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Body Horror: The Dark Patterns of Algorithmic Dysmorphia

When you’re tired of winning
When you get tired of fame
Or when your head is spinning
And you’ve drunk all the best champagne

Then we’ll all sing together
To society we’ll be true
Then we’ll all sing together

Society waits for you
Beware the CLAW of the mighty D’Va Fiddler Crab! She also looks like she could give birth to her own head.

While I try to pretend I’m innoculated against the accelerated forms of outrage culture that proliferate like fungal spores over Social Media platforms. I do enjoy engaging in a bit of schadenfraude when it comes to bad photoshop, bad cosmetic surgery and the shameless shenanigans that people engage in with their hungry-ghost like quest for endless attention.

One of my favorite places to visit for this kind of fix is Reddit’s Instagramreality, where the range of Body Dysmorphia on display is simply breathtaking.

Bongo buttocks bap dap dap bap bap. Shape seems very familiar though…

Why?

So what the Hell is going here with these ridiculous morphed-to-the-moon O.T.T. figures? Does it benefit those who do it? And if culturally monkey-see monkey-do, given that culture is a two way street, what the fuck is it doing to us?

Previously I’ve discussed shock value and it’s role in Collapse Culture and how when algorithmically regarding value, ‘ethics’ as a consideration is neither here nor there as long as a flow of attention is forthcoming. Put succinctly value is a numbers game and it doesn’t matter if you are leveraging sex, suicide or fascism, outrage sells and an eyeball on your product is eyb+1 to your internet valuation.

Dark Patterns of influence seems to be a factor in this process. Both economically and culturally, as the interplay of new digital image manipulation technologies enables the push of aesthetic boundaries. These images are the bleeding stump of surveillance capitalism, which appears to be in it’s third or fourth incarnation as it searches for yet another new frontier to tap.

But what exactly are these patterns? What are the rules of this strange new game? Whereby attention, outrage and new dysmorphic aesthetics push us into decadent new realms of dopamine addiction.

There it is! Knew I recognised it! I never forget an ass or a face. Or an ass-face.

Insta-Corporate Your Individuality! Or Die in Obscurity

Spend any time on Instagram and it’s hard not to be struck by the formulaic types of photos and the flattening effect it has regarding how people construct images. This flattening affect is probably the most interesting thing about Instagram for me, the endless copying of formulas that are purport to make the user popular and gain more followers seems counter-intuitive for a medium that is supposed to be ‘creative’. Especially when it makes everything look exactly the fucking same.

I would have used actual images from my Instagram feed but it’s shadowbanned me from viewing # topics. Fuck Instagram and Fuck Facebook too. Use a container if you have to use them.

This is partly the result of Instagram positioning itself as an all-in-one application. From the app you can take pictures, filter the shit out of them and then post the result with a few lazy flicks of your fat fingers. But that’s just the front end. Culturally this streamlining process is a kind of corporatisation of the individual, whereby a person is expected to comport themselves ‘just so’ or else be doomed to eternal indifference.

By following the ‘how to get followers’ instructions what we end up with is a simulation of a person rather that an actual being. A simulation that is wholly accumulative regarding ‘relationships’ with other ‘things’, be they people, pets, panoramas, food or appearances. A simulation of idealised life, refined into simple easily digested shapes like McNuggets. Filtered and filtered yet again until all the proverbial and actual grisly bits have been pureed away.

In addition to Instagram’s own filter version there are numerous other alternative tools. By far the most popular and pertinent one with regard to retouching a person’s physical features is Facetune. So much so that ‘tuning’ has become verb shorthand for retouching in the same way ‘to google’ has for using search engines.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with a bit of retouching, we all do it to a degree, I try to hide my big fat paunch in every photo for instance. But when it’s taken to extremes and purports to be ‘true to life’, well, then it starts getting weird. So weird in fact that it’s hard not to see it as a kind of contemporary freak show. Complete with spider-limbed ‘influencers’, wasp-waisted fitness gurus, glowing brown Fruitarians, dumpling bummed dolls and ‘roided out action men. Images such as these seem like a high tide mark for body dysmorphia.

