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Are Photo-Perfecting Apps Making Instagram Inauthentic?

Don't believe everything you see on social media.

Fashion’s relationship with social media — especially with Instagram — has started to turn into a tumultuous one. With so many editors, bloggers and “influencers” in the space using the photo-sharing app each day to post pictures of their (often free) swag, frequent trips abroad and appearances at exclusive industry events — all while chronicling their impeccably put-together outfits — it’s difficult not to start feeling like you don’t measure up. This sentiment is only amplified when you learn these same industry players can earn thousands of dollars from brands for each one of these posts.

As digital marketing becomes increasingly important to brands, the Instagram ante only keeps going up — as does the pressure to achieve perfection with every post. So, it’s only natural that little ways to cheat the system have started to spring up. It’s already common knowledge that many popular accounts purchase followers and likes to make themselves look more influential to advertisers and fans, but lately we’ve noticed that the inauthenticity doesn’t stop there.

Photoshop is a fairly common practice in most fashion photography, even on fashion blogs, and so we can’t say we’re surprised that the image-altering technology has made its way to the iPhone. Celebrities like Miranda Kerr, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian have all been caught — erm, accused — of retouching pictures before they post them on Instagram to make themselves look thinner, taller or generally more polished. And thanks to a quick scan through Apple's App Store, we’ve learned that you don’t even need actual Photoshop skills (or a computer) to make quick fixes to your selfies before sharing them.

A friend of mine brought this phenomenon to my attention after she went on beach vacation with a group of her girlfriends, a few of which demanded that no photos be posted to Instagram without their prior approval — and without a little digital enhancement. In general, Photoshop can be easy to spot (for instance, if a blogger is standing in front of a wall and the lines in the brick around her waist are all wobbly from the use of the smudge tool) but, with some finesse, the results can be deceptively subtle. 

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Using apps like Facetune, which sells for $2.99 in the app store, you can make an impressive number of tweaks to your image, from smoothing our your skin to removing dark under-eye circles to slimming your waist (see my very svelte example above on the right). This is only one of the many retouching apps on the market: Beauty Mirror is a free program that allows users to completely reshape and re-contour their faces. Photoshop Express, which is also free (with in-app purchases available) gives users instant access to many editing capabilities at the swipe of a finger. Eliza's personal favorite (and kind of creepy) app is called MoreBeauté2, which helps achieve the look of flawless, airbrushed skin — you can see my attempt at this one at the top.

Always the good sport, Steff agreed to play around with Facetune as well, and didn't have as much fun with it as she expected. "Yes, the app airbrushed away the mosquito bite on my leg that I would prefer wasn't there, but it also made me look like a shiny vampire — or rather, I made me look like that," she said. "My biggest issue with it is that it's easy to go overboard (as you can see), and once you cross the threshold, there's no going back. All in all, I'd probably keep the app on my phone for dire circumstances (a.k.a. a hickey that needs removing or a dress that needs steaming — which the 'Smooth' tool is surprisingly good for), but never try it on a selfie again."

With programs like these popping up so frequently, it seems like only a matter of time before no one would dream of posting a selfie without touching it up a bit first. Plus, they're so easy to use, that even the most technologically challenged iPhone photographers could use them to tweak their photos. But isn't the whole point of social media to share authentic, spontaneous moments with your friends and followers? People don't look perfect 100 percent of the time, so why must we keep striving to pretend that we do? In addition, when brands are paying for social media placements, they are banking on achieving a partnership that looks genuine — not forced and Photoshopped — so doesn't this kind of cheat them of that?

We know that most Instagram users tend to post the photos that depict the best and most glamorous moments in their lives, but this new technology just blurs the line between reality and Insta-reality that much more.