The ethics of altering your photos

Are you part of the problem?

It’s no secret that it’s easier than ever to alter your photos. No need to know your way around Photoshop or Lightroom anymore; with a simple slider, you can adjust your photo’s saturation, contrast, brightness, or even completely change how you look. Whatever it is you’re insecure about — your skin, teeth, stomach, or butt — you can easily fix it without going under the knife thanks to apps like Facetune. Even celebrities and influencers do it, with the Kardashian-Jenner clan particularly guilty of editing fails.

Collectively we seem to agree that it isn’t okay for celebrities and influencers to edit how they look in photos and pretend they look that way naturally. This is because social media has been shown to have a negative effect on body image, particularly for young women. If we agree that it’s wrong for celebrities and influencers to do it, then is it wrong for anyone to edit their appearance in photos?

After all, most of us aren’t famous. So, for example, if you follow 100 people and 10 are celebrities or influencers, then isn’t it more harmful to see the other 90 people’s edited photos? Aren’t we more likely to compare ourselves to our friends and peers than to Victoria’s Secret Models or NFL athletes? I want to know: is it unethical for you and I, “regular people,” to alter how we look in photos?

Geneviève Laforce, a Concordia student with over 35,000 followers on Instagram, and over 200,000 TikTok followers, told me she has mixed feelings about photo editing.

“I feel as though the most important thing is to be transparent with it. Like, if you actually do do it, don’t just do it and then not acknowledge it. For example, if I edit my skin, then I say I edit my skin, I will actively tell people,” she said.

“I definitely think that diving into social media at such a young age really did affect the way that I saw my body and see my body now,” says Amanda Wan, a Concordia student and content creator. “I understand that people want themselves to look a certain way. But on the other side, if they’re an influencer or celebrity, they’re lying to their audience because they’re saying ‘this is what I look like’ when in reality, they don’t.”

Wan says we should hold celebrities accountable for how they can affect followers through photos which portray perfection. These photos can be particularly harmful to the body image of younger people who follow them. In Canada, between 12 to 30 per cent of girls and nine to 25 per cent of boys aged 10 to 14 report dieting to lose weight.

Laforce mentioned the role that capitalism plays in creating a cycle of insecurity and impossible beauty standards.

“I think that we’ve created a problem for ourselves, but it’s like a cog in the 21st-century machine. We’re caught up in it, you can’t really get out of it. I think that it’s a problem that’s deep-rooted into society. And it’s gonna take some time to dismantle. But for now, it’s an issue that we’ve created,” Laforce said.

Today’s marketing is focused on making you insecure about how you look, so you need makeup, clothing, teeth whitening, plastic surgery, a gym membership, or laser hair removal. Insecure about your life so you need a car, a house, a puppy, kids, a big wedding, a trip to the Bahamas, a university degree. Capitalism depends on your insecurity and desire for more.

To help solve this problem, Wan suggests that platforms like YouTube feature more diverse creators. Laforce suggests that Instagram start telling you if an image has been altered, “Because although you may not pay attention to it, acknowledge it, your subconscious does if it sees that.”

However, what if altering how you look in pictures actually hurts your own self-image more than it hurts anyone else?

“You need to kind of know your truth,” Laforce said. “Why do I feel the need to alter this photo of myself? Is it to please the societal regard? Why is it going to, in turn, make you feel better about yourself?”

There are no easy answers; navigating social media is complicated. So I don’t think you should be too harsh on others or yourself. This minimizes larger systemic problems which create this rampant insecurity and desire for perfection. This implies that the individual or even the internet is at fault, which creates guilt and doesn’t lead to real solutions.

The truth is that people were insecure about their bodies before the internet, which has only allowed people to perform perfection for a wider audience. So what I’m saying is: do whatever makes you happy, let’s be more open and transparent about curated perfection, and let’s work on challenging the corporations which profit off insecurity.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Spending money for money

“I just bought that private Island, land ho!“ yells a white millennial man in a khaki-coloured research hat, while gliding towards shore on a small boat. He flashes the papers to prove it, and later we’re told that the land cost $730,000.  We’re now less than a minute into the video, aptly titled “I Bought A Private Island,” by YouTuber MrBeast.