To cynical nihilists such as yours truly, it feels like we’re only a half step away from surgically enhanced children. Although in a sense that is was we are already getting, because there is something extremely child like about these crudely manipulated figures. The way they are constructed like poorly made knock-off dolls. Which in a sad way is exactly what they are.

Cultural Domestication/S

The flood of warped cartoon shapes is utterly hegemonic on Instagram and other third and fourth wave forms of social media. In a sense there are number of contributing causes and though I don’t necessarily agree with how the term cultural domestication has been appropriated by a narrow field of technology studies. It is accurate to acknowledge that we are in an ongoing phase of technology domestication. Whereby these algorithmic image manipulation technologies are still being understood and mediated by their users.

Kill it with fire.

There are some interesting theories regarding the driving processes of domestication: One is that urbanisation and what we understand as cosmopolitanism functions as a kind of social domestication for human beings. When we look at animals that have become domesticated, we find they lack those hard edged traits that are:

A) Symptomatic of territorial sexuality i.e they cease to chase every interloper off their patch.

B) They remain at a threshold stage, that is their looks and manners adjust to consistent exposure to numbers of their own kind and are receptive to consistent interaction with such.

C) Their physical appearance stays in a proto-maturity and is altered so they become less threatening; Sharp teeth and pointed ears are rounded, jawlines soften, eyes stay large and open.

Domesticated or Eusocial animals, such as ourselves, exist in a prolonged liminal state, neither fully emerged in one phase or another. Domestication therefore operates as a kind of prolonged adolescence, whereby certain traits are extended or linger on into adulthood. It could be argued that a fascination with appearing ‘young’ beyond a certain point of your life stage would be a part of this process.

I’m not arguing that this form of urbane domestication is necessarily a bad thing. Hell I’m a product of it myself, but that there is a overwhelming tendency for it to become over focused on one realm of life over any others. Take the fetishisation of technology for instance, such things become mandatory regarding mass participation. Not just recent technologies either such as mobile phones or computers but older technological mediums such as printing presses or radios.

From that point on, technological mediation is but a short hop from becoming fetishistic and obsessive. Something we might recognise in a contemporary sense as ‘fandom’. Such as it is now, some of the most potent and profitable of these are the triple C cultural industries: Comics, Cartoons, and Computer Games. Again rooted wholly in youth culture, either current or nostalgic. This fascination with youth culture into adulthood has given rise to whole slew of cultural standards which simultaneously project youth backwards whilst bringing childhood forwards, if you catch my drift (think under 10 beauty pageants rather than child labour). All of which might help to make more sense of why some cosplayers market themselves as preternaturally young kawaii cartoon characters. These are adult women who choose to resembled sexualised children.

Do you want a lolly on your loli-chan? Or maybe some tiny fruit or skeletal hand to make your massive sword look bigger.

Cos/tume/Play

Ah Cosplay. Where the unreal becomes real. To me Cosplay used to seem like a fun endeavor, back when freewheeling amateurism was the name of the game about 15 years ago. Now the formerly enthusiastic amateur is now expected to conform to higher standards in order to stand out. Like so much that was and should be fun it has now become a serious business and staple of the adult entertainment industry.

The ever ubiquitous Cosplay staple..

I don’t want to do a disservice to the ‘original’ fans who possibly still enjoy playing dress up as their favorite characters but in it’s contemporary industrialised form over the last decade it could be considered one of the prime progenitors of this dysmorphic wave. Which if anything might be the only original cultural contribution considering ‘Cosplay’ itself is predicated on being entirely derivative. Being almost totally comprised of third order IP recreations with little to no true originality apart from reconfigured blends or mashups of popular tropes. Not that that in of of itself isn’t problematic enough! See any number of black facing, bullying, sexual assault or thinning out controversies! Without the factor of easy recognition or at least recognisably obscure referencing to other members of whatever fandom you wish to be considered a part of, Cosplay ceases to be relevant. It’s like when you go to a Halloween party and no one ‘gets’ your costume.

Today we have media sanctioned exemplars of Cosplay, who far from donning tights and papier mache instead parlay good genetic fortune with studio quality technical skill regarding make-up, masks and prop-making in order to make the classic ‘six figure income’ beloved of successful internet attention whores superstars .

