In 2021, it’s obvious most people understand that what influencers post on social media doesn’t actually reflect reality: They slim their faces and bodies, remove blemishes, use heavy filters, and precisely frame shots to give viewers the impression that their lives are casually desirable.
But a new theory circulating on social media argues that influencers are warping reality in a new way — by staging their mirror pictures. My colleague Tanya Chen first reported on this growing theory, strengthened by the fact that model and influencer Kara Del Toro claims to fake her own mirror pictures by using a second camera.
In a recent video, which has over 380,000 views at the time of writing, TikTok user @katathomedoingnothing explained that most mirror pictures have small imperfections and blemishes. The light glares in strange ways, there are smudges, and there’s dust. But when some influencers hold up their phones in an image that appears to have been taken in a mirror, there’s often no glare, smudges, or dust.
Which raises the question: Do influencers happen to have extraordinarily clean and perfectly placed mirrors? Or...are they asking someone else to take a picture of them, while they hold up their own phones, in order to give the appearance of a mirror picture without the actual mirror?
Naomi Anwer, one of the influencers who's accused of faking a mirror picture in the TikTok, told BuzzFeed News that her picture shown in the video was an authentic mirror picture. She also showed BuzzFeed News the entire mirror, which was cropped out in the picture she eventually posted on Instagram.
“Whaaaaat the hell,” she said. “I had no clue — but these were all taken in a mirror? Don’t get why not haha.”
Regardless of whether the theory is true, it seems to resonate with people on TikTok because the lifestyles that influencers sell already don’t feel real, and people have come to assume that nearly everything must be staged.
The other reason the video has resonated with people is the sheer fact that it’s actually plausible.
Influencers, generally speaking, promote an aspirational lifestyle on social media, which is supported by doing advertisements and promoting paying brands. But their lifestyles aren’t merely aspirational — they also need to seem accessible while leading their effortless and aesthetically pleasing lives. Celebrities give up the illusion of accessible lifestyles when they appear in glossy magazines and on film and TV. Influencers, meanwhile, maintain that illusion by giving fans 24/7 access into their most banal and intimate moments by posting stories and vlogs throughout their day.
And yet, influencers do not post casually. It often takes them hours to stage an off-the-cuff peek into their lives, and they even have people helping them behind the scenes to ensure that things come out just right.
As a format, mirror pictures are meant to portray someone at their most casual — in a bathroom, or in a public setting — to show that they are simply moving through the world.
But for someone who gets paid to post on social media, it would seemingly make sense that every picture they take is staged, even a mirror picture. Why deal with the inconveniences and imperfections of an actual mirror (glares, smudges, and dust) when you can just have someone else take the picture for you? That way, an influencer can be coached, they can control the lighting, and a professional camera can be used — all while maintaining the veneer of nonchalance and effortlessness.
Of course, they may just have a very clean, well-lit mirror. But once you start asking whether a picture was actually taken in a mirror, it’s hard to stop.