Selfie Surgery: A whole new face for $1.99.


My niece Allira is 11 going on 25.

She comes to stay with me quite often and she’s getting to that stage where she’s Officially Not Interested In Being A Little Girl Anymore. Toys and Disney have become make-up and Instagram. Her teddy has been traded in for an iPod. She likes Sailor Moon – but only in the ‘vintage/ironic’ way.

She teaches me all kinds of things about what’s cool with the kids. Apparently, I don’t know anything about anything, so I always listen intently when she offers me advice on the latest tween-trends. Mostly it’s all harmless stuff (she likes Lorde as well as Miley so I figure that’s a good balance) but last weekend she introduced me to the very scary new phenomenon of DIY photo-doctoring.

Basically, she has downloaded an app onto her iPod that allows her to doctor any photo she’s taken of herself. She can ‘thinnify’ her face, whiten her teeth, plump her lips, even add make-up. All of her friends do it, she told me. She went through her photo album and showed me a bunch of pics she’d ‘touched-up’.

To her, it’s not so much about explicitly improving the way she looks as it is a fun kind of art project. Adding eyeliner to her face in an instant is just a funky novelty. But regardless of her intentions, I can see the way it’s affecting her self-image. She mentioned more than once that she much preferred the ‘after’ shots to the ‘before’ ones. And why not? What 11 year old girl already up against the current warped ideals of beauty could resist changes like this:



My niece and her friends aren’t the only ones who have caught on to the photo-doctoring app craze. In a recent article on Buzzfeed, John Herrman referred to the phenomenon as ‘Selfie Surgery’ when describing one of the more popular apps, Facetune:


Facetune has filters and basic photo editing options, and it has a faux-blur tool and a set of Instagram-ready frames. But the point of Facetune — and its competitors, like Modiface, Visagelab, iPerfect, and Perfect Photo — isn’t to remove flaws from photos, or to enhance its basic properties. It’s to fix the photos’ subjects. Facetune turns yellow teeth white, removes acne, reduces wrinkles, shrinks or enlarges noses, turns up halfhearted smiles. It’s somewhere between classic airbrushing and plastic surgery, except it’s self-administered and nearly instant.

And let me tell you something: It’s addictive.

When I told everyone in the MM office about my niece’s new favourite game, we all fell down a bit of a Selfie Surgery rabbit-hole (in the name of ‘research’ obviously). Here are some before and after pics we were able to throw together in less than five minutes:

Intern Maia


Deputy Editor Lucy

We laughed hysterically at first at the ability to create instant cleavage (yes – you can do that) and abolish blemishes. But it didn’t take long for everyone to feel really uneasy with the whole thing. After all, it takes a seriously strong sense of self to be able to look at before and after shots and not feel even the tiniest pang of negative body image.

So how are kids supposed to navigate this?

Allira’s mum (my older sister) has done a damn fine job of balancing supervision with freedom when it comes to Allira’s online experience. The leash is just loose enough that Allira can slowly develop the skills she needs to make her way through the online universe. But we can’t protect her from everything.

And apps like this are very murky territory. They seem harmless at first glance – but it’s one thing to add some sparkly stars around your face for a bit of fun – it’s a whole other kettle of fish to change the shape of your face completely. Allira is only 11 and she already prefers the photoshopped version of herself. If she continues to use these apps, how will she ever really love herself as she is?

Will she be able to look in a mirror by the time she’s 20 without getting completely depressed?

Hopefully untouched photos like the ones below will help keep things in perspective. Not just for her, but for all of us.

What do you think of the ‘Sefie Surgery’? Harmless fun or harmful trend?