In a recent New Yorker article, Jia Tolentino addresses the phenomenon of the "Instagram face."

This social media-optimized visage, she writes, is a "single, cyborgian face. It's a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips. It looks at you coyly but blankly, as if its owner has taken half a Klonopin and is considering asking you for a private-jet ride to Coachella."

If you've spent any time online, you probably know what Tolentino is talking about. "Instagram Face" is a term that refers to any of the artificially beautiful faces we see that could only exist online and thanks to a great deal of surgical enhancement. It's deeply linked to money, to plastic surgery, and to the utilization of light, texture, and power through image manipulation. It's inspired by Kylie Jenner and her brood. It's white but tanned, often freckled and always pouty-lipped. It is "as if the algorithmic tendency to flatten everything into a composite of greatest hits had resulted in a beauty ideal that favored white women capable of manufacturing a look of rootless exoticism," writes Tolentino. It is everything and nothing at the same time.

Handsome Squidward and Bella Hadid: Beauty as Pain

While thinking about these faces—shaped by highlighter and lip kits and edits and plastic surgery, blown-out and contoured and often captioned with Lizzo lyrics or quotes about either sadness or female empowerment or some combination of both—I began to realize that they reminded me of something.

Admittedly, they reminded me of a lot of things. Humans have always idealized unattainable beauty, and, in a way, the Instagram Face is like a modern iteration of ancient Greek sculpture. They symbolize humanity's aspiration to physical perfection, refracted through capitalism and technology—but they also resemble the iconic Handsome Squidward from the SpongeBob episode "The Two Faces of Squidward."

In the episode, Squidward gets hit with a door and after two weeks in the hospital, he finds himself converted to a Chad-type, complete with a very strong jawline. He is immediately photographed and thronged by groups of fans who attack and injure each other in an attempt to steal his clarinet and clothing. Unable to escape the rabid crowds, Squidward runs to the Krusty Krab and begs SpongeBob to change him back, so SpongeBob smashes him in the face with a door until he becomes...something surreal and bloated, something doomed and too beautiful for this Earth. He becomes Handsome Squidward.

As a crowd of onlookers gazes on in awe, Handsome Squidward dances across the screen. He moves like a drugged ballerina, bogged down by the weight of his beauty.

Handsome Squidward ~ The Short Version

He bears a striking resemblance to Michael Phelps in stature and Bella Hadid in features. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Hadid is the first result that comes up on Google when you search "Instagram Face." Hadid, like Handsome Squidward, didn't always look like she does.

Daily Express

Instagram Face is a product of money—of plastic surgery, injection, or incision. Like Handsome Squidward, its beauty is artificial and painful and precarious.

Perhaps Handsome Squidward's defining characteristic is that he is always falling. He carries an air of doomed glory around him. His beauty is apocalyptic and self-annihilating. In the modern world of the Instagram Face, beauty is pain, collapse, falling, breakage. It's breaking one's face open and filling it with collagen and chemicals and projecting it through software in hopes that what blooms from the wreckage might garner attention, acceptance, adoration, and eventually, compensation.

The Instagram Face and Capitalism: Beauty as Collapse

When I see Instagram faces, digitally manipulated and paid for in order to sell, I experience a feeling of falling. Instagram faces are inherently doomed, as we all are, to age out of their beauty, to fall prey to the passage of time, to slip down and hit the earth. The bearers of Instagram faces, I assume, are forced to deal with the ugliness of the ordinary: the way faces peel and breathe and sweat and bleed, the way bodies contort and sag and excrete. For a brief moment, in the free-falling sphere of the online vortex, they are beautiful. For a moment, they are infinite, immortal, not-alive.

In that, they bear a resemblance to the most elusive and tantalizing aspects of capitalism, which—for all I criticize it—can look truly beautiful. That's part of its charm. Though, of course, we know that capitalism is killing people and killing the planet, brainwashing us into idealizing completely arbitrary traits, and always has been. Capitalism has motivated everything from colonization to trauma on the Internet, because it works. It is so difficult not to aspire to its promises and not to hoard the wealth and objects that one has. It is so difficult to extricate ourselves from it, even though we know it's killing the planet and so many people.

Still, the idea that we might be able to streamline and photoshop and buy ourselves into a life that feels like a Goop catalogue looks will never stop being tantalizing. No matter how much we preach self-love, our culture is still confused by a desire to transcend our human limitations even at the cost of our humanity. No matter how much we preach radicalism and liberation, we still live in a society built on competition. This sick mindset may be guiding us towards total climate collapse; but then again, have we ever not been falling?

