Who actually looks like their pictures on social media? If you say you’re 100% #nofilter, you’re a liar. But then again who isn’t? We all partake in tweaking our photos—smoothing out the wrinkles, popping the highlighter more, cinching the waist a bit—but how far will we tweak our looks for the likes?
To date, tweaking our looks would be considered catfishing, but in 2019 when fake news and photoshop reign supreme, this has morphed into what could be considered digital beauty. A type of beauty solely for the internet. From the second we wake up, we bury ourselves into our phones with faces rarely seen without a filter. This daily exposure has skewed our perception of beauty and raised our standards of it to impossible, even unnatural heights.
With oceans of beauty editing apps available to us, it’s apparent that we are obsessed with elevating our face for the likes. Our obsession has even led to a new type of psychological body disorder, Snapchat dysmorphia. Being the latest rage in plastic surgery, SnapChat Dysmorphia has had people asking plastic surgeons to make their faces match their Snapchat alter egos. Although some may not be ready to go under the knife, people are still willing to explore any avenue to make themselves look prettier for the post. So what if we could edit our faces in real life as easily as we can on our phones? With the latest oddball beauty trends spreading across all platforms, that future might be closer than we think.
The latest futuristic beauty trend that has been causing alarm and fascination is sculpted makeup. Coming from the Chinese version of the Tik Tok app, Douyin, women are sculpting chiselled noses and chins with prosthetic wax (according to commentators, Ben Nye nose and scar wax is the go-to product), and refining their jawlines and cheekbones with facial tape, resulting in a narrower and sometimes unrecognisable look from the person’s original face. This type of catfishing 2.0 goes beyond Facetune or a Kardashian-like contour and has morphed from being a display of low self-esteem into an oddly fascinating and frankly impressive feat of face transformation.
Many Chinese Tik Tok users say this “trend” is solely done for the online likes and not as an actual beauty aesthetic for the real world. According to Reddit readers, this wax is prone to melt in warmer temperatures and not ideal for all day use outside.
It’s interesting to think that there is a beauty trend that solely lives within the internet for likes. It also opens up the possibilities that sculpted makeup could be a way for people to become their own plastic surgeons. Instead of praying that your genetic features will become the next IT body ideal, you can hyper-personalise your face with the latest body trends guilt-free and without permanence. If these products were developed for longer lasting daily use, this could pioneer into a form of fast-fashion plastic surgery; you can try out a different face the same way you try on a different outfit.
On the other, more critical side, many users have commented that sculpted makeup promotes cultural appropriation. Asian girls yearning for more European features: whiter skin, narrowed facial structure and pointier noses and chins. Although this isn’t the first incident of cultural appropriation in the beauty realm, the lines are becoming more blurred for what is ethically appropriate. Blackfishing, another odd beauty trend that has been making the rounds on social media platforms, is being dubbed the new form of Blackface. Using makeup, hairstyles, and fashion that is associated with the African American community, white Instagram girls are transforming themselves with racially ambiguous or at least half black features.
Although none of them have claimed that this was their intention, it is undeniable when you see the difference. Although this is an oddly fascinating and alarming display of the power of makeup, it does note the lengths users will go to look good for social media and to belong within a cultural group of their desire. Digital beauty trends such as these have ignited a discussion around what is real, and can any of these peoples’ looks be the real thing or is it smoke and mirrors?
With a year away from a new decade of the 21st century, our perceptions of truth and authenticity are dangerously skewed and maybe even become nonexistent. As our obsession with customisation continues, the possibility that we could (and most likely will) be able to create our own faces with ease and convenience could spark a new wave of beauty on and outside of the internet. A potential future of beauty that aligns with our rapid-paced society; we won’t have to go to plastic surgeons and spend thousands of pounds on one new face, we can create a new face for every day of the week. We could look like any ethnicity we want and quite literally be anyone we want to be. The ethical implications are still up in the air, but the idea that we can be our own plastic surgeons is both alarming and innovative. So be your own judge, define your own beauty online and off, because who knows what you’ll look like tomorrow.
