Most of us accept an element of visual trickery, or at least dishonesty, as par for the course on Instagram. Indeed, you might be guilty yourself of airbrushing out a spot from a smoking hot selfie, removing a smudge of dirt from an otherwise pristine flat lay, or brightening the sea to make a trip to the beach seem a tad more magical.
But faking a holiday and giving yourself a virtual face transplant with the help of social media is a whole different ballgame, and one blogger has shown just how easy it is to live a lie on Instagram – and get away with it.
British travel blogger Carolyn Stritch, @theslowtraveler, whose usual perfectly manicured feed consists mostly of professional-level travel and lifestyle photos, switched up her approach a few days ago as part of an experiment. She took herself to "Disneyland", giving herself a virtual face transplant in the process, and not even her best friend, sisters, or even her own mother questioned it.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to be 22! I'm treating myself with a trip to Californ-I-ay: I'm off to Disneyland to Instagram the hell out of Sleeping Beauty's Castle," she wrote in the caption to her first "fake" photo, adding that she'd be travelling alone. "It'll be my very own fairytale. Human possibilities vastly exceed our imagination!"
The image racked up more than 15k likes – but barely anyone realised that there was something more than a little off about it. Stritch had completely altered her face on the £1.99 FaceApp and lied about her age (she's actually 32).
The next day, she posted a candid-looking photo of herself at Disneyland California. "There I am in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle – my crazy, self-indulgent 22nd birthday present to myself," she captioned it. "Tomorrow I'll be back home and it'll be like it never even happened!" But little did Stritch's followers know, it never did happen – she was in the UK the whole time.
More than 17k people liked the photo within four days, with many commenters congratulating her for managing to get a solo photo (despite her travelling alone) in front of a popular tourist trap without a single other person in the shot. "Wow no other people in this picture! Talk about doing the impossible," wrote one. "But how did you get it so empty?! Lol," wondered another.
Stritch hinted at her deception in a cryptic Instagram post the following day and came clean completely the day after that in a frank blog post, titled "Why I hacked my own Instagram account".
I'm not feeling entirely myself after that trip. Strange. Tomorrow I'll share a blog post telling you all about it. It's not every day you get to say: "I'm going to be 22 and I'm taking my self to Disneyland." Well, back to reality. Hard to believe that just yesterday I was standing alone outside Sleeping Beauty's Castle. But I'll always have The Image.
The whole thing started with Stritch experimenting with the selfie editing app, FaceApp, which she says turned her into (her words) her "perfect self". "[M]y face changes quickly and dramatically: fine lines flatten, wrinkles smooth out, blemishes unblemish, dark circles disappear, cheekbones rise, eyes brighten, lips get bigger, nose gets smaller."
Out of curiosity, she decided to upload it as her Facebook profile picture – and, worryingly, no one batted an eyelid. "Not my best friend, my sisters, or even my own mam!"
Then the idea for the Disney project sprang to mind. "I came up with a story: my FaceApped perfect self, who’s ten years younger than I am, flies off to Disneyland for the day, and somehow manages to photograph herself all alone in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle."
Stritch told Refinery29 that while she was initially surprised when not even her friends or family questioned the photos she was posting, she believed it was the medium of social media that convinced them of their truth. "I think we've become desensitised to this sort of imagery. Also, the photograph is such a powerful thing. It's seen as a kind of evidence."
Thankfully, bloggers who purposely deceive their followers are starting to be called out for their trickery. Blogger and Youtuber Amelia Liana triggered a backlash last yer after she posted a suspiciously perfect photo of herself in front of the Taj Mahal with no other tourists in sight. She has been accused of superimposing herself onto separate photos of locations and landmarks, with many others raising countless other examples.
Stritch's project isn't the first to highlight the ease of living a lie – without being rumbled – on Instagram, either. In 2016 the artist Amalia Ulman revealed that her online persona ‘Instagram Girl’ was artistic experiment. She had been living up to three online female personas: ‘cute girl’, ‘sugar baby’ and ‘life goddess’, and ended up highlighting how easy it was for influencers to deceive their followers.
Case in point, whole "people" have even been created with the help of social media without anyone realising. In recent weeks it was revealed that London-based photographer and digital artist Cameron-James Wilson had created the "world's first digital supermodel", Shudu, and her male counterpart, Nfon, from thin air. The Fenty Beauty Instagram account even reposted a photo of her. It was only when people realised she was just a little too perfect that Wilson was forced to reveal that Shudu has been merely "a way for him to express his creativity".
Stritch admits that the success of her her project "has thrown up more questions than it's answered" and she still ruminating over the potential ramifications, says she wants to highlight the disconnect between the reality of her daily life and her own feed. "I'm sure some people look at my Instagram account and feel bad," she told us. "Look at my account and you might think I'm always travelling or lounging around reading books and drinking coffee.
"Those are the very best bits of my life. I work, study, exercise, clean the bathroom, do all the stuff everyone else has to do. I feel the same pressures my followers feel. I want people to know that."
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