Magazine | July 6, 2015, Issue

Not Me

Try as we might, we cannot escape ourselves

Right now, two-thirds of all Americans own a smartphone. By the end of 2016, there will be 2 billion smartphones in use worldwide.

That means 2 billion smartphone cameras in constant daily use, all snapping candids, taking selfies, documenting mo­ments of forced happiness. And that means at least 2 billion daily posts to social-media sites, with tags and comments and retweets and shares.

So it’s safe to say that in 2016, 2 billion times a day, people will be looking at pictures of themselves and thinking, “My God, I look fat. Do I look this fat all the time? Am I this fat?”

Or maybe not fat. Maybe old, or tired, or just unexpectedly unattractive. Maybe a certain shot taken by a fellow party­goer — probably using that most cruel and unforgiving flash function — will reveal the bald spot we hadn’t noticed or the eyes too close-set or the sudden appearance (and perhaps here I’m revealing too much about myself) of what can only be described as jowls.

Two billion times a day, starting in late 2016, we will all feel really bad about ourselves and the way we look.

Just as the technological revolution has scaled up our interactions with friends via Facebook and our meaningless chatter via Twitter, it will also increase the number of times we encounter our own faces — once limited to chance gazes at our reflections in a window, or passing a hallway mirror without reflexively turning away — and suddenly see ourselves as others see us, in the most unflattering way possible, which is the way we actually look.

There is — you knew this was coming, didn’t you? — an app for that. If you download something called “Facetune” — available for iOS and Android — you will have a suite of tools, some of which work automatically, to slim down your cheeks, fill in your hair, lift up your eyes, and get rid of those jowls. What once required expert use of airbrushing and digital-photography software now comes ready to download and easy to use for the rest of us. Full disclosure: I have used this product. Fuller disclosure: Damn, I looked good.

Well, not really. I looked, scientifically speaking, exactly the same. But now I have the technology to adjust my photographic image to be in closer alignment with my self-image. Those of you who encounter me in real life out there on the street are stuck looking at my old and jowly face. But when it comes to my tagged, shared, tweeted, and Instagrammed appearance — which is, let’s face it, probably a lot more significant — I look just the way I look when I close my eyes and imagine my current face and body, which are based on a photograph taken of me on a sailboat in June 1987. And I looked good.

Thanks to Facetune, I still do, because I look great to myself and I look great in the Internet cloud and it doesn’t matter how I look to you in real life because two against one.

So despite our natural discomfort when we think about the most recent Vanity Fair cover girl, Caitlyn Jenner — and when I say “discomfort” I mean it in the most supportive way possible — what she must have felt walking past mirrors and window reflections during the years in which she answered to “Bruce” can’t be all that different from the way many of us feel when we see ourselves in a photograph and think, “Is that me? That isn’t me!”

Caitlyn has told us about her long conviction that something about her old self, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, wasn’t really true. Winning races, getting awards, appearing on cereal boxes, starring on television shows — whatever it was that Bruce was doing, it wasn’t right because he wasn’t doing it in a dress, as a woman.

Caitlyn Jenner didn’t want to look like Bruce Jenner, and lucky for her, there is an app for that. Well, more than an app — a suite of surgical, cosmetic, and hormone-therapy tools to help align her self-image with the one everyone else sees on the street. Caitlyn Jenner is now, according to her, a lot more “comfortable” with the image she presents to the world. It’s a lot truer to how she sees herself when she closes her eyes. Cynics may point out that there’s a whiff of a career move here — Jenner’s reality-television show, chronicling her journey from Bruce to Caitlyn, has already resulted in a multimillion-

dollar payday. But listening to Bruce Jenner talk to Diane Sawyer, and then reading her words later in Vanity Fair — and, yeah, the pronouns shift with the verb tense — it’s hard not to wish her the very best.

