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The Beauty Ideal Blame Game

Transparency and authenticity in digital marketing are lofty goals, idealized and pushed by the Gen Z and millennial generations who forged the #BodyPositivity movement. But whose shoulders does accountability rest on in the pursuit of changing the self-esteem slamming beauty ideals influencers enforce to sell products?

A new policy announced by Ogilvy UK stating that the worldwide agency will no longer be working with influencers who edit their content is lighting up conversation around online marketing authenticity and accountability (in terms of beauty particularly). The conversation of government regulation on ensuring transparency on social media was notably sparked by Norway’s decision last year to make it mandatory for influencers to mark their edited posts as such. The new law will take effect this year in July 2022, and the UK is looking to move in the same direction with their Digitally Altered Body Image Bill.

The next move seems to be companies, like Ogilvy, taking an active approach on who they work with, thereby hoping to inject a dose of reality to your daily feed. Will influencers step up next, or are these displays of social responsibility simply ignoring the root reasons behind why editing happens at all?


As a content creator - a role which often veers into influencer territory - I’ve done my own self-reflection on the morality of editing/filtering my images. In support of transparency online I often attempt to interrupt the echo chamber of perfectly curated faces and bodies with a blog post of body hang-ups (like this one), an unfiltered slide or two, a filtered image disclaimer and an episode of my web series on the harms of social media (Hot Noodz Episode 4). And I say ‘attempt’ because after all this being said and done, the fact is that transparency online is not sustainable.

"Why should [influencers] be tasked with undoing the damage that brands reaped the reach on and are now shifting responsibility for?"

The goal of authenticity online is a beautiful ideal within itself but the truth is: it’s a constant work. And, honestly, it’s not a great look (for your engagement, that is) unless it happens only once in a while. The public by now know when we see a filtered image, and we know that your photo is probably edited- whether that be lighting, a pimple fix or a smoothing fix. We even appreciate a reminder when you’re feeling up to delivering one. We’re #hereforit. But we want to feel good, and we like to see you look good. Instagram, perhaps the catalyst for this article topic at all, is about beautiful things after all. It’s about curation. It’s about the ‘good shit only’. We’re awake to that, we engage anyway. Why? Because we like beautiful things. That is human nature.

But why do we associate clear, smooth skin, large childlike eyes, full round lips, a full face beat with beauty? It’s because we’ve been told that that’s what beauty looks like, and worst of all, we’ve accepted it. The truth is, your average influencer/content creator isn’t going to change that at the price of their engagement. They’re running a business after all.


The good work done by honest and unfiltered faves like Jameela Jamil and Alicia Keys along with the odd bopo-inspired campaign is constantly competing with the filtered and flawless work of Kylie Jenner and co, plus the beauty and fashion industry at large. Open a magazine and bam, we’re still seeing perfected beauty and body ideals in cover stories, fashion adverts and editorial spreads. Flick on the TV and we’re confronted by actresses who #wokeuplikethis and the male-gaze-defined heroine. Scroll through your feed and adverts pop up with edited and elongated models, selling you something you mentioned last week.

And yet, government and companies keep pushing the idea that it’s within the average influencer’s (read: normal person, with a large following) (please don’t come for me, influencers, for saying that)(or do lol) hands to change the narrative.

"We, the people, also have the power to choose what we idolize and encourage"

Imo influencers are playing a game they were set up to play and fail at. That’s the challenge of online fandom. You are always one step away from falling out of favour for something or another, it’s a constant balancing act to stay true to yourself and give the people what they want so that you can continue creating content and #gettingbread babe. Why should they be tasked with undoing the damage that brands began, paid them for, reaped the reach on and are now shifting responsibility for?


Let’s not begin a blame game, the whole point of this is accountability after all. Perhaps the question is : what next? And that’s not to mean, what shall we do next. What next means where do we stop?

What defines an edited image: Is it manipulation of lighting and post-production tweaking? Is it photoshopping and smoothing? Is it a filter that only manipulates facial features? Is it filters in general? And why should influencers be held to this standard. Should magazines, commercials, movies, TV series and all media state when images have been altered? Should we begin to question the morality of food-editing images, because I for one am also sick of being sold a KFC burger that was not what I got godammit.

You get my point.

Furthermore, does stating when something is edited, or applauding unedited images, rob the public of our power, our own agency, to decide what media we consume? Does it assume we are not responsible or accountable enough to differentiate between an obviously edited image and a subtly edited one?

Wait, does it mean that the public are also active participants in consuming media that harms us?


The logical conclusion seems to be long-term, sustainable, constant change. Agencies, brands and governments at large need to begin incorporating policies and regulations like this across the world to enact real, and not performative, change. And sure, this is a solution. If edited images of people who exude homogenous beauty and body ideals became the exception not the rule, then influencers who edit will become the exception not the rule, too, surely.

But we, the people, the consumers, the followers, the fans, also have the power to choose what we idolize and encourage- online and in real life.

Perhaps the power lies with us, after all.

Words and feature image: Zoya Pon

Collage credits: Pinterest / pinterest / pinterest


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