Photo credit: Instagram/@johnmayer
Sometimes the best way to prove a point is not to say it, but to show it. Late Sunday night, John Mayer posted on his Instagram account to his almost 1 million followers, a seemingly harmless pic of him just hanging out with Ricky Van Veen, a friend, fiancé to Allison Williams and founder of CollegeHumor.com. But to his fans - and to me - it was more a commentary on all the self-conscious retouching that has become the norm of this social media platform. In an effort to prove this, he wiped away every pore and line on their faces to almost resemble a bad painting. In doing this, he said a lot without saying anything at all.
As a magazine editor for the bulk of my career, I will admit we have engaged in our fair share of retouching for every visual that has appeared in the magazines I have worked at and in many cases, covers that have been “over worked” were called out by certain blogs. As we close out 2014, the news outlets are dubbing this as the Year of the Selfie, though I’d like to think that it’s more the Year of the Retouched Selfie. Over the years, I have seen the art of retouching start as a skill set where it would only be done on Photoshop, a not-so-easy to use computer program that required training and patience to master. Those who did it, were able to elevate retouching to an artistic level where individuals would treat each job as a painting and carefully remove blemishes or flyaways, but sometimes also going as far as moving hairlines, changing the shape and color of the dress or completely removing a background and inserting a new one. And of course, there is always the ubiquitous stretching and slimming of the body.
But in the recent years, with apps and technology, it’s become so much easier for the home photographer to retouch all their own pics from wedding portraits to vacation photos. In fact, even Instagram accounts and websites have popped up now to call celebs out on their retouched photos but really is it so bad? If you can fix the odd zit or wrinkled shirt, then why not? I will admit I have tried it but I am nowhere as good as those who do it professionally or those who use it all the time. I always end up looking like that John Mayer alien face and just can’t go through with posting it. But that’s me. Facetune is the most popular app amongst the fashion set (and what I suspect John used in this photo), with some I know who won’t ever post anything until they put it through a Facetune touchup. A pop star I was styling once told me about the Line Camera app which is wildly popular in Japan as the retouching app of choice and just yesterday a friend texted me that she loves the app, Perfect365, as a way to “clean up” their photos before posting. In fact, I was even at a dinner once with a friend of a friend, who took a casual group picture at the table but then had to send it to his assistant first to “retouch” it before he could post it. Is this all too much? Probably, especially as Instagram is becoming the second biggest social media platform for millenials but honestly, working in the fashion industry, it can skew your perception tremendously, treating all this photoshopping as no big deal. But as John Mayer is setting out to prove, as least in my opinion, it can be too much, especially as it becomes easier to do more and more. Like plastic surgery, you start with a little and then you just want a little bit more, when soon enough, none of your Instagram pics will have pores or lines or even recognizable features anymore. But I give credit to our readers today, who are savvy enough to know what’s going on, whether it’s on the feed of a famous reality star or your best high school friend.
For me, the takeaway here is obvious: Followers beware.