Showing your 'good side' isn't just for divas anymore

Published Thu, Feb 14, 2019 · 09:50 PM
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ACCORDING to Jimmy Kimmel, Barbra Streisand has never appeared on his talk show because he refused to swap around his set so the cameras would get her best side and not mention the change.

"The condition was we couldn't talk about the fact that we'd switched around, and I was like, 'I just don't see how that is going to work,'" Kimmel said late last month during Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen.

Though he seemed to be the first to admit it, Kimmel was not in fact the first host to field such a request from Streisand. In taped interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, James Corden and Jimmy Fallon, Streisand has appeared in the space typically reserved for the hosts. Why? She prefers the left side of her face.

Cohen commiserated with Kimmel, telling him that he has switched seats with Mariah Carey four times. Carey's preference for the right side of her face has been as extensively documented in gossip columns as Streisand's preference for her left. But the curious mind does not have to look far for evidence: Scan either star's Instagram pages and the patterns are obvious.

Once upon a time, this kind of behaviour was the province solely of A-list celebrities, something observers could roll their eyes at while feeling secure that they would never act so vain. These days? Well...

"Teachers will come up to me and say, 'Make sure you get my good side, make sure you Photoshop this out,'" said Louisa Wells, 26, a photographer in New York City who does work for a local school.

Ms Wells, who works with lifestyle brands and on the occasional wedding, said she often receives editing requests. "They'll ask me to Photoshop something that I can't do without it being absurd," she said. "A lot of it is adding in hair, or completely changing the shape of someone's chin. If I do that, you will not look like yourself."

Emelina Spinelli, 31, who works in digital marketing (with a speciality in Instagram) and lives in Los Angeles, has observed an uptick in questions about how to look best on camera. "My clients will ask me, 'How do I find my angles?'" Ms Spinelli said. "They know that to take good photos you have to position your body in a way that looks more pleasant."

Since its birth in 2010, Instagram has grown its monthly active user count to more than 1 billion. Multiply that by the average number of selfies and portraits each user posts every day, and multiply thatby how many unposted photos they took before picking one for their followers, and you find multiple opportunities for refinement. That is just Instagram. People are posting photos and videos of themselves on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, their WhatsApp profiles, their websites, blogs, on Flickr and more. Narcissus's stock has never before been so high.

And self-perfection has become big business.

"People have come to see that you can get jobs through social media and that it has an effect on certain aspects of your life," said Eric Randall Morris, 29, a designer, artist and architect in San Francisco. "It's more permanent now. A couple of years ago, selfies were more free. You didn't realise you were constructing a social image or identity." So how do people (at least those of us not blessed with the supposed benefits of a symmetrical face) know which side looks better?

Ask Instagram what #mygoodside is and the result is more than 29,000 tagged posts, half of which appear to be portraits of dogs. For the humans, the decision is in the details.

"I'm a side sleeper and my right is my comfortable side, so it looks a little bit puffier than my left side," said Alize Andrews, an athlete trainer with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Toronto.

Ms Andrews, 32, has modelled for 12 years and has consistently angled the left side of her face towards the camera. "There's more definition in the cheekbone, the jawline protrudes more. My left side has more of an eyebrow arch," she said. She recommended seeing what your face looks like in dim lighting to identify the way the shadows define it. "My cheekbone is a little bit more prominent on my left side, therefore it cascades a tiny triangle shadow underneath my cheekbone when the sun is setting," she said. "Versus my right side, there's no triangle at all and it looks like I have a big labia fold." For Olayinka Oni-Orisan, 29, a lifestyle blogger and jewellery designer in the Hartford, Connecticut, area, it is all about the eyebrows. "They're sisters, not twins, and the left eyebrow is the fullest and comes out better," Ms Oni-Orisan said.

For many people who know their good side, facing a certain way in photos has become part of their muscle memory. Problems arise, though, when it is time to pair up or group together.

"Sometimes, we make a sacrifice and take a bad shot for our friends, but that's not usually the case," Ms Andrews said. "We'll often end up not taking the picture at all. Or we'll turn around and look back with our hair covering the bad side."

"If I'm solo, my best side comes first," Ms Oni-Orisan said. "If it's a group photo and we're celebrating someone's birthday, they'll take precedence because it's about them. It's not my best side, but I'll sacrifice that for the celebrant."

It may seem obsessive or silly, but for those who know Instagram and other social-media platforms well, the desire to control your image down to the smallest-seeming things is expected. After all, nothing on social media is truly representative of reality.

"If you look at the majority of the people on Instagram, you're still only showing the highlights of your life," Ms Wells said. "I'm going to post this picture with only mascara and Glossier products, but I'm going to do it in front of the window where I'm glowing."

So why not make sure you put your best side forward? "People have realised how much they can be in charge of their digital presence," Mr Morris said. "The whole good side versus bad side thing is a kind of classical example of this control. With social media, you get to curate yourself." (In the original sense, with the Google Arts and Culture museum-portrait app that went viral last year, when which side you showed could make the difference between being compared to a 16th-century Flemish nobleman or to a Cubist cutie.)

"The selfies aren't just a cool photo," Mr Morris said. Poignantly so, straining to the right or left, "you want them to be perfect."NYTIMES

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