When did you last take a selfie? Go on – be honest. Whether you snap a pic when out with friends at the weekend, cornering an unsuspecting celebrity, in front of a landmark or sitting smugly on a beach – the fact is you’re far from alone. We’re all documenting moments we want to remember, however mundane they are to everyone else. Even Barack Obama and David Cameron have got involved – who can forget the media frenzy around their selfie with Helle Thorning during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service? Even a black macaque monkey commandeered a photographer’s camera and got involved in some selfie action.
This fascination with our own faces is showing no signs of dwindling as, according to an Ofcom report released this month, approximately 1.2 billion selfies were taken in the UK in 2014 alone. One in ten people surveyed reported taking a selfie at least once a week. And, for those of you that find your smartphone and extended arm simply don’t cut it, you can always opt for a selfie stick, which turned out to be one of 2014’s most popular Christmas presents. Some mobile phone networks now even give these away for free with contracts.
Taking a selfie is often just the start of a lengthy process involving filters, beauty apps, and a lot of time ensuring your pout/angle/hair/jaw/lighting/(insert other variable here) look just right. A woman who was recently filmed trying to capture the perfect selfie in a children’s playground makes for an excruciating 90 second viewing, and all that effort was just to secure the initial image. Perhaps she’d been reading Kim Kardashian’s book of 350 pages of selfies – entitled Selfish – to establish what makes the perfect pose.
And then there are the beauty apps. Tools such as Aviary Photo Editor, FaceTune and Perfect365 enable you to whiten your teeth, remove spots, smooth your skin, enhance eye colour and trim a few inches off your waistline. Beauty Mode on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 means you don’t even have to buy or download an app – it’s right there in your camera app, giving you a digital makeover with just a swipe. According to a poll of 2,000 women aged 16 to 25 years old by FeelUnique, it takes an average of 16 minutes to perfect each selfie and such beauty apps are now soaring in popularity. Perfect365 has more than 30 million users.
It’s unsurprising that many of us are in pursuit of looking our best in these images, as sharing them on social networks to be “liked” and commented on opens us up to the critical gazes of the world at large. If you can get rid of that unsightly spot that sprouted overnight with a quick tap or remove the dark under eye circles with a swipe, why wouldn’t you?
However, with the rise of selfies and all the apps that promise to perfect them, we’re becoming increasingly self-critical, and some people are going beyond a quick digital facelift to get a real-life nip/tuck. Gadgette Editor Holly comments, “I’ve actually thought about skin lasering after seeing how much better my face looked in Beauty Mode. I want it to look like that in real life!”
Cosmetic surgeons are reporting a huge demand for procedures to improve selfie poses. A focus on jawlines and noses has resulted in a rise in chin implants, fillers around the jaw area, and rhinoplasties. A survey of the 2,500 members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) revealed that one in three had seen an increase in requests for procedures due to patients being more aware of their image on social networks.
In addition, 13% of facial plastic surgeons saw an increase in requests for celebrity procedures, such as Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones and Natalie Portman’s nose, an increase from 3% in 2013 and 7% in 2012.
For those less willing to go under the knife, there are numerous other options. WhatClinic has revealed that enquiries into non-surgical cosmetic treatments have increased by more than half (55%) in just six months and thread lifts (non-surgical facelifts) are the most popular, with enquiries up a staggering 240% over the same time period.
But let’s all step back for a moment. Consider the fact that people are spending a small fortune on cosmetic procedures to look better in photos taken on smartphones held at arm’s length, at odd angles, in (more than likely) less than flattering light. Using beauty apps to make our eyes bigger, noses smaller, skin blemish-free and more is doing ourselves a huge disservice, and may even cause people not to recognise us in real life [Ed: I’ve met at least two people who look nothing like their fine-tuned Twitter avatar.]
And that’s the key thing: the images we see posted by Kim Kardashian and co. have taken time, technology and a celebrity-grade beauty regime to perfect – and that’s exhausting. It may be real life for celebrities, but it doesn’t have to be for us. Let’s reclaim the selfie and make it what it’s supposed to be – a bit of fun, not a reason to take a knife to your face.
Main image © iStock/Petar Chernaev