For a Project Called ‘Selfie Harm,’ the Photographer Rankin Asked Teens to Photoshop Their Own Portraits. What They Did Was Scary

Photo-editing apps can make social media photos unnaturally perfect.

Rankin, Eve, 18,
Rankin, Eve, 18, "Selfie Harm" for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Is photo-editing software warping our perceptions of reality? The British fashion photographer John Rankin Waddell, known professionally as Rankin, took portraits of 15 teenagers and asked them to edit the pictures to make them more social-media friendly. The hyper-retouched images—with giant, cartoon-like eyes, pouty lips, and unnaturally glowing skin—are nothing short of shocking.

“It’s time to acknowledge the damaging effects that social media has on people’s self-image,” Rankin wrote on Instagram, noting that the teens were mimicking what they see their idols do. “It’s just another reason why we are living in a world of FOMO, sadness, increased anxiety, and Snapchat dysmorphia.”

The photography series, titled “Selfie Harm,” is part of a project by Rankin, M&C Saatchi, and MT Art Agency called Visual Diet, examining how images can affect mental health, according to Business Insider. Rankin’s experiment demonstrates just how ubiquitous retouched images have become, suggesting that social media presences—particularly those of celebrities—are creating unrealistic expectations about appearance and an obsession with crafting the ideal public image.

An exercise that once required advanced Photoshop knowhow is now all too easy, thanks to new photo-editing apps like Facetune. “It’s so simple, almost like creating a cartoon character of yourself,” Rankin said, admitting that he has been rightfully criticized for his own use of Photoshop in the past.

“These filters are something very new and, in my opinion, a lot more dangerous,” Rankin added. “What’s even scarier is there’s little or no debate happening around this. Something like Photoshop, which is a much more complex and inaccessible program, is actually part of a huge social ethical discussion.”

None of the teens Rankin worked with chose to leave their photos unedited. But while the final images, and the ease with which they were created, are undeniably disturbing, not all hope is lost. “PLEASE NOTE,” Rankin added. “The majority of subjects preferred their original image.”

See more images from “Selfie Harm” below.

Rankin, <em>Shereen, 18</em>, "Selfie Harm" for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, Shereen, 18, “Selfie Harm” for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, <em>Mahalia, 18</em>, "Selfie Harm" for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, Mahalia, 18, “Selfie Harm” for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, <em>Georgia, 18</em>, "Selfie Harm" for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, Georgia, 18, “Selfie Harm” for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, <em>Siena, 18</em>, "Selfie Harm" for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.

Rankin, Siena, 18, “Selfie Harm” for Visual Diet. Photo courtesy of Rankin.


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