Finessing the facts

A winner of New Zealand's Next Top Model shows off her cheekbones. Photo: NZME
A winner of New Zealand's Next Top Model shows off her cheekbones. Photo: NZME
Once upon a time, I was at one of those meetings where people do that icebreaker chat that goes - Tell us a secret about yourself. Presuming they didn't want me to actually rattle any skeletons, this was my big reveal: I love watching Next Top Model.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

There was judginess in the room. I could feel it under collars and well-manicured finger nails. I feel it in my mind. She watches what? Not very intelligent. Not very feminist. Not all right.

What I love about Next Top Model is the transformation. It's like watching art happen, especially in Week 3 when everyone has a little cry about their dramatic hair cuts. Spoiler alert: typically, the one with the shortest haircut goes on to win picture of the week as the judges effuse about killer cheekbones.

I would like killer cheekbones. Skin without freshly picked zits. A smaller nose. Not as much as I would like World Peace, a smashed patriarchy or half an hour less arguing each day, but I'd like them all the same. I don't want to put any effort into getting them, I just want them to appear with a swipe or a tap.

Wouldn't you know it, there's an App for that. Or rather a store full of them. They're not going to do anything about my proportions and blemishes IRL but they promise great digital makeovers. To meet, it seems, the great digital demand.

One smidge of online research I read said that at least 63% of us retouch every photo we take before we upload it - NB this is not a local statistic. Fifty percent of Hawea Flat respondents to my small and targeted survey didn't know what on earth I was going on about, 40% wanted clarification about whether turning yourself into a pierced cat (or similar) in SnapChat counts and 10% admitted to indulging in a bit of retouching in much the same voice as I use to admitting to watching Next Top Model. That same 10% also told me that some phones have their front cameras preset to beauty mode, to touch you up without your explicit knowledge or permission. And that while this is very bad, it is also very old news.

The news is bad, the news is old. My phone is bad, and me and my phone, we're both getting old. I download a face-improving App, for investigative purposes. I upload a photo of me - hair slightly green (because, well, it was House Day at school) and wrinkles puckering the side of my eyes (nature). I probably take the picture from the wrong angle. I can never remember whether to hold it slightly up or down (far too busy thinking intelligent, feminist things).

First up it tells me I can edit my face. This feature, it says, uses face detection. No face, it says, detected. Perhaps it is flummoxed by the ratio of nose to eye bags. Determined to change my life, I delve into the details of the retouch section, thumbing concealer clumsily across my zits. So far, so average. I can get better results with actual make-up, when I can be half bothered. The reshape section, though - Oh my gosh. All thumbs - I've never before seen myself with a small nose. OK, slightly lopsided, but that's what the undo function is for. I can make my eyes huge, improve my chin to cheek ratio. I'm so, so smooth. And cheekboned. And totally not me.

I'm not not me in the same way as I'm not me when I'm having to be proper and appropriate and well-behaved. No. I'm not me in that I don't recognise this suspicious creature at all.

Cognitive dissonance are the only words I can think.

Delete, delete, delete.


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