Cosplay as a form of Live Action Roleplay therefore works to blur the boundaries of reality and fantasy, a form of Hyper-reality as postmodernist thinkers would have it. Where the cosplayer appropriates attention by clothing themselves in the skin of culturally significant fictional characters, pulling the objectively unreal into the gross physical universe. The characters they choose to inhabit are not situated inside their own narrative spaces anymore but utilised as symbolically significant attention gatherers.

Like Prometheus stealing fire from the gods or some kind of post modern Xipe Totec, Cosplayers cloth themselves in the flayed skin of their object of desire. In so doing seizing a piece of the spectacle that also might just elevate enough to grab their own slice of the attention pie and all that might accrue with it. Fame, Fortune and Fuckability is the endgame. That cosplay is based on cartoons, comics and computer game characters part of that hybrid born of cultural domestication, which is the prefer to term cosmopolitanism.

In addition to this Cosplay was partly created and resides in a continuum of other fetish related fantasy realms that often feature heavily sexualised youth tropes; BDSM, Furries, Picture books about Übermenschen in Tights. This link is explicitly important (no pun intended). For they share the same type of spaces and the same methods of technological dissemination both online and in ‘conference’ space. The latter of which is essentially a form of modern carnival whereby an inversion of norms takes place by embracing the extremes of whatever it is that the conference is for. Such spaces are also heady blends of futuristic and fantasy thinking as well as being nakedly capitalistic regarding sex, success and hierarchy. Becoming quite literally modern day festivals of Hero Worship.

Honestly in two minds about how old this person is. Definitely the most uncomfortable picture here but I want to include it because it shows how algorithmic filters can utterly de-age subjects.

So, we have these hyper real forms taken from cartoons and extrapolated into the real world. And of course 90% of the time the aesthetic is borrowed from goddamned anime, which quite frankly I am increasingly learning to hate. The main reasons being for it’s over-sexualisation of children, incomprehensible and inane storylines, and predictably lazy tropes that add absolutely nothing to your life apart from killing time by indulging in the dreaded binge watch.

I’m not talking about the good series here nor Studio Ghibli or Akira either, because everyone loves that stuff. But for every gem like Satoshi Kon‘s films there are a bajillion regressively rapey, wankhandedly crappy series about some fuckwad high school kid/s with a magical tentacle/s up their bum/s that makes them rip flesh/cook omelettes/fold origami/carry a big wangsword.

But I digress, the main point is that if there is any hegemonic aesthetic of algorithmic dysmorphia it’s found in this style of drawing fucking cartoons.

Objectify Me Rando-Chan!

Oh how we all get richer
Playing the ruling game

Only the poor get poorer
We feed off them all the same

Then we’ll all sing together

To society we’ll be true
Then we’ll all sing together

Society waits for you

The distorted bodily proportions on ‘offer’ in these photos makes feminist concerns about ’80’s Barbie look almost quaint! Many of the people in them are totally explicit about their referencing of Anime characters, referring to such either by name or ‘Real-life Anime Girls/Guys’ (without any apparent trace of irony). Where as others are more circumspect, but still utilise ‘the look’.

As for that look; BIG TITS. Big. Back-Aching. Tits. Massive Lil’s. Bazoonga Cannons. More front than Harrods. Huge long Giraffe Legs. Massive boat like feet clad bare or in heels or better yet in Big White Trainers. The Feet MUST be bigger than the Head, like loads bigger. Ctrl +++++ Bigger. While the Head should be tiny in proportion to the arms legs and torso.

As for the face, it should be as doll like as possible which means Big Eyes. Big Lips. The Pointiest nubbin of a Chin you’ve ever seen. Oh and absolutely no fucking PORES at all. Any Skin texture is a Mortal Sin. Behold:

The proportions are pretty much the quintessential manga face. I often wonder what the world would be like if some other style of cartoon facial features had become as influential. Say for instance Beryl Cook‘s or Tom Paterson’s faces. Would filter apps tune sausage noses and hooded eyes as defaults? Anyway the face is one of the most tuned aspects in many of these photos, followed by the waist, bust, butt, legs, feet, arms and hands. And genitals. In fact just fucking tune it all.