MrBeast, a.k.a. Jimmy Donaldson, has made a career off of this type of content. A quick scroll through his YouTube page will show you dozens of titles reminiscent of the aforementioned private island video. “I Spent $1,000,000 on Lottery Tickets and WON,” “Lamborghini Race, Winner Keeps Lamborghini,” “Spending $1,000,000 In 24 Hours” — the formula becomes obvious.

To those unacquainted, Donaldson’s content may seem like a mishmash of neon thumbnails and immature bragging. However, MrBeast content is highly planned and researched and fits squarely within YouTube’s newest vice — flex culture.

The term comes from the idea of flexing — to show off or boast, first popularized by rap and hip hop artists before it trickled into wider popular culture.

Flexing has found a home for itself on YouTube with influencers making mass amounts of content specifically about their consumerist tendencies. Gucci shopping sprees, opulent vacations and closet tours filled to the brim with Birkin Bags have become a genre of their own, where influencers shamelessly flaunt the vast fortunes they have amassed on the platform.

To understand this phenomenon, it’s important to take a look at the current influencer market to understand why creators would be interested in producing “flex” content.

YouTubers now have more revenue streams than ever. Up until just a few years ago, Adsense — the Google program that allows YouTubers to make money from ads run on their videos — was the primary way YouTubers gained an income. But now that social media influencing is seen as a lucrative business, more parties are involved financially. Due to third party partnerships, which can come in the form of corporate sponsorships and affiliate links (not to mention income from merch and Patreon), creators are less beholden to their audience.

On the one hand, having multiple income streams can be creatively freeing, as ideally you would be less compelled to shape content simply around increasing the amount of eyeballs you’d get on your ads. However, for many already ultra-successful creators, the cushion of third party income can diminish the importance of viewer satisfaction. In other words, if you’re already making hundreds of thousands of dollars from sponsorships, how many people like and comment on your videos really doesn’t hold as much weight.

Furthermore, many creators who make “flexing” videos are ones who rose to fame on the basis of their personalities alone. While some gained their success through makeup tutorials, such as Jeffree Star, many have risen to fame through simply their demeanor and conventional attractiveness. The concept of “being famous for being famous” has existed since the reality TV boom, and arguably earlier. However, with the democratizing features of social media, the saturation of this type of celebrity is higher than ever.

So what do you do when you have achieved wild online success for no discernible talent and you have more money than you know what to do with? You make the money itself your content.

However, flex content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Many of these YouTubers have young fans who have yet to develop a mature understanding of class and money. So, for these viewers, the sheer indulgence of these flex videos may just seem aspirational, not shocking.

Additionally, these sorts of videos promote unhealthy views of consumption. Luxury haul videos, for example, normalize the mass consumption of unnecessary goods. While haul videos from fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Shein can be found all over the internet, they’re often slammed as problematic for their promotion of unethical brands. However, luxury brands’ practices can be just as bad, as they also outsource their production to countries with less worker protections. And that’s all before you even factor in the major price markup. Needless to say, no matter where you shop, “hauling” goods can never be sustainable.

Flex culture is not likely to go away anytime soon. As long as we live in a society with major wealth disparity, some people will have massive fortunes, and others will like to live vicariously through them. Many of us are financially suffering and trapped at home, where it’s easy to spend all day staring at social media. It could be fun in these times to escape into the lavish lifestyle of others. However, at the end of the day, it only serves to further the divide as these creators get richer and richer.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Derma-what? The confusing world of viral skincare

Is this trend only skin-deep?

The steadily-growing YouTube audiences of influencers like Hyram Yarbro (Skin Care by Hyram) and Andrea Suarez (Dr Dray) have blossomed into an integral part of the greater self-care movement. Internet trends usually dissipate quite quickly, yet in the past few years, awareness has risen about topics ranging from mindfulness and spirituality to healthy weight management — and this movement doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Companies have been quick to try and capitalize on this trend of course, taking every opportunity they have to market organic and vegan products, mass publish self-help books, and, of course, heavily publicize any skincare product they have noticed going viral.

