We all have our insecurities. Mine has always been my nose. Growing up ― especially in my adolescence ― I was extremely self-conscious of it and embarrassed by its size. I thought it was ugly. I even remember trying to half-jokingly convince my sister to punch me in the face and break my nose so I could get it “fixed” with surgery.
Looking back, I know that wasn’t the healthiest approach to building self-confidence, but like many teen girls, I just wanted to be beautiful. These days I’m way more comfortable with my schnoz. Some days I might even say I like it, but most of the time I’m indifferent.
With that said, the thought of changing the way my nose looks, whether with some makeup magic or an invasive cosmetic procedure, still crosses my mind from time to time. (I’m only human.) Now, as the folks at Apple used to say, there’s an app for that.
Facetune, a photo editing app, allows users to do everything from change the color of their eyes to make their waists slimmer. It was first released in 2013, and between the original and the newer Facetune2, it has been downloaded over 50 million times worldwide (and that’s only counting iOS users). Even if you don’t have it on your phone, there’s a good chance many of your friends and favorite Insta-celebs do.
“We’re trying to give people their own glam squad, their own set of tools to make them feel confident and glamorous whenever they want,” Stav Tishler, head of Marcom at Lightricks, Facetune’s parent company, told HuffPost. “[It’s] something to let you present yourself how you want to present yourself to the world.”
For whatever reason, I had never downloaded Facetune. I had played around with Snapchat, Instagram and VSCO filters plenty of times, but never bothered with anything more than that. So one afternoon, after what was likely a conversation with my editor about the state of beauty standards in the age of social media, I asked her to give me a Facetune nose job. She snapped a quick photo ― I had my makeup done earlier that day so I was feeling particularly confident ― and went to work.
Here’s the original photo:
For what it’s worth, I thought it was a good photo. My eye makeup looked cool (shoutout to Pat McGrath’s Mothership V Bronze Seduction palette and a professional makeup artist), my skin looked clear and my hair wasn’t the total mess it often is.
Now, here’s how I looked post-digital op:
The difference between the two images may seem minimal to most people, and I bet if I had posted it on my social media accounts, viewers wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint exactly what had changed. But to me, the person who spent years obsessing over and complaining about her schnoz, the digital nose job looked pretty dramatic and, if I’m being honest, pretty good.
I was (and still am) hesitant to admit I liked the way my face looked with a slimmer nose. If only I could tweak my nose the same way in real life, I thought, I’d be so much prettier. But unless I undergo some sort of surgical procedure, my nose isn’t going to get any smaller. Quite the opposite, actually, considering that our noses keep growing as we age.
But I digress.
As someone who grew up reading fashion magazines, and now as someone who works in fashion, I know the glossy images I see in print publications or online aren’t necessarily real. Sure, they may feature a real person ― or not, with the way the industry is going ― but digitally altered faces and bodies should be expected. In fact, many publications feel the need to alert everyone when somebody hasn’t been altered, not the other way around. Think of all the magazines rejoicing over their unretouched covers and images. It’s great to see natural beauty front and center, but should it be considered a victory when the people who appear in such images almost always meet society’s beauty standards?
In the past, photo editing was left to the professionals and reserved mainly for celebrities and models. Now, as Daniel Berkovitz, head of the Facetune brand at Lightricks, pointed out, that ability is “in anyone’s hands.”
It’s easy to argue that giving everyone the ability to manipulate photos is dangerous, as research has shown that viewing altered images can have a negative effect on body image, especially for adolescent girls.
Berkovitz contends that Facetune actually helps “break the illusion of this ideal, perfect body image,” because so many people are using the app. “Once you know that everyone is using it, you know how to treat the photos you see online and you know what you see is the way someone chooses to present themselves on social media. … It’s like a director’s cut of the way they see their life.”
But just because we know that everyone and their best friend is editing the photos they share on Instagram, that doesn’t make us immune to the influence that manipulated images can have on our self-esteem.
As Renee Engeln, professor of psychology at Northwestern University and author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women, told HuffPost earlier this year, this constant photo manipulation can push people into “losing perspective on what you actually look like.” (Similarly, it’s easy to lose perspective on what others ― including your friends ― look like, especially if they’re constantly altering their likeness online.)
After only a few minutes of using Facetune, I did just that. I began to like the image of myself with a thinner nose and reveled in the fact that the image still looked like me, just a little bit better (in my own mind). Online, I could look how I always wanted to.
I had my editor do more cosmetic work on the photo: She smoothed out my skin, whitened my teeth, gave me two different eye colors, dramatically lifted my eyebrows and added an errant lock of hair, just to show me what was possible.
I’ll admit we may have taken things a little far in our quest to discover how much the app could do, but seeing how easy it was to change my face really made me question the self-confidence I’ve been building up since my teen years.
For so long, I dreamed of having a smaller nose, and there it was right before my eyes. All it took were a few drags of a finger ― and in a matter of minutes, the self-consciousness came flooding back. I couldn’t stop staring at my new nose, wishing it were my real nose. The more I looked at it, the more I liked it. I even showed it to some friends, pretending I didn’t actually care for the way my new nose looked, even though I did.
The experiment made me want to take more photos and play around with more of the app’s features. I planned on downloading the app once I got home, but for some reason, whatever it was, I didn’t. I most likely was distracted by something in my actual real life, but I like to think that part of me realized if I did have Facetune on my phone, I’d spend way too many hours trying to turn my face into Kendall Jenner’s. It’s so easy to get carried away when the power to drastically alter your appearance is in your palms.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to present a specific image of ourselves to the world, and Facetune alone can’t be blamed for all our insecurities. But apps like it empower us to look too closely. Like magnifying mirrors, they let us pick apart the slightest details of our features, and then they let us tweak them to try to meet some impossible standard of physical perfection ― one that is unattainable in any healthy natural way. One that isn’t real.
Editing apps and technology don’t force us to feel worse about ourselves, but they do hold up a lens to our pursuit of society’s standards of beauty. If we’re constantly manipulating ourselves to keep up with what other people say is beautiful ― whether it be plumper lips, bigger eyes or a slimmer nose ― we’ll never be able to accept ourselves with #nofilter.