Of course there are variations; one of the most recent popular shapes is the Super Ass. In which a person will attempt to out-ass Kim Kardashian. As though they have swallowed and are about to imminently poo out an entire Vegas Surf and Turf Buffet.

I like big butts and I cannot lie. You other brothers can’t deny. That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist..
And a round thing in your face You get sprung, want to pull up tough
‘Cause you notice that butt was stuffed.. No wait stop stop I want out
The story of Sarah Baartman is heartbreakingly tragic. She had no choice about being objectified. A South African Khoikhoi woman who was effectively a slave and exhibited around Northern Europe from 1810 to 1815.

It might just seem like harmless fun. I mean who is really fooled by the obvious fakery? It is so blatant that it is laughable and when you see so many of them you start to question your own judgement. Am I missing something? Is it tongue in cheek? Are there really that many horny fetishists out there? Is it other people who manipulate their own photos and simply B-E-L-I-E-V-E? Or is it mostly just sad fuckers like me, who sit there tutting and shaking their head quietly in front of the computer? If it is the last one than the joke is definitely on me, but the truth is it that is probably a combination of all these types of people. And in our own way we’re all fooling ourselves. In that case then what is the harm? If Lolo Ferrari were alive than I would probably try to ask her but she isn’t.

RIP Lolo.

Lolo didn’t have the dubious luxury of algorithmic dysmorphia. She had the real deal. Here is what she said about her surgeries;

“All this stuff has been because I can’t stand life. But it hasn’t changed anything” and “I was frightened and I was ashamed; I wanted to change my face, my body, to transform myself. I wanted to die, really.”

The point is that like the head of a particularly egregious pimple this is a symptom of something deeper.

Yo dawg checkout my laser hair removal and my wasp thin waist/end of the wedge. Cosmetic surgery is just the bestest.

Great Unrealistic Expectations / Or Loss and Gain IRL {o<>0}

Some may call us sinners
We think of ourselves as saints

Some may call us killers
It’s done with such restraint

Then we’ll all sing together
To society we’ll be true

Then we’ll all sing together

Society waits for you
Not really that appropriate but when you see it..

Instagram likes to act as though it is a broker to better, more open communicative world. That it functions as a magic mirror whereby not only can you see the fairest of the land but you can reach out and talk to them. This is where the realms of luxury themed aspirational lifestyles begin to displace the cartoonish ones. Or is it the other way around? Either way, Instagram likes to portray itself as a kind of cultural lodestone for aspirational living. But really that’s a fucking crock of shit. Back in 2017 Instagram came out as the worst social network for mental health. It’s easy to game and chock full of snake oil masquerading as positivity, be it body, mind or soul.

In fact masquerade is probably the most accurate way to describe these forms of co-option or coercion.

It’s still filtered. But ‘naturally’ so.

Take for instance the sheer number of posts on r/Instagramreality regarding Eating disorders that show Instagrammers using tuning software to sell themselves as preternaturally thin to profit off the IRL dysmorphia of others. This is one the grossest things about algorithmic dysmorphia and is worth checking out for yourselves.

These were the top search results for “Eating Disorders”.
Second Page
And it goes on and on beyond this too.

It seems Instagram has a pretty lax policy regarding ‘Thinspo’ posts aimed mainly at young adult women and juveniles. In this regard it actively allowing profiteering from people who sick.

The image on the left was used for Thinspo posts on Instagram
Teen girls don’t need rib cages.
Subtly impossible standards. She isn’t cooking anything her non-existent internal organs can’t digest.
Bitch tit Mr Burns needs a glass of water stat.

Even supposed ‘body positive movements’ perpetrate dysmorphia to quite a staggering degree.

It’s positively good to be body positive as long as you aren’t fat. Apparently.

In fact take any given hash tagged #topic on Insta. It was recently brought to my attention that #QueenoftheMountains, an attribution commonly used by woman cyclists to post photos of themselves from their bike rides had been co-opted. Effectively hi-jacked by what is essentially an East Asian outfit that spams semi-softcore photos of woman in lycra posing on bikes, using exactly the same fucking dysmorphic anime proportions. What was once an actual space for woman to showcase their cycling prowess and achievements, virtually overnight became yet another #hashedout grouping that objectified an unreal representation of sexualised ladies in tight lycra sportswear.

