Filtered: Know Thy Selfie

Danielle Bowler explores her use of editing apps, questioning whether this goes against her feminist values

By Danielle Bowler

Start with Snapseed. 

Change the contrast and temperature. Use the portrait feature. Make your eyes pop more; maybe add a lens blur.

Open Facetune. 

Whiten your teeth. Add a 'glow' to your face and address a perceived 'imperfection'. Repeat until satisfied.

Post, upload and wait for likes, or 'engagement'. 

This is the kind of process that many of us go through before uploading our images to Instagram. When I first heard a popular influencer speak about the three apps they use before posting, I was floored – at that point, I was simply using Instagram's in-app editing function. So casual. Then, I upgraded. I Audemars Piguet'd it, and switched my in-app editing to new levels. 

I have been loving it ever since; the process of taking images of myself and others, and learning to shift and highlight different aspects of them. I see it as a new skill and challenge filled with limitless creative potential, as I morph into a (supremely) low-key Annie Liebowitz. However, I recently took to Facetune (because now I'm a two-app bae, please observe my progress) and had to pause, as I went about my usual edit. I caught myself as I considered slimming down my face, and had to stop and think about the meaning of these actions, against the feminist values that I attempt to live my life by. 

It is no secret that we curate the selves that we present on our social media feeds. The idea of authenticity is one that is often harshly defined, as if being authentic is wholly separate from the process of actively shaping ourselves. The idea of an 'authentic self' viewed as something at the core of who we are, naturally existing and almost magically manifesting when accompanied by yoga and green tea; soy lattes and chill. 

But as I recently wrote for Superbalist's Autumn/Winter magazine – we shape ourselves in multiple ways, performing our identities and selves in a constantly shifting realisation and exploration of who we are. We all use different types of filters, or ways of styling and presenting our bodies, to determining the ways that we would like to be seen. It can be immensely empowering and give us agency over our image. Sharing our images on social media can be a space of affirmation, a place where we are seen, as we create communities and affirm each other, as many writers have noted. My number one response to a picture? 'Yaaaaaasssssss. Destroy me', as I gas my friends and faves up.

We make daily choices around our bodies and image, and how we present this to the world. And as we do this, there are numerous ways our bodies are read by others – some harmful and damaging, and others deeply empowering and drenched in recognition. Sometimes a little filter and young edit is fun and important for the way we want to perceive and present ourselves. At other times, however, they hold the potential of playing into the damaging narratives that we have been told about our bodies and our worth in a society that values thinness, whiteness, straightness and able-bodies, and believes that there are only two, strictly-defined genders.

In that moment, staring at my image reflected on-screen, I realised that I was contemplating doing something that goes against my own feminist values and the way I'm trying to reconfigure my relationship to myself, my body and image against the backdrop of recent weight gain, a life-long tug-of-war with my body, and societal messages about the form it should take.

I knew that in that moment, I was editing through another gaze, intercepting my eyes. It is a way of seeing that has followed in my shadow since I was a young child, and that haunts many of us across the vast spectrum of genders. I recognised that I was seeing myself through an ideal that determines the way I think I should look – informed by an idea of beauty aligned with snatched waists and cheekbones of a gahd.

I will continue to use my editing apps, but I am trying to be more mindful about my perception of myself and the reasons I use certain features while I edit my images. It is a commitment that I have made to myself, and that I remake every single day – doing the constant and necessary work of shaping myself against the numerous oppressive messages of our societies. 

I know that this is a life-long journey, done with the recognition that we are all messy AF and gloriously imperfect. In the words of Nigerian poet, Bassey Ikpi – which my friend and Author Bae Nova once shared with me – 'I don't claim perfection. I claim evolving. I claim always getting better. I claim moving towards a better version of myself.'

This is a mantra. This is a commitment to ourselves, our healing and a new way of seeing.

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