The Truth Behind My Edited and Retouched Photos
Every day, millions of edited selfies are posted on apps like Instagram, SnapChat or Facebook to create a vision of our society deemed as “beautiful.” No, I am not talking about the holiday filters or puppy ears, I am referring to the filters and editing that we intentionally use to change our physical appearance to reflect an image of ourselves that is unreal. It is my strong opinion that edited photos are not only ruining our lives but those lives we touch on social media, whether they be friends or strangers.
My entire life, I’ve struggled with addiction, which primarily started after a traumatic experience I endured when I was 17; though my childhood was also traumatic, this catastrophic sexual experience I encountered at such a ripe age caused me to completely abandon my true self. I had always been a people pleaser, but at this point I had become unintentionally disembodied, merely a shell of what remained. I remember visiting my sister almost a decade later in Austin and before long, she told me that I had never been more “plastic,” which was just a nice way of saying I had become a vapid object of no substance.
Remembering back, I was utterly offended at what she had said; did she have no idea how hard I worked on cultivating this flawless image? But after a short time I realized she was right, which is never easy to admit, especially when it comes to family. My drug and alcohol abuse had always sunken my skin or caused blemishes, but I never saw that version of myself, because I edited my photos. At that time, editing apps were not nearly as advanced as today, but it set a trend for myself I have only recently decided I desperately need to abandon. It took me a while to have the courage to write this because, like any addict, I like to protect that which alters my perspective to the point of feeling good enough, even if it is not good for me.
The truth of the matter is I was lying to people.
While onlookers saw a bright white smile, flawless skin and a skinny body, I was dying inside. It seemed like the only thing that could get me through the day was a slew of “wow you look so good, what products are you using?” or “you’ve lost so much weight, what exercises are you doing?”
I would lie and say whatever hot items or workout routines were trending, but the truth of the matter was I did not have money for an expensive makeup product or gym memberships; or at least the money I did have was not “wasted” on anything other than mind altering substances. What I did have money for was free editing apps or one-time payments to apps that could seamlessly alter my physical appearance.
So while I was a junkie with a decent array of editing apps, friends and strangers alike may have purchased products or busted their asses with routines I was not even using. If this issue resonates with you, you may not realize it, but people are observing you and possibly even idolizing you based on a false image you are consciously or unwarily projecting. While everyone has their own reasons for editing photos and the consequences may vary, the truth remains is people are looking, and we should collectively take some responsibility in portraying an accurate reality.
The harder truth is I was lying to myself.
It took me a long time to realize that the person who was suffering the most from this deception was myself. While I would cry myself to sleep at night or in the wee hours of the morning, everyone who did not see me on a regular basis thought I was living my best life. Every day, I feel more confident that “check on your strong friends” is deeply linked to editing apps and the false personas we display on social media. When you allow yourself to be real, when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you open yourself to help.
It is so easy to avoid the mirror and scroll through endless edited pictures and think to yourself, “life isn’t so bad” even when it is at its worst. You enable yourself to not take care of what needs attention, which is so often more than your Instagram feed. I can recall countless moments of being utterly broken, reaching for my phone to call for help and instead opening Facebook and writing a status with an inspirational quote and an edited picture of myself, reaffirming I could do this all on my own. The truth was, as said before, I was not ready to give up the mechanisms that were killing me.
Where to go from here:
I do not claim to have all the answers, but I can provide you with the steps I have recently taken to curve my desire to edit my photos.
- Take a break from social media.
Last fall, I had enough of social media feeds and simply disabled my accounts. This does not have to be a permanent change, but it does help you step back into the real world and gain perspective of what is really happening around you. You cannot have a true sense of reality if you spend most of your time with your face buried in your phone.
Start small, if you must; one day, one week, whatever it is just make a commitment and stick to it. I personally spent 20 days off Facebook and when I reactivated my account, I had no idea why I had been so entranced by it in the first place. I found myself baulking at threads I used to engage in and a new sense of pride that I was not that person anymore. But, beware! You can slip back into old habits fast; if you find yourself engaging in those old behaviors, do not be afraid to deactivate your accounts again and commit to a longer period of disconnection.
- Start saying daily affirmations.
A great deal that was missing from my daily routine was taking the time to acknowledge that I am beautiful as I am and every person is unique. Positive affirmations can be one of the most difficult tasks to start because for so many of us degrading self-talk is at the root of our hatred and self-loathing. There have been so many times in the past when I would write affirmations on the mirror and find myself scowling at the kind words. If you scowl, say them anyway. This practice is one of those few times that “fake it ‘til you make it” is OK. Over time you will approach the mirror and look forward to saying your affirmations because you truly believe them; that is something worth fighting for.
- Enrich your mind.
Pick a book or a blog you can start reading each day. Even if it is 10 minutes a day, commit to that time and enrich your mind. Often, the biggest hurdle is getting out of your patterns of thinking. When you open yourself to new ideas, your mind starts to change. If you do not like the material you have committed to do not stress out about it; the point is to commit to the time each day, not the material. Absorbing new information is supposed to be a part of the process that builds you up, not breaks you down, so if something is not working, do not be afraid to ditch it.
- Start a daily practice.
Whether you decide to start yoga or breathwork, journaling or blogging, or committing to more conventional means of practice like spiritual work or religious practices, just do it. It is important to ground yourself when you are committing to changing the deepest parts of your psyche. The person you see in the mirror is someone you have crafted and nurtured, for better or worse, your whole life, so it is important to keep your feet on the ground. These practices do not guarantee that life is going to get better, they guarantee that regardless of what is happening you will have a greater chance in not losing yourself among the chaos.
- Seek outside help.
If you have been doing the previous steps and you are still not seeing a positive change, it may be because there are deeper issues not being addressed. Sometimes, we cannot simply change by doing things ourselves, and that is OK. With the pandemic, remote ways to seek professional services are at an all-time high and nearly all services are offering a discount. Make sure to do your research and find what fits best for your needs and your budget. If you lack funds be sure to investigate state assisted programs you might qualify for or reach out to friends and family to let them know you are struggling and ask for help. You might be surprised at the support you receive, and that is a risk worth taking.
- Be sure to share what you are learning with others.
If people start to notice changes in your life, share what you are doing! This is your time to shine! Let your friends or followers know the steps you have taken and the positive impacts it has had on your life but be sure to mention the struggles, too. This process is not about giving substance to previous deceits, it is about simply being, so if people decide to take your advice they know what they are in for. This process is not pretty, but it is rewarding, so do not water it down and let it be what it is. With a collective effort, I truly believe we can change the face, or faces rather, of social media.
You are not alone and help is available; If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
Image via contributor