Which isn’t to deny that some transformations are good for the career. Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the NAACP, had a similar problem. Born white, to white parents, from an entirely white family tree, she passed herself off as black because, as she recently told Matt Lauer on the Today show, she “identifies” as black. Rachel Dolezal would pass mirrors and reflective surfaces and catch sight of this plump-cheeked white woman and think, “That’s not me. That can’t be me.”

And (you knew this was coming) there’s an app for that, too: a collection of hair and skin products that alter the appearance, a judiciously vague appropriation of African-American symbols and designations, a careful editing of the life story. Rachel Dolezal, unrepentant and at peace, presents herself to employers and television interviewers as black and proud.

The problem with Facetuning or Sex­tuning or Racetuning, though, is that there’s still the messy and unmanageable business of real life to contend with. When you knock on your date’s door and reveal your true face — not the one you’ve carefully tended and tuned and uploaded to the popular dating app Tinder — you’ll know in an instant by the crestfallen and disappointed look on your intended’s face whether you’ve gone a little too far with the tuning.

Rachel Dolezal may identify as black, but she lost her job as head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, and with it the ability to convince anyone, anywhere, that she’s African-American. She will always be a white girl who acted black.

And try as she might — and she is trying, mightily — to have us forget the athletic exploits and superstardom of Bruce, Caitlyn isn’t ever going to be just Caitlyn. She’ll always be Formerly Bruce. That’s the price she pays for Bruce’s fame.

There isn’t, in the end, much you can really do about your true self. That fleeting glimpse we get in the mirror or in a candid shot on Facebook, the one that looks too fat or old or white or male, the one that makes us say, “That isn’t me! That can’t be me!” — well, it is.

It’s you. It’s me. It’s us. And though we wish it were not so, there is no app for that.

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

Judging Lee-Rubio

Of the top three candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, judging from the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, only one has released a detailed tax plan: Marco Rubio, the senator ...
Politics & Policy

Not Me

Right now, two-thirds of all Americans own a smartphone. By the end of 2016, there will be 2 billion smartphones in use worldwide. That means 2 billion smartphone cameras in constant ...


Politics & Policy

The Campus-Rape Lie

There is a lie that is sweeping American higher education — a lie so compelling that it is motivating the systematic violation of constitutional rights, transforming the most intimate of ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

¿Se Habla Coulter?

Ann Coulter is bold, brash, provocative, talented, fearless, witty, and outrageous. If she were on the left, she’d be lionized. (Lionessized?) She’d be widely regarded as an adornment to society. ...
Politics & Policy

The Way We Teach Today

‘The effect of Dewey’s philosophy on the design of curricular systems was devastating,” Richard Hofstadter wrote over 50 years ago in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Mark ...


Politics & Policy


Cold Comfort Ian Tuttle’s article on a proposed road through congressionally designated wilderness in Alaska (“Deadly Environmentalism,” June 22) omitted several salient facts. While people on both sides of the issue respect ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Bruce Jenner is female, Rachel Dolezal is black, and Donald Trump is a presidential contender. ‐ Just because she’s an uninspiring figure doesn’t mean she can’t win. Hillary Clinton gave ...

She Said She Said

Hillary’s speeches are like Roman candles that blurp out wet clods of sawdust — a flash, perhaps, but no sparkle, no light. In her Roosevelt Island rebooted reset retooled relaunch, ...
The Long View


From the Twitter feed of @donaldjtrump­potus The USA turnaround starts tomorrow as soon as I take the oath of office and attend to a few personal duties such as negotiating a ...
Politics & Policy


SEX IN THE ENGLISH GARDEN Light, feathery Astilbe Sways gently in the breeze, Afraid she always will be Faint fluff beneath the trees Concealing dear Sweet William, Who rings each foxglove’s bell Mid coreopsis ruffles, White lily, like ...
Happy Warrior

Not Avid for Ovid

Not long ago, four members of the Columbia University Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board wrote a letter of complaint to the university alleging that the study of classic works of Western ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More