Jess Quinn uses her platform to challenge perceptions of beauty on social media. Photo/Instagram
Jess Quinn only has one full length leg. No amount of Photoshop, airbrushing or filtering will change that. She lost her other leg to cancer when she was nine and learned to
be comfortable with it.
Her social media account makes no secret of her disability, with her Instagram feed regularly featuring images of Quinn with or without her prosthesis attached.
For those who have grown accustomed to the carefully curated perfection that social media so often embodies, this level of honesty can be difficult — but Quinn now wants to see others follow suit.
She recently became the unfiltered face of a Kiwi-born movement called Bodyright, which calls on influencers, celebrities and other Kiwis on social media to ditch the filters and show the world that they’re good about themselves.
This comes after damning revelations in the the wall street journal Last September, internal research at Facebook (now Meta) shows that the company’s Instagram platform is making body problems worse for one in three teenage girls.
Thirty-two percent of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.
Disturbingly, the report also revealed that of users who had had suicidal thoughts, 12% in the UK and 6% in the US linked them to Instagram.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me that we allow it,” Quinn told the Herald.
“We have put warning labels on food and cigarettes saying ‘it may harm your health’, but we have no regulations regarding unrealistic images saying ‘it may harm your mental health’ because it is exactly what it does.
“Research shows that there has been a huge increase in mental health issues and body dysmorphia among young people, especially young women, which has coincided with the development of social media.”
The impact of online imagery can be insidious, Quinn argues, quietly changing perceptions of what reality looks like.
“We start to form an idea of what a person ‘should’ look like and if we see too many unrealistic images, that image in our head will be constructed to be something that isn’t real.
“We then look in the mirror and are held back by all our imperfections. We think we’re the only ones who have them without realizing how common they are because of the unrealistic world we’ve absorbed.”
Quinn has long called for a legislative change that would require publishers to disclose when an image has been photoshopped or retouched. Such changes would have made sense, historically, when photo editing software was proprietary and used only by major advertisers and magazines.
However, the technology has developed rapidly and the vast majority of photo editing is now done by ordinary people using the power of their smartphones.
Legislating against this type of use would be incredibly difficult, not only because of the challenges of moderating social media posts, but also because the business models of some apps – like Snapchat – rely on the liberal use of filters. .
Quinn is therefore changing its approach to encourage the action of those who have the most influence on social media trends: influencers.
She urges online celebrities to add the BodyRight watermark to their social posts that have not been edited in any way. She hopes it could become an ubiquitous copyright symbol for the human body.
“Bodyright provides transparency,” she says. “Once the symbol is known and common, we will begin to understand what is real and what is not.”
The Bodyright concept was developed by Auckland-based creative agency TBWA, led by Managing Director Catherine Harris.
“We felt we had the opportunity to help correct some of the unrealistic portrayals of people through advertising and social media,” Harris said.
“This problem started with media, brands and retouching agencies decades ago – and it’s now become rampant on social media. We’re now seeing automatic retouching platforms, phones offering built-in ‘filters’ to edit , faces and shape of smooth and slender people.
“We thought we could play a part in challenging that.”
The advertising, film and media industries have all played a part in developing the concept of the ideal which is now being reproduced en masse on social media.
These industries are now working to promote greater diversity in terms of profiling and display on billboards, but as Quinn points out, these efforts often don’t go far enough.
“We are now at a place where we focus on diversity and inclusion so everyone feels seen, but what good is diversity if we then edit images to look a certain way,” she says.
“It’s like saying, ‘Look, we have an amputated model but she still has to project an image of perfection so we’re going to Photoshop perfect, curveless skin’ or curved models but we’re going to Photoshop half of their curves .
“It just doesn’t make sense and it has a direct impact on our young people.”
That said, the concept of beauty has proven to be fickle, changing as tastes evolve. What has become clearer in the modern age is that we have a grip on what is perceived as beautiful and how long it persists.
And nudging today’s status quo might require something as simple as a brave amputee Kiwi, standing tall and proclaiming, “Enough is enough!”
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