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Hyperreality: the reality of “Facetuning”

Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

Facetune is an app which allows its users to retouch their pictures. You can add filters to your pictures or you can alter facial features. This is now commonly referred to as “facetuning”. Edited photos can be uploaded to any social media site desired. The free version of the Facetune app, Facetune2, boldly displays their slogan on their website: “Wow your friends with every selfie”.

Body image?

Facetuning tools are used by users of different backgrounds. It has also been embraced by celebrities and influencers on social media. The consensus on using such tools have been widely debated. Users have come forward and admitted to using the tools and have expressed their positive sentiment towards using them. However, on the other side of the debate are those concerned about the possible consequences of (young) social media users seeing these altered images. These concerns focus on the negative impact on body image as the edited images showcase an unattainable appearance.

Spotting wobbly door frames

There is also an online fascination with trying to catch users in the act of using these tools. The Reddit community r/instagramreality seeks to spot inconsistencies in pictures that might give alterations away. The hunt to spot wobbly door frames is also carried out by different creators on YouTube. It has become more of a game as these tools have gotten more sophisticated over time. It is now also possible to edit body parts in moving videos. Content creators on TikTok have been found to edit their waist to look smaller in videos of them dancing. It remains a race between those developing Facetune tools and those trying to spot the evidence of these tools being used.

Hyperreality: what is even real

Facetune is the new Disneyland. Disneyland is a common example used to explain “hyperreality”, which is the failure to recognize reality in certain contexts. Disneyland, with its tagline “The Happiest Place On Earth” attempts to create a new reality using elements from actual reality. Baudrillard explains Disneyland as a hyperreality in Simulacra and Simulation:

But what attracts the crowds the most is without a doubt the social microcosm, the religious, miniaturized pleasure of real America, of its constraints and joys. […] Thus, everywhere in Disneyland the objective profile of America, down to the morphology of individuals and of the crowd, is drawn. All its values are exalted by the miniature and the comic strip. Embalmed and pacified.

Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation

The Magic Castle, the tiny houses, the princes and princesses, the bright colors… all of these cater to the hyperreal experience that is Disneyland. As Baudrillard writes in his book, the juxtaposition between hyperreality and reality is felt especially when one stands in Disneyland’s parking lot. Only then do you realize how your perception of reality can be altered.

Living my (Kardashian) fantasy

With tools such as Facetune we are able to create the “Disney experience” of ourselves. You can shape your facial features or body parts exactly how you would like them to look in a particular context. Whether or not people will see the “real” you outside of Instagram no longer matters. The Kardashians, avid for-profit Instagram users, have been “caught” editing their pictures. But it does not matter, most of their followers or fans will never see the Kardashians in the flesh. Just as most of us do not get to see Disneyland backstage. Facetune caters to a fantasy, not a reality, as Valentina, a RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars‘ contestant once said on the show:

When it comes to me and living in my world, in this little coconut head that I got, it’s a lots of fantasies, and when I feel the fantasy it is my reality! And nobody can change that.

Valentina on RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars’ fourth season

I want what they’re having

What is the difference between looking at reality or a simulation of reality? The hyperreality that is Disneyland or Facetune will not go away. We will still go out of our way to be able to buy into a fantasy. Augmented and virtual reality are as popular as ever. The whole point of media is to make the experience as real and as authentic as possible. The movie industry seeks to implement sophisticated CGI tools to make movies feel more “real”. The gaming industry continues to explore ways in which gamers can fully immerse themselves into their gaming experience. We might or might not be entirely aware of how reality around is intentionally constructed, but we also don’t care that much.

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