Lightricks, the company mostly known for its app Facetune, just raised $135 million to expand its popular selfie-perfecting products. With the company valued at over £1 billion, it is safe to say that face-editing apps are here to stay.
Lightricks was one of the first companies to implement a subscription price for its mobile applications, initially costing $3.99 in 2013. Facetune 2, although free to download, has a $5.99 fee per month to access all unlimited features and content (alternatively, you can get a one-off purchase for $69.99). The app has an estimated monthly revenue of $3 million. In 2017, Facetune was the most downloaded app, with celebrities like Khloe Kardashian, James Charles and Tana Mongeu expressing enthusiasm over using it. Facetune even sponsored one episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race in season 11, gaining increased popularity among the LGBTQ+ community.
Photo editing and air-brushing is not a new trend or a new idea, but what makes Facetune so popular is the simplicity of it. Unlike Photoshop, Facetune only offers a handful of tools that are easy to use, letting users digitally manipulate their image in minutes and allowing anyone to create a digital persona, far from their real selves. In more than 5 years, the app became a catalyst in creating the ‘Instagram face’ aesthetic, as well as becoming the centre of conversation when discussing the discrepancy between our crafted online selves and reality.
While there is nothing wrong with people wanting to use these apps, the criticism around the topic is more than understandable. The increased use of apps like Snapchat and Facetune has been flagged as a potential cause for body dysmorphia—there’s even a new phenomenon called the “Snapchat dysmorphia”, described as people requesting surgery to appear like the edited version of themselves under the Snapchat filters.
Just recently, Qiaobiluo Dianxia, a vlogger from China known as Your Highness Qiaobilou was exposed to be 58 years old, despite posing as a young woman. She was masking her face behind a filter during a live stream on Douyu, when a technical glitch revealed her true identity to 100,000 fans. Before the internet starts accusing Dianxia of ‘deception’, it is important to consider what could have motivated her to do this. According to China’s Global Times, Dianxia was “worshiped as a cute goddess”, with some of her fans giving her over £11, 000 during streaming sessions. Sadly, digital filters and Facetune retouching remind us that we exist in a culture that praises unreachable, non-existent perfection and favours outdated ‘traditional’ beauty standards, which predominantly impact young women.
And it is true—ageism is extremely prevalent in this. Would Dianxia have an online career as successful had she used her true identity? Probably not. Therefore, before you cancel yet another woman for ‘deceiving’ you by failing to live up to these unattainable and frankly narrow-minded standards, think why she got there in the first place.
Even when it comes to job applications, companies have begun asking people to stop uploading photographs where they appeared to be using such filters. Since Snapchat came out with filters in 2015 (remember the dog filter that went viral for years after that?), face filters have evolved dramatically. In 2019, we see a shift from the traditional ‘Instagram face’ aesthetic to a much more futuristic, robotic-cyborg one. With filters like Beauty3000 taking over and going viral, it does seem that we are shifting towards a new digital existence. Traditional notions of beauty and its standards might be slowly changing, making it hard to predict how long the popularity of apps like Facetune will exist for, but, for now, it is still very much prevalent.
With online forums such as r/instagramreality exposing the differences between people’s constructed faces with the real ones, there are countless arguments that it is apps like Facetune that allow for deception in the first place. Yes, we, as a generation so fixated on our social media image have brought this upon ourselves, but why do we have the need to withhold this fake image? Most importantly, why do we have to shame others for choosing to put on this fake persona, if it makes them happy and confident? We can’t blame all our human insecurities on technology and Instagram alone—it is an issue deeply rooted in our society.
A new hashtag has popped up in our timelines, and of course, you guessed it, Screen Shot can’t help but dissect it. The hashtag #Instagramtransparency is being used under posts that show a different side to the dreamy beaches, toned abs, sponsored products, and #couplegoals we see across our explore pages.
This new trend is about showing the downs as well as the ups in our lives across the social media channel, and to start an honest conversation about our less glamourous lives off screen. Whether that’s talking about mental health, the reality behind landing some cool jobs for Nike or Adidas, as well as the things ‘no body sees’. #Instagramtransparency is the embodiment of trying to show that what you see on Instagram is not completely genuine—something we all know by now, yet often struggle to digest when the success of others is thrown in our face on an hourly basis.
At the moment, the hashtag has 656 posts after @toriwest sparked the movement earlier this month, with freelancers like @sararradin sharing their thoughts on the subject. The contents across the hashtag don’t all follow one aesthetic, but all sport a confessional description of people’s struggles. In a world where teenagers can’t remember their lives before documenting every social gathering, and where millennials have been able to create jobs from social media, Instagram is essential. We can joke about memes, we can even kid about how much we all wake up to an algorithm but over 1 billion of us log into the app and share much of our lives with strangers, who most of the time believe they know us by what we give them.
The idea behind #Instragramtransparency is to start a conversation beyond the optics—to talk about the hustle and the struggle that lays behind each glistening post. But what happens if even what we’re sharing under the transparency ethos isn’t the whole truth either? Validating #Instagramtransparency also comes into the equation here. To play the devil’s advocate, Instagram has shown us, and through this hashtag too, that the platform equals to a form of scripted reality, so what is it that we’re trying to show through this woke hashtag and how exactly is it a step away from a curated feed?
Regardless of the message you are trying to share through #Instagramtransparency, there’s a reason why influencers are starting to use it. The hashtag humanises the people behind accounts and makes the experience relatable—it’s a way of showing the other side of the story. But I question the smokes and mirrors the hashtag comes with. What feels like a great intention to display authenticity also seems tainted with what Instagram is continuously obsessed with: self-promotion and marketing.
How do we show authenticity to a following that forgets even our username from time to time? Authenticity itself seems to have become marketing jargon when in reality, by definition, it is the opposite of complexity, it is to simply be yourself without filtering the content you post to connect with a certain demographic or awareness trend that month. #Instagramtransparency is a great way to start talking about what happens behind closed doors but we also need to check why we’re now speaking out about the topics we ourselves have biasedly chosen to hide in the first place.
#Instagramtransparency appears to be a way of whitewashing the pretty locations with deeper meaning, but if we are trying to have a go at how fake we can all be sometimes, we also need to step away from sharing only what’s palatable first. If we’re trying to show the plethora of journeys people have to go through to get to where they are and to what they have, it needs to be by a wide host of people, not just influencers. If not, the conversation on Instagram isn’t moving forward, it’s just at standstill.