The last couple of years have seen a surge in efforts to subvert prevailing beauty standards in India by decentering whiteness and shifting the narrative of what it means to be beautiful. Social media has provided a place for beauty to be celebrated in all shapes and forms. Campaigns like #unfairandlovely and ‘Dark is Beautiful’ have gained prominence, even garnering support from a number of Bollywood stars. Even so, the representation of women from the Indian subcontinent remains disappointing. How often do we actually see the full spectrum of skin tones, eye colours, hair textures and facial features that characterise South Asia? Not often enough.
The recently released headshots of the 2019 Femina Miss India pageant finalists prove my point. The women are all skinny and fair, with manes of silky straight black hair down to their waists—in other words, unrepresentative of the majority of Indian women. It’s not just that they’re all fair, it’s that they look exactly the same as well. Clearly, they all share the same vision of the ‘ideal’ Indian woman, what they believe to be the epitome of beauty in India.
Online backlash following the release of these photos has confirmed that the beauty pageant has little to do with Indian women or Indian beauty. The lineup hardly represents the ethnic diversity of India’s 29 states, a reality that is disappointing—even Miss USA has crowned a South Asian woman more representative of the Indian populous.
This is perhaps unsurprising given that we continue to exist in a world which holds whiteness and its associated likeness in the highest regard. To be woman and non-white, is to be inherently lacking; caught in a perpetual strive for desirability. We see this in the way South Asian women are encouraged, often coerced, to violently change their bodies by bleaching their skin, straightening their locks and waxing their body hair into oblivion.
In a time when fast fashion and large corporations control notions of diversity, South Asian visibility is often shaped by individuals who are not themselves from South Asian communities. As a result, a lot of the portrayals of brown women in art, fashion and media tend not to be particularly positive, varied or correct. A quick look at Indian media outlets and brands shows that our conception of diversity involves the tokenistic inclusion of fair-skinned brown women with predominantly Eurocentric features.
Even spaces you think would represent the multiplicities of South Asian women like Bollywood and Instagram only showcase a tiny percentage of what brown women actually look like. Indian models, Instagram influencers and Bollywood stars fall firmly within the boundaries of conventional beauty standards with their glossy manes, lighter skin tones, and sharp facial features. Their superficial acceptance beyond the region is reflective of a colonial legacy that finds comfort in the familiar, while vilifying people and practices it doesn’t recognise.
It is imperative that we address this intra-community bias as we work towards dismantling lingering preferences for whiteness in post-colonial societies. We need to start diversifying diversity. We must counter a toxic culture of other-hatred and self-hatred with radical self-love, inclusivity, and a conscious celebration of difference. South Asia is a heterogeneous, multi-faceted region home to thousands of ethnic and tribal groups which deserve to be represented.
While South Asia stands independent today, we, like much of the colonised world, still struggle to shed the internalised self-loathing centuries of servitude ingrained in us. From our traditional dress and religious mores to the food we eat, we were considered savage. The subsequent post-modern colonial hangover has led us to imitate the West in deeply damaging ways. It’s about time that India’s age-old problem of colourism is met with renewed indignation and active demands for better representation.
In the age of social media activism, it has become all too easy to care from a distance without doing much to actually shift the visual culture of South Asia. Instagram is a great place to start in diversifying portrayals of brown women, but it doesn’t quite tackle the root of the problem. South Asia’s public image continues to be governed by more traditional forms of media like TV commercials, soap operas, and of course Bollywood. It is therefore vital that we remain discerning of production bodies and their depiction of Indian women.
After all, the power of the people has always been India’s greatest asset. It is therefore vital that the spaces we create to support and affirm South Asian women are doing just that, and aren’t just claiming to do so. We need to create a broader scope of representation when it comes to what it means, and looks like, to be South Asian.