Ageing in the Age of Filters

My mother believed that healthy food choices and mindfulness is the answer to every question ranging from personal skin care to mental health to world peace.

For many years, my self-care routine consisted of besan on my face, a book, some music and zero care for the world. That is, until I was graced by cheap internet connectivity and a host of free beautifying apps.

It is rather telling that apps like Instagram and Snapchat introduced filters that made all of our skin look like a baby’s butt to indulge our vanity as soon as the concept of capitalist self-care rituals started gaining cultural currency among top women writers.

It isn’t completely their fault though – millions of us clue in to a ragingly narcissistic display of indulgence online like Bethany Mota’s or Alia Bhatt’s morning, night and sick day hair and skin routines when most people only need soap, water and the occasional scrubbing and moisturising to keep their skin healthy.

An Elle Australia article on the effectiveness of crystal rollers features quotes from sellers on the benefits of using them instead of actual users – the irony of that clickbait is not lost on me.

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With age, it is hard to imagine you are doing enough for your skin – and by extension, your self-care – without a closet full of serums, tonics, masks, moisturisers and exfoliants.

Good food habits and mindful living seem like a cop out.

I indulge myself with both homemade face masks and chemically-enhanced, vitamin-enriched, activated charcoal products that promise to clean spots on my face, remove dark circles around my eyes, make me look a few years younger and, in general, raise my self-esteem to match the confidence of the Fair and Lovely advertisement girl on her way to catch a flight.

When that fails, I employ app filters to make myself look flawless to that last pixel, even if I hate how it makes me look better but not ‘me’. Just for a little while, the self-care routine closes a loop and my world is perfect – my skin care game wins after a little filtering.

In a world where natural ageing is seen as an apocalypse, youthfulness is coveted and the costs of an unhealthy body image are swept under the rug, ageism is not an anomaly – it is the rule. Check any beauty product label and it will have words like ‘vitalise’, ‘renewal’ and ‘radiance’, as if youth is not a phase but the only acceptable natural state and ageing is a sign of laziness and indifference.

If you look at the top-rated images on Instagram, you’ll find find that bubble butts and thin waists are the brand new beautiful decided by the global beauty industry. I am overjoyed at the prospect of not having to hide my pear-shaped body – my time has come.

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But there is still work to be done on the thin waist. Enter, more photo editing apps. While I have been on the heavier side all my life, app filters help supplement my need to look acceptably pretty.

If you think that is awfully stupid, hold your horses – India has the highest app install volume globally on Android systems and the beauty app download market was valued at Rs 100 crore in 2018. Statistics suggest a gender-agnostic user base, which means men have as much aesthetic insecurity as women.

We love youth and the validation a polished image brings. Reject the idea of slathering your skin with chemicals under the garb of self-care, or indulging beauty apps and you will be deemed arrogant, or worse, too old to be relevant.

So, I suck my stomach in, master the perfect angle for a good selfie, throw in some sexy eyes or a pout depending on my mood.

But nothing makes me look younger like an Instagram filter.

Do I need it? I don’t know. Am I absolutely dependent on it for measuring my self-worth? Yes. I have a love-hate relationship with beauty apps and the number of candles on my birthday cake.

Charmi Trevadia is a consulting branded content strategist with special love for pop culture from Mumbai, India.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty