Celebface Shows You How Stars Edit Their Instagram Posts (& I Am Obsessed)

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage.
A few months ago, I became obsessed with the Instagram account @Celebface. If you asked me how I found it, I couldn’t exactly tell you, because it’s not an obvious find; despite its 504k followers, it is shrouded in mystery. It’s private, it doesn’t follow anyone and the bio reads, somewhat ominously, "WELCOME TO REALITY".
But I'd found myself there through some late night exploring, relentlessly scrolling through the endless close-ups of celebrity faces, comparisons between Instagram and 'Real Life' and my favourite: the airbrushing GIFs. Described by Dazed as the "Diet Prada of Celebrity Airbrushing", the account trawls through photos posted by famous people to their Instagram accounts and tracks down and compares them to the originals taken by photographers, friends and photo agencies. These are then overlaid in a hypnotic GIF that shows the staggering number of edits the Instagrammer in question has made to their picture.
Paris Hilton’s entire torso shrinks while she’s on the phone on the beach; Kim Kardashian’s eyes enlarge, her eyebrows rise and her skin changes shade; Bella Hadid’s hair develops new volume while her breasts shift up her chest.
The intention is to expose the levels of manipulation that go into every Instagram posted by various celebrities and influencers, which would otherwise go unnoticed. It’s disorienting and addictive and I. Am. Obsessed.

Paris Hilton’s entire torso shrinks; Kim Kardashian’s eyes enlarge, her eyebrows rise and her skin changes shade; Bella Hadid’s hair develops new volume while her breasts shift up her chest.

What I’m obsessed with, specifically, is the moment of transformation. In that rapidly flicking GIF it feels like you’re watching a glitch in The Matrix and the digital mask slips. The account is a great demonstration of how impossible beauty standards affect all of us, but it is even more of a reflection of how we see ourselves through screens, and how unstable our identity can become.
I tried to work out why I’m so fixated on these GIFs and I landed on this: When a woman is constantly watching herself, and anticipating how she is perceived, she is also creating the version of herself in her head that she wishes to be seen. And the celebrity creating an airbrushed version of herself is a literal version of that, layering her own vision over herself and presenting it to the world as fact.
This morbid fascination with @Celebface is paired with a sense of guilt. I know my almost daily return to the account is voyeuristic and probably unfeminist of me. In fact, I know it’s unfeminist because it’s a bit too reminiscent of the before-and-afters and paparazzi shots I would surreptitiously pore over in Heat magazine when I was a teenager.
Magazines of that kind were a hotbed of body shaming and intrusive cackling at people (mainly women) for daring to live their lives. I knew they were bad but I loved them, because they created the warped sense of 'celebrities are like people too' – but all that was really saying is that to be a normal woman is to be something you should fundamentally be ashamed of and terrified to reveal, unless you adhered to the strictest of beauty standards. But of course you didn’t – you’re normal.
This particular strain of invasive body shaming has happily fallen out of favour, but @Celebface shows that there is another form of shaming going on that comes from our constant surveillance of each other. If we are constantly watching ourselves, Instagram is the most deliberate digital version of that, where you watch the image of yourself distilled on screen, and see how others see it through likes and comments. And, in turn, we’re all watching each other watching ourselves, creating a messy, endless loop of audience and image surveying one other. And if your eye is particularly keen, this means someone can catch and expose the very insecurities you tried to hide.
What the weight gain before-and-afters have in common with the @Celebface GIFs is a sense of 'Gotcha!' journalism. The former was much more explicit (there’s nothing unambiguous about a circle of shame zooming in on someone's unsuspecting tummy rolls next to an older picture of their abs). But the latter shows that the version of themselves that someone presents to the world, via Instagram, is in some way a lie.

We’re all watching each other watching ourselves, creating a messy, endless loop of audience and image surveying one other.

And it’s becoming more uncomfortable as the platform blurs the definition of celebrity: it’s not just household names (your Kardashians, Hadids, Hiltons) but also IG 'influencers' and models, most of whom I haven’t heard of. They are just as susceptible to airbrushing, if not more so, and many have built their mini Instagram empires off the back of what they look like. Or, more precisely, the vision they wish the world to see. And then @Celebface comes along and reveals they constantly edit their nose to appear smaller, have had lip fillers and their bum is significantly smaller than you thought.
It can be so satisfying, especially if the person in question makes claims of self-love and 'accepting your body' as it shows what we’ve already assumed – that the 'self-love' they profess to have is not real, and talk of body acceptance is not sincere at all. Instead, it is just the movement du jour, a way to make yourself 'relatable' to your followers without challenging the rampant fatphobia or oppressive beauty standards that necessitated the 'self-love' movement in the first place.
But instead of being consistently vindicating, it’s often quite sad. And when the same person appears multiple times and they are always editing the same part of their body, their insecurities are then writ large. And celebrating that feels inherently cruel. The nature of Instagram makes it feel like there aren’t humans in those pictures, but there are, and it feels like it could eventually reach anyone who edits their photos a little bit to feel better about themselves. And there is nothing wrong with that and no need to 'expose' people when the world insists on making us feel ashamed of who we are.
But despite my better judgements, I’m not going to unfollow. Because like nothing else, it lays bare that the vision we all have of ourselves is not real. The projection is just a projection, FaceTuned within the four walls of an Instagram pic and ceasing to exist outside the app. And the potential to transform isn’t real either.
Where before-and-afters and paparazzi photos implied the potential of what you could become, the @Celebface GIFs show that the act of becoming isn’t even real, let alone the result. Through this frame, Instagram is less like a reflection of life, and more like a kind of science fiction – a mostly fun, sometimes terrifying world where real human beings cease to exist, except when the vision of the self is flicked off by some master at spotting Photoshop. In that flicker is a hint – just a hint – of the human being underneath. And as much as I question or analyse it, I can’t look away.

More from Entertainment

R29 Original Series