Empowerment and Shifting Possibility: Beauty as Power

Of course, not everything about the Instagram Face is bad, or, at least, it's not implicitly worse than the beauty standards we've always glorified. The Face is becoming increasingly attainable to all genders. In a way, it does level the playing field, offering people the opportunity to change themselves on many levels. And it can offer confidence boosts. "On one hand, some people may find that conforming to a beauty standard can help with confidence and self-esteem," writes Julia Brucculieri for The Huffington Post. Still, even that self-esteem and confidence (like most of what gives us thrills within beauty-obsessed capitalism) teeters on thin ice. "That confidence boost, though, will likely be short-lived, especially if you become increasingly obsessed with presenting an altered version of yourself on social media."

There is, of course, the argument that we shouldn't criticize girls and women for posting selfies or for editing themselves, which makes a valid point. There is a tremendous amount of sexism inherent in a lot of criticism of women owning and celebrating their beauty, sexuality, and flesh prisons.

Still, when I see these faces I can't help but feel like capitalism has devoured female empowerment, regurgitating it just like it's capitalizing on social justice without really changing anything while whiteness has remained in power; it's just morphed. The modern era was supposed to be post-feminist, a time of body positivity and liberation. When did it become about mutilating ourselves, about endlessly deifying "glow-ups"? Has the human algorithm always leaned towards competition, and will we ever successfully hack it?

Are the Kardashians' billions a sufficient balm for knowing that their fans are harming themselves and ingesting toxic diet products in order to achieve a look similar to theirs? Most likely.

But when I scroll through Instagram, I still can't help but feel like those fish watching Squidward fall through the glass. I can't look away from this dazzling, collapsing world.


The world is up against a seemingly insurmountable threat, but luckily, we've got a crack team of heroes on the case.

Sure, there's already the girl with super strength, the guy who can fly, and the anthropomorphic, trash-talking animal tailor-made for merchandise. But this is a threat of intergalactic proportions, and we're going to need all the help we can get if we want to survive.

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Harry Styles Swallowed Sperm and James Corden's "Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts" Is Racist

The array of "disgusting food" includes items like chicken feet, thousand year old egg, bird's saliva, or cod sperm, which are delicacies in certain countries like China or Japan.


Alleged exes Kendall Jenner and Harry Styles reunited on The Late Late Show With James Corden when the pop singer guest-hosted for the evening.

Because there are few things Americans love more than watching rich and famous people become embarrassed, upset, and nearly vomit, the pair sat down for another segment of "Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts." The gimmick is probably the most entertaining 10 minutes of James Corden's entire show. It features a full table of "gross" and so-called inedible animal products that the contestants are challenged to eat, or they can answer an embarrassing, salacious, or revealing question about their famous lives or their famous friends or famous family members or famous enemies.

And it's racist as sh*t. The array of "disgusting food" includes items like chicken feet, thousand year old eggs, bird's saliva, or cod sperm, which are delicacies in certain countries like China or Japan. As writer Shirley Cahyadi writes at Embodied, "The shock value of [Corden's] segment is derived out of perpetuating Western values about what 'food' is...The segment decidedly takes foods considered prized delicacies in Asian cultures and slanders them for the purpose of cheap laughs. It makes a mockery of them even though there are billions of people that consume these foods at mealtimes."

While not all of the gross-out foods carry cultural significance (there is not a single creature with a mouth that would voluntarily consume an entire shot of ghost pepper hot sauce), the large majority of them do. And James Corden knows this. He even acknowledged that many of these foods are "delicacies" on his show—as a way to challenge one of the young, beautiful starlets faced with the dilemma of eating cow tongue. But the inherent joke behind the skit is that Harry Styles shouldn't be drinking cod sperm or eating a scorpion (which he recently did, in order to avoid ranking the careers of his former One Direction bandmates).

Spill Your Guts: Harry Styles & Kendall Jenner

Of course, the Eurocentrism of The Late Late Show With James Corden isn't surprising, what with Corden being a British citizen and the general sad fact that American media has always been Eurocentric. And of course, the entire concept of "the West" (as opposed to other cultures) is mythical bullsh*t and basically colonialism's spooge sprayed from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans. Bored scholars and social scientists, such as Vassilis Lambropoulos in his book The Rise of Eurocentrism, have long pointed out that myths must be repeated and recycled throughout a culture in order to maintain their power in people's minds. Today the most powerful means of recycling myths is through television and any streamable media—whatever we may spend our exhausted and burnt out evenings watching—especially in 2019. As Theodor W. Adorno, one of the most influential philosophers and critics of the 20th century, once wrote, "[A]rt may be the only remaining medium of truth in an age of incomprehensible terror and suffering." He probably wasn't talking about late night talk shows (or maybe he was; he wrote it in 1984, and The Tonight Show debuted in 1954); but, his recurring point is that reducing events and objects of cultural significance to mindless entertainment is damaging to society.

Now, that's a lot to swallow when all you came here for is to watch Harry Styles swallow cod sperm (plus, Adorno was a really weird dude). But it's all underscoring a very significant point: Eating bull p*nis is not that weird. It just depends on who, where, and why you're eating it; because when you do it to mock a culture, James Corden, that makes you an assh*ole.