I have known media owner and personality Mia Freedman for 25 years and count her as one of my dearest friends. As we now live in different states, we don’t get to eyeball each other as much as we used to and so, when I received a newsletter she sends out to her enormous fan base recently complete with a recent selfie, I was taken aback at how, well, weird she looked. Now, I’ve seen this woman in all states good and bad but not like this. My first thought was she was sick. Then I wondered if she’d had work on her face but aware it is against her feminist beliefs, knew that couldn’t be the reason.
Mia Freedman, co-founder and creative director of Mamamia, as she actually looks (without the photo filters).Credit:Cybele Malinowski
It was only after I started reading her angry letter that I understood why she looked like an anaemic cadaver – her new phone had made her that way. Only she didn’t want it to. She didn’t process her selfie through a filter or photoshop it up the wazoo in an app like so many do. No, her new phone automatically adjusted her selfie with a “beauty” setting that was supposed to enhance her image to fit a more agreeable norm.
Mia explained her phone had three filters – Smoother Skin, Thinner Face and Warmth – which could be scaled from 0-12. “Much to my horror, the DEFAULT settings for Smoother Skin and Thinner face were both at 6/12,” she wrote. “So, my phone was automatically making me look 50 per cent more smooth, thin and white than I actually am.”
So, what in reality this phone and its manufacturers are telling us is we are not OK the way we are and that we actually should want to look thinner, paler and smoother and, as such, are making the choice to alter our images for us. A public service of sorts! And, as Mia pointed out, “Since women are overwhelmingly the takers of selfies, this serves to undermine us every time we look in the mirror which, so far, doesn't come with an in-built filter.”
Actress and presenter Jameela Jamil.
Now, I have been most vocal in the past about my belief that Instagram is the devil and how it has made me feel like crap each time I’ve scrolled through its carefully curated images. But part of my animosity towards the social medium is not just the fact that people are portraying their lives as perfect when no one’s is, they are portraying their appearances as something they are not, too – filtered replicas that are more illustration than reflection. And this is not just sad, it is truly sick.
My rage in this regard is shared by British actress Jameela Jamil, who I had enjoyed watching in the comedy The Good Place on Netflix. Yes, Jameela is attractive – show me a young woman on TV today who isn’t – but because she is of Indian and Pakistani descent, it’s not in the traditional glossy magazine/advertising blonde Mattel-worthy way. But this beauty also has something to say, and that is that even she has been victim to the belief she is not beautiful enough. And she is angry that this is the case.
Starting her career as a UK morning TV presenter, Jameela admitted in early interviews that she suffered an eating disorder as a teenager because she was inundated with magazine images that made her feel fat and unworthy. After overcoming her body issues, she found herself being body shamed again after gaining almost 30 kilos after taking steroids to help her asthma. Realising that there weren’t clothes to fit her at that size, instead of resorting dangerous diets and self-flagellation, she launched a clothing line that would with sizes that would, ranging from a 10 to 32.
She then created @i_weigh on Instagram, “a movement for us to feel valuable and see how amazing we are, and look beyond the flesh on our bones” which now has some 250,000 untouched-up followers. More recently, she took on celebrities Cardi B, Iggy Azalea and Khloe Kardashian for advertising “detox teas” supposed to aid weight loss, writing in response: “GOD I hope all these celebrities all shit their pants in public, the way the poor women who buy this nonsense upon their recommendation do.” (These teas are known for their aggressive laxative properties.)
Then, this week, Jameela wrote a piece for the BBC which had me believing this young woman is one of the most refreshing voices in feminism today. Calling for airbrushed photos to be banned and describing them as a “crime against humanity”, Jameela asked how digitally altered images that actually lie to the consumer and sell a fantasy that perfection is indeed possible, are “ethical or even legal?”.
“Filters and digital editing have almost certainly contributed to the fact so many of the women I know have turned to needles, knives and extreme diets to try to match their online avatar,” she writes. “When photo editors try to lighten my skin and change my ethnicity, it's bad for the girls who are looking at the picture. But it's also bad for my mental health. It's a message from the editor to me that I am not good enough as I am.”
Citing UK studies that echo Australian research showing a majority of teenage girls today don’t think they are pretty enough (one study showed 93 per cent think they're judged on their appearance more than their ability), Jameela urges women to spurn their social media filters and delete photo editing apps.
“We need to see spots. We need to see wrinkles. We need to see cellulite and stretch marks. If not, we will become almost allergic to the sight of them, even though we all have these things on our own bodies,” she writes.
“Don't give your money to any institution that sells you the lie of 'perfection'. They are trying to break you, so you will hate yourself and go out and buy something you don't need, in order to fix something that was never broken in the first place.”
But it seems Jameela's detractors feel that, because she is beautiful, she can’t speak on behalf of those who aren’t. Which in my mind is yet another filter being placed on a woman’s acceptability according to her appearance. And it takes only a glance at Mia’s thin, pale, line-free face to know we already have way too many of those.
Wendy Squires is a regular columnist.
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