My son came running into the house today "Mum! I did exercise, look at my good tummy. I'm so strong."
I tried not to make a big deal of it but I knew that it was the first sign that my son is aware of his body image. He just turned six. My heart sank. I thought, realistically, I at least had a few more years. Being the modern parent that I am, I took to social media to discuss the issue.
Now, like any good Gen-Yer, and a parent to Gen-whatever letter we are up to now, I have taken to most new technology with a liking. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and I think I have a Google + account but I don't know how to use it (although, I'm not on LinkedIn; if you want my resume, just ask). Anyway, point is, I'm not afraid of technology.
I'm pro-any technology and quite often spruik to my parent friends about the need to keep up with the new apps the kids use. So after much debate on social media, I thought I would try the beauty and photography apps available and see what my sons, with ever increasing body image awareness, would have access to in the very near future.
Like social media I have also been known to speak fondly of technological advances in the photography world. I am partial to a filter or two and I often joke to people and say things like "only post it after you Photoshop it." #jokingnotjoking
I have been a fan of glossy mags since way back when (I'm closer to 30 than 20 so glossies basically raised me.) Sadly, I often idolised the women on the front of the magazines I read as a teen. They had smooth skin and I was covered in acne. They had white teeth while mine were a horrible shade of pale-yellow. I loved their perfect make-up and everything else. I was infinitely jealous.
Now, as a grown woman in the media industry, I know that these images are fake. I know that these people don't exist. But god dammit, even grown-up me admires their fake perfection.
So with that in mind, off I went to try out my newly downloaded photography and beauty apps.
Let me tell you something. I. WAS. SHOCKED.
In a matter of minutes I transformed myself from regular me to magazine me. Actually, no, it wasn't even regular me; it was a photo I took before I went to a wedding so I was smothered in make-up.
I transformed extensively made-up me to magazine-worthy-me. And then a third time into even-more-made-up-magazine-worthy-me (see all three images above). I even found an app that put me on magazine covers (pictured right). (Insert is original photo for contrast)
Check. Me. Out. I did it in a matter of minutes. On my phone. Me, someone with minimal photo editing skills. I was also using apps that I had literally just downloaded. And it took minutes. Minutes.
And it's fake. All of it. Of course I don't look like that. I don't even look like the original, unedited photo 99% of the time. I'm not even willing to post a regular photo of me. That's how stupidly warped my sense of self is.
I KNOW I don't look like that. I KNOW that school parents see me with little make up and unwashed hair at 8.30 in the morning trying to hide bags under my eyes with giant sunglasses. I KNOW I get home and chuck on trackies and a singlet and I KNOW those in my real life don't see me as the fake photos. They don’t even see me as the first photo. They see me every day - the real me.
Why then, did I insist on putting the original (READ: caked make-up, hair professionally done and eyelash extensions) on my Facebook and my Twitter profiles with a filter? Because I like myself better in that photo, that's why. But I hate that I do.
And I hate that I look at the completely fake, never-achievable-even-if-I-had-a-million-dollars-of-surgery, pictures and think I look like a magazine model. I LOOK FAKE. I don't even look like a real person. The logical side of my brain is screaming at me "she doesn't exist" and yet the other side of my brain goes "ooo pretty".
I hate that side of my brain.
More importantly I hate society for making me think that. I may have grown up without Facebook and Twitter and filters but I did grow up in the 90s. And the 90s was a time where glossy magazines were basically the high point in life. If you made the front cover of a glossy then you had made it.
Now, after years decades of reading these magazines that continue to show me these fake images, I struggle every day to look in the mirror and tell myself that what I see is good enough and it IS beautiful.
It is our job as a society to teach this generation that we don't need to alter photos of ourselves. But we can't do that until we teach ourselves this first.
Sure it's cool playing around with collages and pretending we are in France with an Eiffel Tower backdrop. But the photos of us - ourselves, our faces, our bodies - none of that needs to change.
Yet every day we insist on altering reality. And as time goes on there will be more apps, with more functions that make it easier to do so. And trust me, what I did was already easy.
The worst part is, it’s fun. I had a ball making myself look like that. Trying different shades of lip gloss without hitting the Myer stand. Practising different levels of blush and eye shadow without spending a fortune on make-up remover.
It was fun. But it's not real. And I need to keep telling myself that.
As a parent it is my responsibility to tell this to my children and as a society it is our responsibility to tell this to future generations.
I look at my children every day and know that it's my job to teach them that they are beautiful; without a filter and without Photoshop. We need to tell them that it might be fun, but it's fake. It's as simple and as difficult as that.