I Tried A Virtual Plastic Surgery App

We all know that taking a selfie can require a lot of effort — you've got to get a good angle, find the right levels of contrast and saturation, and make sure your lip gloss isn't smeared. But what if there were a way to take the guesswork out of making sure you're satisfied with your look? Furthermore, what if it allowed you to slim your face, make your cheekbones a little sharper, and plump up your lips at the same time? That may sound like something that can only be achieved by Photoshop or plastic surgery, but it's an app available for free: it's called the Beauty Mirror app, and its implications are a little disturbing.

The app was created by virtual makeover company ModiFace, and it allows users to lift their eyebrows, get rid of wrinkles, and brighten their skin tone. “[The photos] look the same but everything is just a little better — their wrinkles are gone, their eyes are retouched,” said Parham Aarabi, ModiFace's CEO, to Business Insider. Users can pay a small fee to upgrade to better effects, but basic ones will cost you nothing.

The obvious way to investigate this app, dear readers, was to try it myself. (Hey, I'll try anything that's free!) Bustle writer Brinton Parker has done two awesome social experiments regarding makeup levels — one in public and one on Tinder — so in that spirit, I decided to experiment with Beauty Mirror. This necessitated a hunt for an iPhone 5S, since Beauty Mirror is only available on the latest technology — a strike against it before I even opened the app.

Once I did, I was instructed to fit my face into an oval-shaped filter, and the app took a picture. Then I could select from four effects: brighten, refresh, reshape, and slim. Alarmingly, it reminded me of Scott Westerfeld's book Uglies, in which teenagers in a dystopian society play around with plastic surgery programs as an everyday hobby. In order to show you all the difference it made, I took a "before" photo with none of the effects applied, then an "after" pic with all of them. (Note: In both pictures, I am wearing what I consider an "everyday" makeup look: tinted moisturizer, nude lipstick, filled brows, a single coat of mascara, and a little eyeshadow/eyeliner.)

Holy facial reduction, Batman.

My nose, jaw, and lips are noticeably slimmer, giving me a more chiseled look. However, the lips have also been vertically plumped. My skin looks sun-kissed, rather than a little sunburnt, and my brows have definitely been lifted. Facial lines, like my nasiolabial creases and under-eye bags, are a lot less noticeable.

So here's the ultimate question: did the "after" picture make me feel ashamed of the "before" one? The short answer: totally. As I uploaded these pictures to Bustle, thoughts kept tumbling through my mind: do I have a wide chin? I never thought about it before, but maybe I do. Why does my skin look so dead? Do I just not reflect light like a normal human being? And, wow, my lips look a lot better when they're a little thicker. Also, how much does a nose job cost?

But the girl in that second picture? That's not me. And the fact that I like the way she looks so much more is pretty disturbing. Women are bombarded with so many messages about the way they ought to look each day — just look at TakePart's gender reversal of American Apparel ads to see how people don't bat an eye when women are objectified in advertising. This is even more disturbing when you realize how few women can reasonably look like the women in such ads: according to the Social Issues Research Center, the ideal body and face shape are attainable by less than 1 percent of women. Apps like Beauty Mirror make me uncomfortable because they promote this kind of unrealistic ideal. Of course, I don't mean to shame women who do use them — they just make me wonder what kind of effects they have on a person's self-esteem.

Images: Elizabeth Ballou (2); Sparkling Heart/Tumblr