Friday, 26 February 2016

Filter Fatigue

I used to read a lot of magazines, starting with my mum's Good Housekeeping when I was about eight. (Luckily it was mostly recipes for flapjack, not red-hot sex tips.) I loved the (sadly now defunct) J17 and Sugar, but somewhere along the way I got bored with the same old repetition. (I do feel sorry for the editors, who KNOW that every year they will be obliged to write something about "How to get 'beach-ready' for summer / how to glam up your look from office to party / what age is too old for mini-skirts?" (Answer: never!) 

However, I recently opened a bank account which offered a free magazine subscription, so I picked the classic: Cosmopolitan. (FYI, the bank account was Lloyds. If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out for info on the best accounts around.)

Somebody needs to work on their contouring...

Getting a free magazine reminded me why I don't buy any; the actual content takes about ten minutes to read, and the rest is adverts and glossy pictures which are fun to look at for two seconds. I have enjoyed Jameela Jamil's wise words, some of the funny dating stories and the occasional interesting article. But it dawned on me that reading Cosmo wasn't actually fun. It made me feel guilty. But not because I haven't exfoliated or shaved my legs or deep-conditioned my hair (I have! Spring is on its way!) but because I am not a billionaire entrepreneur with a million followers on Istagram. (Oops! I don't even have an Instagram. My online presence is soooo not on fleek right now.)

In years gone by, "having it all" used to refer to women who combined a career with having a family. (Plenty of ladies managed this, but we're getting into mythical territory if we suggest there were never any compromises or guilt involved.) In 2016, "having it all" appears to be more about effortlessly combining a high-flying career with a delightfully photogenic family (whether by "family" we mean adorable children, a gorgeous partner or a close-knit group of pals). It means having the time and money "check in" to glamorous restaurants and high-end stores, not to mention getting plenty of likes on your latest selfies. And magazines like Cosmo are actively encouraging this.

Leading with "Want in on the action? Of course you do..." (but what if we don't?) the article goes on to describe the "soul-destroying" desk job that Laura Jenkinson had before she became a make-up artist, wowed the world via Instagram, earned thousands and launched her own book and line of makeup brushes. It's meant to be an inspirational tale – "See? Anything can happen! You too could become a super-success even though right now you work in the post office!" – but it comes across as somewhat accusatory. "Why aren't you using Instagram to your advantage like these other, clever girls?" 

I'm all for reaching for the stars, but we do have to remind ourselves that the number of people in the world who make their fortunes on Instagram is pretty minimal. But more importantly, why is this being pushed as the option we should all be aiming for? What if we like our nine-to-five jobs? Cosmo and other magazines are constantly interviewing women CEOs and "mompreneurs"  who launched amazing businesses while wrangling six-month-old twins. Good for them – we absolutely should celebrate their successes and feel inspired. But equally, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING A NORMAL JOB!

If you've read The Princess Guide to Life you'll know this is one of my bugbears: every job is a contribution, and one should not be valued more than another just because it seems more glamorous. If you do the photocopying in a solicitor's office, or serve burgers in a fast food restaurant, or muck out ponies, should you be feeling bad about yourself because you don't have a huge online following or get interviewed on a red carpet? HELL NO. It makes me angry that this is even implied by the media. And it is, all the time. How often do contestants on talent shows talk about their current day job as a misery they desperately want to escape via singing for a living? (Even when that job is something like teaching children to read, or working in an old people's home, or any number of incredibly valuable contributions to society.)

Perhaps this gets under my skin because arguably, I am one of the people who "should" be using Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc to "grow my brand", "build my platform" or whatever the other buzzwords are. I've written a book about style (among other things), so why am I not constantly updating you on my latest manicure / outfit / handbag? Well, it's largely because I'm lazy and can't be bothered. (Did I mention, I'm Sagittarian? We're noted for our honesty.) 

Even when I see my friends, we tend to chat over coffee rather than do anything photogenic. (Sometimes we cry "Oh! We should have taken some pictures!" after we've taken our makeup off, so I don't think we've got the hang of social networking, really.) I enjoy seeing other people's pics of all the good stuff in their lives (especially new puppies), and find a makeup tutorial or fashion inspiration blog as exciting as the next gal. But it's an open secret that the flawless selfie which makes it online is the tip of an iceberg of rejected snaps. We're spending all our time perfecting our makeup for that #IWokeUpLikeThis shot and getting the angle right so it shows off our new shoes but not the messy bedroom floor.

Amazing hair colourist Ursula Goff shows the truth behind the image

It takes time to create the image of a perfect life online. Right now I'm working on The Princess Guide to Beauty and have discovered that researching the safety of sunscreen ingredients / parabens / essential oils is intense and time-consuming work. So I have to choose between: a) setting up the perfect shot of my laptop in the sunshine (or preferably overlooking a beach) so I can caption it "My office today" and make everyone jealous of my cool life, or b) spend that same time writing. It's a no-brainer.

By all means, record every detail of your life, from the contents of your shopping basket to the two shades of lipstick you're blending today – but only if you genuinely want to because you find it fun. Thousands of likes might boost your self-esteem, but does it really mean anything? When you're sixty, you may have a portfolio of fantastic self-portraits, but if you remember more about posing for your holiday snaps than the swimming, sunbathing and drinking sangria part, something has gone horribly wrong.