The 19th century Prussian diplomat Otto Von Bismarck once said, “Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made.” Of course, Bismarck was referring to the nitty gritty nuances of realpolitik, but an Internet freakout over Lindsay Lohan's apparently altered selfies suggests the same for celebrity today.
For as long as there have been celebrities, our culture has bought into the mythology that they represent something greater than us. But as soon as we discover the mechanics, the sausage-making, of the perfection, we suddenly become very disturbed. And that is disturbing. What's going on?
Case in point, Instagram went berserk Wednesday night after Lohan posted a photo of herself that was clearly and clumsily photoshopped. Well, technically, she appears to have used a free app called Line Camera that sloppily edits pictures, because power to the people or something. Everyone from TMZ to the New York Daily News to Perez Hilton went to town on Lohan’s post, slamming her for what amounts to a lack of technical savvy. (Full disclosure: Fusion commented on the gaffe, too.)
Now, this isn’t the first time a famous woman has been caught prettying up her own photos on Instagram, and it certainly won't be the last. Everyone from Kim to Britney to Beyoncé has been “caught” warping their pics to accentuate (or understate) curves. But these women are constantly edited and airbrushed in ads and spreads, so why are fans so upset by their personal fails?
Really, it's about our own insecurities: We spew hate at female celebrities for reminding us that they are more than the caricature of the flawless woman we have invented. For letting us down. Because on some deep existential level, we want to believe that human perfection is possible.
The notion of celebrities having Twitter and Instagram accounts has always been exciting—stars have more power over their image through social media and can share exactly what they want to share with their fans. And in turn, followers get the inside scoop—they get to see the more "real" side of their favorite gods and goddesses.
But as soon as we get a glimpse into something more complex than "Sun Salutations on the beach!! 🌴🌴🌴" or a post that alludes to insecurity, our reaction is to blame and punish. We expect celebrities to be above such superficial frivolities and are disappointed when that isn’t the case.
We’re not calling them out simply for editing their pictures—we’re calling them out for making us notice that the pictures are edited. For drawing attention to the superficiality of celebrity. And possibly, for making us confront the idea that not only are these women not perfect, but our idea of perfection is kind of insane. We’re basically telling them to leave it to the professionals—please put the man back behind the curtain.
We demand to peer into celebrities’ lives, seeing who they really are, and insist that "they’re just like us." But the moment we see something that truly humanizes them, we are repulsed.
Don't worry, Lindsay: It's us, not you.