in Language & Culture

face off

“The real you is sexy,” reads the slogan of Aerie, American Eagle’s sister store for lingerie. This marketing campaign, which features unedited photos of young models, is one of the latest examples of the no-Photoshop movement aimed at promoting a more realistic image of women. The movement dates to 2004 when Dove launched the first installment of its Real Beauty campaign, showcasing photographs of women of all shapes and sizes. It went against the cosmetic industry’s mainstream marketing strategy yet the campaign exploded, creating an enduring cultural pushback against airbrushed images and encouraging women to embrace their real, true beauty.

But we would be wrong to assume that these ads are only intended for women. Besides the physical, we all have character “flaws” and “blemishes” which we often try to hide. In today’s society, many of us choose to hide behind our monitors and the seemingly perfect life embodied by the pages of our social media platforms. We all know how it works: we choose our best picture for our profile photo. We take down those we don’t like and control what others can and cannot see.  We create craftily edited status updates and share what’s going on in our lives —but only the positives, never the setbacks or disappointments.

As social media usage increases, it seems that today’s young people are becoming more obsessed with self-image and tend to settle for—or even prefer—superficial relationships. They keep their interaction at a Facebook-level because it keeps them safe; they can spare themselves the uneasiness of having to reveal their true self.  But, as researchers and social media skeptics have warned, it may come at the cost of our happiness.

A 2012 study from the University of Michigan showed that social media use can undermine well-being and increase loneliness. Even before the Facebook era, a study by Carnegie Mellon researchers in 1998 demonstrated that growing Internet use coincided with an increase in loneliness.  In a speech delivered at TedX in February 2012, psychologist Sherry Turkle said that real time conversations are being supplanted by online conversation. She said, “We expect more from technology and less from each other and we are vulnerable because technology is replacing intimacy.”

Compared to text messaging, face-to-face conversation is happening in real time and can therefore be a little risky. You won’t have much time to control what you say and you might not be very good at concealing certain feelings. But if you agree with Aerie’s slogan, then the real you might just be the magnet that everyone will be drawn to. So the next time you’re tempted to text your friend, give them a call, instead. When you’re having dinner with your mom, switch your phone to silent mode or turn it off. Hours spent on a computer screen can never compare with just five minutes of real, honest human interaction.

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