Well, here’s a truly awful thing: an app, called MakeApp, “removes” women’s make-up to “reveal” what they actually look like – or, in other words, to expose the fact that without some slap we’re all green-faced, hooked-nosed witches. It’s a piece of tech I’m sure the Sidebar of Shame is bitterly disappointed not to have happened upon first. Much like showing a picture of a woman’s cellulite on a beach, this app is the “gotcha” moment for women’s faces. Now, we can see just how old and ugly women really are.
MakeApp is designed for the popular pastime of humiliating celebrity women – judging by the pictures on the App’s website – but one brave female reporter (I’m sure all the male journalists were just busy that day) has put her face through the app. The results are brutal – and it’s no comment whatsoever on her actual face. Yet, thanks to the app, her face is excessively white, the bags around her eyes are like volcano craters, her skin is marked. It’s harsh. And it’s sad. The journalist Raquel Laneri writes: “At first I thought it was hilarious, but the more I used it, the more I found myself doubting my sense of self. Had I been living in some kind of delusion fuelled by flattering lighting and sycophantic assurances all this time? This stupid app was gaslighting me.”
And, yes, the app was gaslighting her. And I’m starting to think we’re all experiencing gaslighting by, well, most things. We’re meant to be in an age of feminist empowerment, aren’t we? An age of Instagrammable Girl Power, shattering glass ceilings like plates at a Greek wedding. After all, didn’t it become official when Beyoncé wrote it in giant bright lights across the VMAs? Didn’t it became official when Aziz Ansari sat on the Late Show With David Letterman and spelt out what feminism meant? Wasn’t it official when Dior and Topshop alike started plastering feminism on T-shirts? We are all feminists now. Aren’t we?
Yes, we can ignore these apps, but we can’t ignore how determined parts of our world are to remind us that our true worth is in how we look, particularly to men
Yes, we have a history-making triple whammy of female power in this country right now – a female head of state, head of government and head of the UK’s highest court. We have women like Gina Miller and Nicola Sturgeon and Helena Kennedy. We have Girl Guides coding and ministers talking about FGM and senior male reporters calling out everyday sexism. Haven’t we arrived? Isn’t this what equality looks like?
Well, obviously not, because we’re infested with a plague of Weinsteins and Louis CKs and Kevin Spaceys and their countless counterparts in every industry. But, to leave the sexual-harassment tsunami to one side – although not unrelated – why do we still have people creating apps to transform a woman’s face into the very version that society hates most: old and ugly? Why are young girls becoming more miserable, and therefore experiencing greater levels of mental-health problems, as a report this summer found? At the time, Suzanne Moore wrote: “I see this manifest misery of some young girls as a direct result of the backlash against even rudimentary feminism… The reduction of young women to an increasingly narrow range of conformist standards around ‘beauty’ is part of this backlash. It makes girls deeply unhappy and obsessively self-policing.”
Which is precisely what happened to a grown woman who tested an app for a feature. “Women have to suffer through enough,” Laneri wrote, “less pay, less respect, more harassment. Do we really need to be humiliated for wanting to look like our best selves?” As Moore identified how “beauty” standards create terrible pressure on young girls, Laneri was still experiencing that pressure as an adult – but to an incredibly internalised degree. Laneri’s argument here wasn’t, “Fuck off, I look great without make-up.” (Also, I don’t believe for one minute this app actually makes women look make-up free – it makes them look excessively haggard, tired and old). Laneri’s argument was: “Don’t shame me for needing make-up.” Laneri is the reality of today’s teen fears: your true self is inadequate, you’re not really good enough – and, any minute now, you’re about to be found out.