Other than my slight annoyance that corporations are making money off people’s desire to better themselves, I also have a few qualms with the skincare aspect of the wellness trend. For starters, users have started adopting influencers’ opinions as the Ten Commandments of Skincare: many are now refusing to use any product that doesn’t stand up to their favorite YouTuber’s dogmatic preferences. But also, as has happened over and over with the DIY approach to self-care trends, rampant misinformation has caused more harm than good.

When The Ordinary’s AHA + BHA face mask went viral online over the summer, many thought that their X amount of hours spent on skincare YouTube rose them to the rank of “experienced user,” who the packaging clearly warns this mask is for. There’s a reason this product, along with a few more from The Ordinary’s popular range, are prohibited from sale in Canada: misuse of these products can have devastating effects. One woman described literally getting chemical burns from it.

It’s also unfortunate how narrow-minded people have become when it comes to skincare. There are only so many products beauty gurus can recommend, and the raided-out shelves of CeraVe, the most popularly promoted drugstore brand right now, are a testament to this strongly ingrained widespread comfort zone. Hyram and other skincare experts are influencers, and their endorsements are overshadowing other options that people are now less tempted to try out. I’ve come across more than a few TikToks of users talking about their newly acquired “Hyram-approved” products.

Ultimately, this trend of people wanting to take care of their skin and feel better in their appearance in a somewhat informed way is a good thing; I support anyone’s journey to self-confidence, and this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer for that “Back in stock” email.


Feature photo by Christine Beaudoin with overlay by Chloë Lalonde


A helping hand versus hypocrisy

Why one student believes getting ghosted by an aspiring public figure isn’t okay

Hordes of millennials are trying to become famous. And these aspiring public figures all seem to have one thing in common: they are convinced that they have the potential to positively impact the world. They want fame, not just for fame’s sake, but because they believe they’re more perceptive to society’s problems than mostand whether through music, writing, or simply sharing their personal stories, they claim to have a sincere, overbearing desire to help others.

And yet, many of these same people put their “hustle” above anything else, including friends and family. When you need a shoulder to cry on, or an activity to get your mind off things, do not call an aspiring public figure. Between perfecting their craft and practicing the answers they’ll give Ellen DeGeneres in their success-story interview, many simply don’t have time for your mediocre company. Aspiring public figures also experience extremely unique emotions that only Oprah Winfrey can understand. Trying to express their feelings to small-minded people is exhausting.

For this reason, the aspiring public figure has the absolute right to ghost you. And you’re not allowed to be disappointed or hurt when it happens. Instead, you should automatically support their decision to move onto #BiggerThings.

Ok, enough with the sarcasm. Some aspiring public figures are hypocrites. Behind goodwill hashtags of “authenticity” and “purpose,” these hustlers operate on selfish agendas, and very calculated displays of compassion. Notice my use of the word ‘display’ here. These people jump on social and charitable opportunities that can be plastered all over Instagram, but never take the time to help anyone behind closed doors.

I’m speaking from both observation and experience. I, like most millennials, have befriended some people who are trying to grow their platform. And unfortunately, I’ve found that most have no problem dropping me like a hot potato. I can’t count on them to check in with me.

Instead, I must chase themand if I somehow do manage to squeeze into their impossibly tight schedules, I find myself being treated more like a fan than a friend. The most selfish aspiring public figures will have you believe that their grind is eternally sacrificial. If you comment on how much fun and freedom their lifestyle provides, they’ll follow up with a reminder of the pressures and vulnerabilities involved. This is a clever and profoundly manipulative way to downplay how much fun they’re actually having. They don’t want us to notice the pleasure and freedom involved in chasing big dreams, because that’s how we’d begin to perceive flaws in their integrity. I personally believe many aspiring public figures are using “passion” and “purpose” as excuses to absolve themselves of responsibility. With swollen egos, these people have grown to believe nearly everythingand everyoneis beneath them.

Disclaimer: not every aspiring public figure is like this. Some are genuine, and their grind is sacrificial. But, to those who might see themselves through my words: Mother Teresa once said, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.” To be clear, that’s not to say you shouldn’t help strangers––but it is to say that you should be willing to help people in private too. If you forget how to be a friend on your way to being that world-renowned public figure, truly, there is no point.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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