I like my face. Getting too attached to any version other than the one that greets me in the morning is a slippery slope to not liking it.
Lately, I find myself doing subtle facial retouches on my selfies.
That I’m writing about this tells you where we are as a society (the Bad Place), but as someone who is staunchly anti-makeup and pro “my face is my face,” I owe myself an explanation. An explanation you all get to witness. Here goes.
Eighteen months of mask-wearing has done a number on my fairly well-behaved skin. There are dry, light patches under my eyes that create a reverse raccoon effect. My jawline is frequently riddled with itchy, patchy spots that scab, turn dark, and resist any product I throw at them. Pre-2020, I was a normal-to-oily girl with a quick wash, tone, daytime/nighttime moisturizing routine. All I’ve done in 2021 layer my life in gentle, National Eczema Association-approved barrier-repairing creams and pray to the skin gods for relief.
In-person, where we’re not looking under each other’s nostrils with microscopes, I look fine. If you stand closer you might catch hints of discoloration on my pronounced cheekbones that with proper moisturizing, looks like a bomb highlight. I survive most passing glances in the mirror noting only my mother’s sharp, angular bone structure and my father’s bumpy nose and full lips.
The camera, though? Woof.
Photography is a game of lighting and angles; our increasingly high-definition cameras capture details that the human eye overlooks in our walking lives, so I try to separate my self-image from how I photograph. I have to work for a good photo — I don’t have to work to look good (you’re allowed to disagree with the latter, but your opinion is your business). I even keep a good old-fashioned compact in my bag because I don’t want to lose touch with how I look in real life by using my phone as a mirror.
That was my relationship to the front-facing camera before my skin rebelled against my belief in my attractiveness. Now, I cringe just about every time I open the app.
This is how I got curious about the face retouch feature I’ve intentionally avoided since Google introduced it.
I wasn’t flawless — I could still see the patches around my cheekbones — but it looked like the face I see in the mirror; de-emphasizing the distortions that my camera exaggerates in its mission to catch every detail.
Fucking filters. They finally made a traitor out of me.
You’re waiting to hear why this is noteworthy, aren’t you?
My skepticism of the beauty industry is not some holier than thou act of contrarian rebellion. I do not put my nose in the air around my makeup-wearing, selfie-filtering friends (maybe I get annoyed when we’re getting ready to go out and I’m trying to stay awake while they do their detailed face routines, but otherwise, it’s fine). It’s a combination of pride and years spent studying advertising and public relations. There’s a trillion-dollar industry built on the message that your face — as is — is not enough. As if we need confirmation of our ugliness, camera technology is here, magnifying our flaws. I like my face — my mother practically genetically engineered me with someone else’s husband to give me this face. Getting too attached to any version other than the one that greets me in the morning is a slippery slope to not liking it.
So I tell myself that these little tweaks are not about changing how I look, but making what shows up on camera look more like what I see in the mirror.
I say that to myself when I hit the Subtle Retouch button on Google Photos.
I said it to myself over the weekend when I stepped into Sephora to purchase a tinted moisturizer so I could pull off my signature Clean Face/Red Lip combo for an event where I’d be photographed all night.
I used to be "skinny black girl." I'm now a slender woman on the other side of 35 with no new moniker who is not quite interested in writing under her given name.
Still writing my life, a day (or some months) at a time.
Also, still black.
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