When I was growing up (back when computers were the size of mini-fridges and the Internet was basically just AOL) we had a program on our mini-fridge-sized computer called Kai’s Power Goo. With this virtual goo, you could play around with famous people’s faces (Bill Clinton and The Mona Lisa were popular choices), stretching and contorting faces, giving Bill Clinton Sailor Moon anime eyes and turning Mona Lisa’s subtle smile into a Heath-Ledger-Joker-like grimace. Whenever I used Kai’s Power Goo (which was a LOT, this was the 90’s, there wasn’t that much else to do on a computer, it was basically just this program and Oregon Trail) I always had the best time messing with these faces, but there was also always a small part of me that felt wrong changing up the Mona Lisa’s smile. It never looked better, it never looked righter, it always just looked. . .messed with. I never thought I had improved upon the face I was digitally experimenting with. Looking back, I realize that’s because there was nothing to be improved upon.
I thought a lot about Kai’s Power Goo recently when I downloaded the 21st century equivalent of the program, a photo re-touching app called “Photo Editor.” Though I’ve used filters aplenty on photographs of myself (Dear God, sometimes it seems like half my phone is filter apps) I’ve never used an app that actually messed with the dimensions of my face.
If you’re looking to change your face (virtually speaking, of course), Photo Editor has you covered, girl. Upload a photo of yourself and then play around to your heart’s content. You can enlarge your eyes, narrow down your nose, carve out your jawline, whiten your teeth, give yourself different colored eyes, the list goes on. If you want to plunk down a couple of bucks (the app is otherwise free) you can also get extra abilities, like slimming down your face.
What I was struck by while messing around with this app was how even the most minor photo altering was, like, crazy noticeable. I looked like a different person after enlarging my eyes over twenty percent, or shrinking my nose by the same amount. And if I went any further than that, I basically stopped looking like a person. If I enlarged my eyes over fifty percent, I looked like I had the buggiest of eyes, if I shrunk my nose the same amount, I looked like I had been plastic-surgeried within an inch of my life. When I contoured my jawline, it made me look like I just had my wisdom teeth removed (which is, trust a girl, not a good look on anyone ever). The only change I kind of liked was teeth whitening, my teeth are by no means yellow, but it was really fun seeing myself with a Disney princess-white smile.
Photographic evidence time! Because if you didn’t take a selfie, did it even really happen?
It wasn’t that all the changes the app allowed were bad. I think it’s likely that there are people who would prefer the photoshopped image of me. I’ll admit it, I kind of like myself with baby alien eyes. Ultimately, though, these hijinks just aren’t for me. Like most girls who get brainwashed hard by societal shenanigans, I can’t help but ponder what I would look like if every aspect of me perfectly fell in line with the conventional standard of beauty. As it turns out, I just didn’t like the real-world results.
The experience of altering myself made me feel this weird sense of empathy toward celebrities who are photoshopped basically every day of their lives. Yes, they get glammed up for photo shoots and we all “ooh” and “ah” over their magazine covers. Still, these women are surrounded by fun-house-mirror photographs that lie about how they really look. They look at these photos and they see strangers. What a weird, weird, weird way to live.
As I dabbled in the dark arts of photo altering myself, I thought about messing with the Mona Lisa way back in my Kai’s Power Goo days. You could, of course, mess with the Mona Lisa on a Photoshop app, conventionally beautify her, mess with her hairline, her jawline, her nose, her lips, her eyes. You could give Mona Lisa the magazine cover treatment, but then she wouldn’t look like the Mona Lisa. And it would be such a crime to have the Mona Lisa look like anything but herself! Which made me feel so sad, I so wish we could stop looking at ourselves like a laundry list of flaws and could start looking at ourselves like perfect, unique works of art worthy of the Louvre.
Where’s the app for that?