The worst selfie trends of 2017: Smudgy faces, skin lightening and Hollywood smiles

Airbrushing and other photo-trickery, once the preserve of Hollywood studios, is available to anyone with a smartphone and ability to smudge.

“You look amazing.”

Millions of social media users strive to take the perfect selfie and yearn to hear those three little words. But can you even believe what you see anymore?

It’s a difficult time of year to be alone, especially if everyone and his mother is posting photos of familial bliss with silken skin and perfect smiles. Instagram, FB, +1.14%   an app that people use to share photos of their lives as seen through a series of flattering filters, was rated worst for the mental health of young people in a study released earlier this year by the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K. It’s not a surprise that studies have linked social media to depression.

The pressure is on for single people too. The billion-dollar online dating industry report a surge in membership this time of year. January is typically the busiest time of year for online dating. Dating sites like Zoosk, Grindr, eHarmony, plus Match.com and OKCupid, both of which are owned by IAC Corp. IAC, -0.13% see a bump in membership of between 20% and 50% over the holiday season. (Some sites are more expensive to use than others.)

Who is the fairest, youngest and smudgiest of them all?

‘If you’re creating a false advertisement of yourself online through airbrushing, the only outcomes are frustration for you — when your date isn’t interested in the real you — and annoyance for the other person who invested their time with a you who doesn’t truly exist.’

Abby Rodman, a psychotherapist in Boston

False advertising is frustrating and a profile on a dating site is, in essence, an advertisement of you, said Abby Rodman, a psychotherapist in Boston. Too much airbrushing causes problems. “If you’re creating a ‘false advertisement’ of yourself online through airbrushing and other means, the only outcomes are frustration for you — when your date isn’t interested in the real you — and annoyance for the other person who invested their time with a you who doesn’t truly exist.”

A smudge, smudge here and a smudge, smudge there have never been easier. Adobe Photoshop once charged hundreds of dollars. It now charges just $9.99 a month for its most basic package. It must compete with a slew of easy-to-use apps: MoreBeaute2, is free on Apple’s AAPL, -0.08%  iOS and suggests removing freckles from children’s photos; BeautyPlus, free on iOS and Android, actually advertises a skin lightening feature. Call it Facetune 2: The revenge of the nerds. Anyone can have abs — online, at least. ABSmatic costs $1 on iOS.

Airbrushing and other photo-trickery, once the preserve of Hollywood studios, is available to anyone with a smartphone and the ability to smudge, and they are altering our perceptions of what is deemed “beautiful.” In addition to the usual overly smudged faces — that appear to be fooling no one — and white teeth reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age, many promote Western and Caucasian features as the norm. There is no room for natural blemishes or aging with these apps.

“The stakes have just risen with higher expectations and deeper letdowns when your man takes off his shirt and his abs turn out to have been painted,” said Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based psychotherapist. “This trend is in part responsible for increased anxiety and a mad rush into my psychotherapy office. In Hollywood esthetics and physical beauty are essential while the ‘forever young’ is ever present. Sadly, youth rules.”

Who can blame them? Facebook and dating profiles appear to be echoing what users have been fed by magazines and television advertisements for years. But there’s been backlash against photo editors who alter photos to conform to just one idea of what’s considered beautiful. Last November, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o criticized Grazia magazine for airbrushing a cover photo of her. The magazine lightened her skin tone and removed some of her hair.

‘The stakes have just risen with higher expectations and deeper letdowns when your man takes off his shirt and his abs turn out to have been painted. In Hollywood esthetics and physical beauty are essential while the ‘forever young’ is ever present. Sadly, youth rules.’

Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist

“Disappointed that Grazia U.K. edited out and smoothed my hair to fit a more Eurocentric notion of what beautiful hair looks like,” Nyong’o tweeted to her 804,000 Twitter TWTR, -0.37%   followers last month. An Le, a Vietnamese photographer who took the photo, responded: “I realize now what an incredibly monumental mistake I have made and I would like to take this time to apologize to Ms Nyong’o and everyone else that I did offend.”

And yet a little light retouching can go a long way for some job seekers. Frown lines, dark circles under the eyes could give the impression of being tired or stressed out, experts say, so freshening up pictures can give you an extra edge on the competition. The AARP Public Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., nongovernmental organization and interest group with members who are 50 years of age or over, says age discrimination is rife for older job seekers.

But tell that to online daters who click on the “perfect” photo and then watch a real human being walk in the door of Starbucks SBUX, +0.26% “It’s safe to say that people don’t like to be misled,” Rodman said. “And no one likes a bait and switch. Yes, go ahead and post your best photos but also be honest. Because honesty is real and refreshing, and — unlike setting the unrealistic expectation of physical perfection — it’s a healthier foundation for any relationship.”

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