search for beauty standards we must achieve daily.
An epidemic of both body and beauty dissatisfaction exists in our generation, manifesting itself in different cultures. We see beautiful girls every day in social media, and we want to have their body, their hair, their lips, etc. In addition, we find ourselves insufficient, not beautiful; and women feel as though their bodies are not good enough, so they add filters and edit their pictures to look perfect. I have worked for ten years in social media, and have observed a close relationship between social networks and self-perceptions or image-morale. It becomes necessary to ask: how real are those beauty ideals on the internet? That boy with his heavyset gym-bag, abs and biceps. That girl with luscious long hair and spotless skin. All those images are retouched to perfection. They all seek to set some unattainable standards of beauty.
Let us understand the damage caused by how we interact with beautiful images on social media. According to the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom, rates of anxiety and depression among young people have increased by 70% in the last 25 years, partly due to social networks, because they struggle to achieve the “perfect body and the perfect life” we see on Instagram. The same study also shows that girls are now expressing a heightened desire to change their appearance such as their face, hair and skin after spending more time on Facebook. Social media envy is causing middle class and affluent younger generations to opt for cosmetic surgeries only to look better in photos, with negative implications on their physical health owed to invasive surgery.
For that reason, I think it is necessary that brands create more campaigns that showcase and accommodate reality, plain and simple. No retouching, changes or distortions. When groups of passersby complain about “ugly nudes” in Toronto’s Hanlan’s Point, does your skin crawl at the effortless body-shaming, or do you quickly join the crowd? Do we and our bodies exist only to attract or mate with “good-looking people”? Social media has conditioned us to think so. In Canada alone, women with higher internet usage report increased body dissatisfaction, (although men who are heavier users of the internet report lower body dissatisfaction than women), and the trend is echoed in teens.
While Instagram may have the most net negative impact on young people’s mental health among the Big 5 social media (above), I love its beautiful inspiring compositions: looks and hair trends I can copy, and makeup artistes’ tutorials on their profiles where you can observe their finished work as it really is, without any “touchups”. @Nikki_Makeup on Instagram is among my top social media influencers along with @katiejanehughes. Both artistes offer step-by-step coaching on acquiring a professional yet achievable makeup look everyday. Their looks are done in real time, and when something is retouched, they clarify that.
It is important not to be manipulated by ideals of beauty on social media, which could offer an invaluable opportunity to engage young people with more conventional health messaging instead. According to the Royal Society study cited earlier, health campaigns gain credibility through community promotion on social media, and the very personal nature of someone sharing their experiences can provide others with practical strategies and coping mechanisms. Social media (including Instagram) can also be an effective platform for positive self-expression, letting young people put forward their best-self by revealing who they really are and how they identify with the world around them. Instagram especially offers young people a useful tool to make, maintain or build on real-world interpersonal relationships. This may be through staying connected with friends and family members around the world, or socializing online with everyday friends and reviving offline relationships with online interactions.
If you do not want to do your makeup or lose more weight, it’s fine. Nobody should feel judged or frowned upon for not conforming to the internet’s beauty standards. How can more brands make this better for us, who only seek more reality and social acceptance on our media?
Stefany Jovel brings a decade of experience in digital marketing and content strategy for major brands in Latin America with vast expertise in lifestyle and beauty as a micro-influencer, writer and brand advisor. She tweets at @stefanyjovel.