I’m not ashamed to say I’m part of the Google Generation, a Millennial. My first home computer was a clunky laptop my father brought home from work when I was six, it had a word processor and chess. I played Oregon Trail at school and learned how to draw colorful circles with DOS commands. I had my first email address by 13 and ran unsupervised through the chat rooms as a teen. I never had MySpace, but I asked my now-husband out on our first date over AIM.
So it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that I’m pretty okay with my kids using tech. My youngest (who is almost 5) calls the hand-me-down computer in the living room the “kid’s TV” and can’t seem to tell the difference between a computer and a smart TV. To be honest, neither can I. They both run the internet, hook up to keyboards, and play games. We’re living in a technological world that is immersive and global, and that’s why I sat down with my kids this week to have The Talk.
No, not the “sex is a healthy thing but please wait until you can comfortably discuss birth control before getting naked” talk. I have four kids. You can’t lie about pregnancy that many times, not when your kids want details every five seconds. We discussed sex, birth control, penises, vaginas, and menstrual cycles already. The younger two will get that talk again, mostly because my son thinks having a period sounds great because he knows it involves getting a candy bar. I think the whole messy blood part might have gone over his head.
But, that’s for another time. This week we talked about the art of photo manipulation, aka Photoshop.
For all my internet savvy, I grew up kind of clueless about how the models in magazines looked so flawless. I wondered how they got their eyelashes so thick and long, and it wasn’t until my 20’s that I realized all these women I saw on TV and in ads were wearing tons of makeup, fake eyelashes, wigs or extensions, and often had digital retouching done to their photos. As a kid, that dinged my fragile self worth. I was borderline anorexic for years because I was terrified of being too fat to be pretty.
And this week a fabulous teaching tool came to my attention. Enter MEITU! This fabulous photo app is actually produced by a cellphone company in China whose phones feature high-def front-facing cameras perfect for taking selfies.
Guess who can’t take a selfie to save her life? THIS GIRL!
But I was bored and decided to download the Meitu app earlier this week so I could play with it. So, here’s me first thing in the morning. It’s -20 outside, I’m wearing my Jamaican Bobsled Team shirt, some leggings, and I haven’t had breakfast. I forced a smile, and then because I didn’t like it I went to Meitu’s editing feature and slimmed my face. I pulled my cheeks in, widened my tired eyes, and picked a filter that removes the blotchy redness from my skin.
But why stop there???
With a few changes I could be Kawaii as Hello Kitty!
Tip tap, and there I go! Big eyes, rosy cheeks, shiny highlights, and adorable little stickers!!! They even added a lip tint. Sure, it doesn’t actually look like me, but I’m adorable!
My kids notice when I’m not watching them like a hawk (or maybe they noticed me giggling like a maniac) so they flocked around.
“Mom, why do you look so weird?”
… cue the discussion of international views of beauty, Batman!
Meitu is designed with a Chinese aesthetic for beauty in mind. That means a skin whitening tool (when most North Americans would prefer a tan) and a an auto-feature that makes your chin pointed (because heart-shaped faces are preferred over round ones I guess???).
I took the kids pictures and let them go to town. They slimmed their already skinny faces. They widened eyes and added makeup (one of the tools gives you a perfect cat-eye). And we talked about how this is done. About why people change who they are online.
This is something kids need to know about before they hit their teens. You need to sit down, look at a magazine together, and point out where a digital artist changed the person to fit the needs of the ad. Talk about branding. Talk about aesthetics. Talk about beauty standards and why what you see in magazines, movies, or instagram is not real. Our kids are growing up in a world where everyone can present a false front. Where you can carefully curate your existence so people see only what you want to see.
If you don’t understand that the lives you see online are photoshopped, and you start comparing to them to your unfiltered reality, the risks for depression, self-harm, and eating disorders increase. I’ve walked down that road. I don’t want my kids to. So I tore down the curtain and let them see the digital magic happening.
Once you know the full range of the digital vanities that exist you become much happier. You realize that everyone’s beautifully imperfect. And, fun as these little apps are, what’s even better is being happy off of Instagram.