Recently I watched a skin crawlingly uncomfortable yet amazing indie film called Ingrid Goes West starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. Plaza’s Ingrid is a lonely young woman most likely suffering from some sort of mental illness or break following the death of her mother. She becomes obsessed with Olsen’s Insta-famous Taylor who seemingly lives a perfect California life full of avocado toast, shopping, and trips to Joshua Tree. Watching this film could not have come at a more perfect time for me because it spoke to a lot of the thoughts I had been having about social media as of late – the way we project and interpret ourselves and others and how it warps our perception not just of ourselves but the world around us.
While I don’t post on Snapchat I LOVE the filters. It’s just silly fun. The filters on Snapchat are much better than those on Instagram so I usually take photos or video in Snap and then post them to my Insta-story. About a week or so ago I was about to take a video with no filter and I stopped dead in my tracks unhappy with my appearance. My skin has always been a bit textured from my teenage years and I tend to have a more rosy than usual skin tone. While I have maybe never loved these things about myself, they hadn’t really bothered me before. They’re who I am and I’ve lived with them everyday. And yet, I was uncomfortable posting like this. “Let me put a filter on,” I thought to myself.
Suddenly I had a problem.
Using Snapchat filters had somehow, without my conscious knowing, gone from silly fun with reindeer antlers and waffle ears to a newfound insecurity about my face. I was thinking about microdermabrasion and chiding myself for not drinking enough water to help the bloat in my face. It was like Snapchat had snuck into my brain and rearranged the wires. And since then, all I’ve been able to think about is what it must be like to be a tween, teen, or young woman in her 20s growing up with social media and these images. Sure these images are fantasy and often ridiculous but they’re also clearly instilling the idea that thinner, smoother, lighter faces are better. Big eyes. Baby voices. What must it be like to be coming of age, navigating what it’s like to try to feel both comfortable and uncomfortable in your own body, and then have to contend with this wholly unobtainable look?
Watching Ingrid Goes West I was really struck by the way Plaza was able to externalize that feeling we all often experience when we look at someone’s picture perfect life on Instagram. The way it can drag us down further when we’re already having a rough time or make us aspire to things that maybe we don’t even truly want. And conversely, the way it allows us to hide behind a virtual mask that like the Snapchat filters I love so much, hides our imperfections and makes our lives seem fun, breezy, and free of rough edges or bumps. Since watching the film I find myself browsing social media wondering who’s telling the truth, if anyone. I think daily about how honest I’m being not just with “the world,” but with myself. Is this the life I want or the life I think I should want?