The anime ratio. Big feet tiny head.
This one isn’t too bad but yea, you know I don’t think she really is a member of the 12 O’clock Crew

It is these subtle displays of algorithmic dysmorphia that are the most damaging. A constant drip feed of adjusted imageering that lodges itself in the imagination. I’m old enough to remember the furore the first time it was revealed that magazines used this form of editing, although it is arguable that it was never to this degree. With the rise of deep fakes, it seems we might spend the next decade or so attempting to tame our new simulated realities.

If you know who he is, this man is a massive pederastic piece of shit.
This woman, less so.

In it’s current incarnation Instagram is in fascinatingly decadent place at the moment. An aging third wave social media platform, not only is it one of the worst alongside Facebook regarding it’s many, many controversies. But it is also currently in competition with other forms of Fourth and Fifth generation social media in this area such as Twitch, Tik-Tok, Zoom etcetera. In some ways there appears to be a kind of ‘sphere of influence’ war regarding these platforms and their supposedly differing ideological agendas (which some of them certainly have whilst others are more nihilistic).

Viewed through this lens Social Media ends up looking somewhat like the old fashioned 20th century state propaganda networks. In this case US versus China rather than the USSR, seeing as how Instagram is banned in China and Tik-Tok is restricted in the US and banned outright in India.

These kind of social media sphere conflicts may be a defining point of the culture wars. Along with their corporate enablers. Chase where the money goes and global system deconstructionist billionaires like Peter Thiel, who founded Palantir hand in hand with state surveillance investors such as In-Q-Tel are never far away. These systems are here to safeguard and ensure the status quo, as unfair, destructive and parasitic as it currently is.

If we are indeed engaged in a culture war mediated by technology than we need a sixth wave of social media, one that functions by the people for the people. Rather than a rapacious, private information harvesting system of near monopolies with links to openly despotic and genocidal regimes. They cheapen us. All of us.

Our attention spans are preternaturally shortened as images flicker past in the manner of wheels on a slot-machine, and that is the point. The Dark Pattern par excellence, your social life as loot box mechanic. You get your hit of dopamine and then move on to the next thing and there is always another thing. Anything that isn’t crazy, cringe or common categoric currency; say aspiration, luxury, or beauty as a designated and trademarked product, might as well not exist. So it is no wonder we are continually carpet bombed by cartoonishly shaped beings. Because the outrageous is what your eye will be drawn to. It’s also where some of the most interesting tools of manipulation are aimed at. Your social media life is now a shitty Gacha RPG.

This shit needs to die.

In any event not only does tuning software give us either the hit of shock or outrage. It also give us the illusion of control via limited ‘choice’. That not only are we in control of out ‘tastes’, which we are encouraged to waste time curating and cultivating like our own pathetic little gardens of the mind (Yes that’s right they are 90% bollocks and you and I both know it). But that when so many of us lack any actual political or economic clout as compared to previous generations, the one thing you can do is refine your physical form. Groom your online identity and to Hell with the rest of the world.

So many of us are the wage worker, as portrayed by Karl Marx. Dependent upon our bodies as potential, symbolic of lost labour power. No consistent means of income and nothing other than bleak apocalyptic future horizons. So we look back to the cartoonish and grotesque spectres of childhood, with nothing left to work on but our own bodies and the abstracted value that they might produce. And so we sell them. For something as cheap as attention. In the hope that someday that might turn into some form of tangible power such as fame and fortune.

Little wonder dysmorphia seems to be at an all time high then. Warping your booty up to Planetoid level might seem like the least worst thing about Collapse Culture from a certain point of view. Although, little head, big body, obviously fake image… Where have I seen that before?

Oh yea! Prize Livestock! I wonder if we’re being fatted up for something?

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to belittle people who are currently at the mercy of Body Dysmorphic Disorder but rather examine the cultural artefacts and image manipulations that in many cases are considered to be the new norm in social media. If you feel you are suffering from body dysmorphia or any other similar obsessive compulsive disorder (and possibly hiding it) please do not suffer alone. Help is available!

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