The carefully curated virtual world Danielle Bernstein has created for herself is a mecca of perfectly styled outfits that make her seem less human, more mannequin.
Bernstein, more commonly known as US blogger We Wore What, has the kind of style you objectively love. Edgy blazers, waist-hugging belts and a general sense of sartorial flair make up the kind of clothing choices you look at, love, but know you’ll never emulate. Great picks for her, you think. But me? That’ll never work on me.
Berstein’s sense of style has built a following that goes into the millions (1.7, if we’re just talking Instagram) and a business that named her in Forbes 30 under 30 this year at just 24. Her fantasy world is one we want to buy into – we do, actually, just by following – and one looks as effortless as it does perfectly styled.
But do some digging, and perhaps you’ll find hints that all isn’t as it seems. Alongside Bernstein’s We Wore What Instagram comes another; a spoof. The account wephotoshopperwhat sits somewhere in the far corners of the internet, no doubt the brain child of a disgruntled Instagram user tired of Influencers making coin from inauthentic images.
The account is one dedicated to Bernstein, with 64 posts all alleging the blogger photoshops her images.
It’s a jarring sight, and not just because you feel a little duped for being sold a product that isn’t exactly how it seems. It’s confronting, namely, because Bernstein is the focus. A first scan of the account feels juicy, gossipy, the ultimate ‘gotcha’ moment. A second feels a little dirtier: the internet is a terrifying place, and seeing someone the focus of an exercise in bullying makes you suddenly feel like a silent, enabling bystander.
And therein lies the problem with influencers and Photoshop: How do you call out their propensity to alter to their images to sell a product (or themselves) without a) focusing on their bodies or appearance and b) making one person the example?
Without being called a bully?
Of course, Bernstein is by no means the first – nor will be the last – to be accused of altering her images to cater to a universal appetite for perfect.
In 2016, Ashy Bines admitted she had uploaded doctored images to Instagram in the past, and she wasn’t “proud” of it. Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner have also all been accused of playing around with their own images before uploading them to the platform. Beyonce, too.
Earlier this year, travel blogger Amelia Liana was forced defend herself against accusations of Photoshop – The Times alleged Liana had superimposed herself on an old photo of the New York skyline – skirting around the actual issue, vaguely admitting to fiddling with her images.
Admitting she likes to “develop” her skills and “may use all available techniques to enhance, sharpen or smarten” , Liana wrote on her blog in July: “This may include improving the light, tidying the background and other enrichments, but always in a way that is representative to the true setting and always in a way that reflects my aesthetic.”
Back home, bikini model Tash Oakley also revealed she has felt the pressure to alter her images.
“I think that everyone is doing [it] because of what they see in the media,” Tash told the The Daily Telegraph. “I think the general population are just trying to follow exactly what they see with pictures being edited.
“I feel [the pressure to look good] — I’m a human and a natural curvy woman! But for me, it’s really more about feeling good in myself, and healthy and fit.”
Which brings us all the way back to an Instagram account shaming and exposing Bernstein in way that’s part-bullying, part-public service and poses the question: is it on us to think critically about the photos that saturate our feed, or it the responsibility of ‘influencers’ to stop photoshopping?
In a realm where young girls make up such a large proportion of the digital world, it’s unfair us to assume they have the skills to look critically at the images their consuming. And if they did, like adult women do, there’s absolutely a sense of cognitive dissonance at play. For example: I can scan my newsfeed all I like, and objectively – in the back of my mind – know most of the images are doctored. However, I can hold a totally opposing thought at exactly the same time: I still don’t look like that.
The underlying truth is a brutal one: Influencers, as we’ve come to call them, are selling themselves as a means of then selling products. Sometimes, like in the case of Tash Oakley and Danielle Berstein, they are the product. But in photoshopping their images, their selling us a product that’s false and misleading.
As consumers, we should be angry about that. As women, we should hold them to account.
And for now, in a period where we’re trying desperately to keep up with the pace of Instagram, perhaps making an example of someone is the only way to prove a broader, more important point.
It’s not ideal. It’s far from perfect. But as dirty as an account like wephotoshopperwhat feels, it does remind us of something important: Instagram is not real. Not even a little bit.
Because right now, there are women across the world hurting. Really, truly hurting. Detesting the body they were born into because of images being sold to us that aren’t even real themselves.
And when the perpetrators of these images not only get away with these actions, but make money from them, then it’s time we use our voices.
If you use Photoshop, prepare to be called on it. There is too much at stake for us to ignore it.
Listen: The case for realistic images on Instagram.